Considering the current electronic-music climate—the ever-expanding influence of house and techno, the seasonal search for big summer tunes, and the steadfast dedication to dance music (extra emphasis on the dance) in seemingly every sort of mainstream and underground culture—for a new group to make a long-player statement with something other than dancefloor-minded tracks appears to be quite the daunting task at the moment. As such, Chicago duo Supreme Cuts' debut album may be coming at a bit of an inopportune time, presenting 12 slices of cloudy, cereberal hybrid music which is far more apporpriate for modest head nodding and inquisitive beard stroking than any sort of dancefloor celebration. What takes shape is an LP that restlessly moves between ideas and struggles to find a solid footing, but not without touching on some real promise and originality along the way.
Supreme Cuts' initial offering from late last year, the understated Trouble EP, sought out its own corner in the more contemplative end of pop-infused bass music. Whispers in the Dark seeks out much of the same territory, but its findings are spread thinner over a larger tracklist. A mass of relevant influences find their way into the productions offered here—new-age synth tones, the ghostly R&B glow of post-dubstep, echoes of juke's chopped edges, and, of course, the ubiquitous pitched vocals and various skitters and shuffles which fall under the bass-music umbrella. Still, all the tracks end up on the slower, more subdued side of the spectrum, usually electing to cut the 130- to 140-plus-bpm tempos in half with a heavy lean on bulbous kicks and crackling snares and claps, all of which are used to fill large spaces between assemblages of percussion and FX. Unfortunately, much of Whispers in the Dark has a soupy tonality to it, not too far off from the waterlogged sonic trappings of someone like Balam Acab, but done without the necessary restraint. Almost every element comes drenched in murky reverbs or overworked delays, rendering tracks like "Sherm," "E2," and "Belly" into beats that are just too mushy to hold on to. Truly, most of the record seems to fall victim to this overindulgence in time-based processing, creating a seldom-broken distance between the listener and the music that is present on almost every cut.
When Supreme Cuts does break through this barrier, it is due mostly to the group's keen sense for musicality, which takes shape as tasteful melodies accompanied by rich, poignant chords. Early on, "Ciroc Waterfalls" builds a heavenly beat from bubbling textures and a gorgeous collection of thick, ambient chords and restrained bells. Then, in the record's second half, the brief "Whispers Pt. 2" brings together lonesome piano chords and a muffled synth melody for an intriguing (and far too short-lived) combination while "18th" presents the LP's most memorable melodies and textures, lacing a grandiose half-step beat with dreamy pilings of bells and airy pads, topped off by a clever twist of miniature pitched vocals.
Although Whispers in the Dark is not the most compelling of debut LPs, it's hard to deny that the two producers behind Supreme Cuts are talented artists. Nevertheless, it seems the jump from EP to LP proved too much. A more concentrated focus and more distinct sonic objectives, as well as a step out of the cave, sonically speaking, would do a lot for the outfit's viability moving forward.