In the last few years Demdike Stare has become a self-perpetuating force. Each release, each concept seems to get bolder and more expansive, always leaving more questions than answers. So when Miles Whittaker’s new solo joint, Faint Hearted (on Modern Love, of course), came out, it seemed like yet another piece to the puzzle. Then the record was described to me as “a funny old record” and turned my expectations on their head. The weird thing with expectations is how much they can hinder an honest assessment or impression of something particularly when it’s a new EP or album from someone like Whittaker. Faint Hearted might be a ‘funny old record,’ but beneath it’s outside, austere sheen (advanced further by the exquisite cover art) is an album with an ecstatic fervor.
Whittaker’s pedigree is unquestionable and Faint Hearted is like a personal love letter to the annals of electronic music. So much ground is covered here as Miles jumps from idea to idea that in less capable hands, it’d be easy to get lost. With “Lebensform,” jungle loops roll around inside various filters, going from blurred to crunchy in a heartbeat. Disorienting as it is, the rhythm always shines through the morass, pushing unexpected grooves to the edge of breaking. Clang and circumstance congeal around a stripped-down 4/4 pulse on “Rejoice,” plodding along like an outtake from some ’70s dystopian spy flick. It’s all smoke and mirrors but with constant forward motion and is really one of the album highlights. “Status Narcissism” utilizes a 4/4, too, but it’s straight in the face, no holds barred. Much of Faint Hearted doesn’t seem suited for the club, but “Status Narcissism” is an exception. I’m not sure what kind of club, exactly – probably something seedy and a bit gnarly aka my kind of place – but that beat demands that asses start shaking, stat.
So much of Faint Hearted’s charm is in the details, though. The weird, fluttering and tinny beat of “Sense Date” coming in at just the right moment before the ambiance becomes too heavy, too lulling; how the strings & electronics interplay at the end of “Archaic Thought Pattern 1,” hinting at growing unease; the subtle shifts in my other favorite off the album, “Irreligious,” as sounds appear and disappear in ways that seem random at first, but become obviously purposeful as the track steams bleakly ahead. Like I said, Whittaker seriously knows his shit and even if Faint Hearted doesn’t ply in the same mysterious cascades as Demdike Stare or Pendle Coven, it is a great counterpoint to his work in those projects. For a ‘funny old album’ it leaves one hell of a lasting impression.