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  • Filed under: Review
  • 01/28/2014

Supreme Cuts Divine Ecstasy

When Supreme Cuts released its debut album Whispers in the Dark in 2012, the Chicago production duo explored a slightly derivative take on cosmic, maximalist R&B and other percussion-rich styles, with flashes of brilliance hinting at the possibility of a looser, more experimental approach on the pair's next record. However, the arrival of sophomore LP Divine Ecstasy seems to indicate that the producers ultimately elected to take a different path, as they've dialed up the color contrast of their instrumentation and have fully indulged their pop sensibilities, resulting in a thoroughly conflicted sound.

Often it just feels like a case of wasted talent; the group is clearly skilled in a studio environment, but its overall vision seems misguided, or at least unsure of itself. Generally, the songs come off as confused combinations of EDM festival anthems, sensual ballads, and hyperactive beat sketches, as if the duo is trying each of these hats on for a moment, without commiting to any of them. Furthermore, the record's overall flow feels lazily constructed. Bookended by spoken-word pieces in the vein of Radiohead's "Fitter Happier," with a few brief interludes stitched in to provide a respite from the album's denser cuts, the sequencing of Divine Ecstasy plays out like a last-minute attempt at continuity and creating a full-length listening experience.

Moreso than previous work, Divine Ecstasy finds Supreme Cuts enlisting vocalists to ground the productions in pop accessibility, but aside from precocious singer Mahaut Mondino's two offerings, the guests tend to hold the music back. It's difficult not to reference Kelela's breakthrough Cut 4 Me mixtape for Fade to Mind last year, an effort which saw that label's forward-thinking label roster striving to present a new direction for R&B with Kelela as its vehicle. One reason that release was so successful—apart from the obvious production talent on display—was the seamless integration between its leftfield rhythms and Kelela's effortless delivery. In contrast, on Divine Ecstasy, the variety of singing styles and competing visions confuses any broader mission statement Supreme Cuts may have had, especially since most of the guests featured aren't particularly commanding. Chicago solo artist Yen Tech's Auto-Tuned vocal for "It's Like That" is an obvious example, closing the record in a mess of processed robotic babble, alongside the duo's saxophone solos and bombastic synths.

Frankly, Divine Ecstasy's lack of awareness and restraint is bound to induce the same reaction as watching a visually overwrought CGI film; somewhere, we know there is a storyline about characters who are in love or are trying to save the world, but mostly, it feels like we're watching a series of loud explosions. And like those popcorn films, the LP has a padded running time; 52 minutes is a long-ish album by any measure, but this one could have benefited from some serious editing. When Divine Ecstasy gets it right—finding a complementary pairing in Mondino's vocals on club-focused R&B single "Gone" or the forlorn love ballad "Brown Flowers"—Supreme Cuts is fully in command, crafting its skittish, effects-laden percussion and twinkling melodies around her performance, rather than clashing with it. A few of the productions, like "Isis"' foggy, lilting hip-hop, also build on some genuinely good ideas and could be much stronger if coupled with a suitable vocal personality. Unfortunately, these moments are few and far in between, and the record generally finds itself stuck in a hybrid genre morass, pummeling listeners with unrefined technique.

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