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Album Review | Supreme Cuts’ new album provides dazzling soundscapes

Published: Friday, January 31, 2014

Updated: Friday, January 31, 2014 03:01

Over the past several years, a new form of R&B has gained popularity in the indie music community. Fueled by the end of the golden age of artists like R. Kelly and a newfound interest in dark, electronic music, this type of R&B bridges various genres and has begun creeping into the mainstream. Typically characterized by emotive electronics and vocals that float into the murky background, this new style of music has become quite ubiquitous: everyone — from Miguel to thousands of no-name bedroom producers — has rallied behind it.

With the overwhelming amount of current R&B artists, it is hard for any particular group to stand out. What’s more, the ever-shifting environment of the genre adds to the struggles many young musicians face as they try to achieve fame. Despite this issue, Chicago-based duo Supreme Cuts continues to dominate the genre, and the band’s forward thinking attitude toward producing has resulted in a wondrously enjoyable third album — one that showcases an ability to merge genres and talent into starry-eyed bangers.

Mike Perry and Austin Keultjes have been making music as Supreme Cuts for nearly three years. While their first two releases relied heavily on using chopped up vocal samples as melodies, “Divine Ecstasy” represents a new direction for the pair. Most of the songs on the album sport features from a number of different up-and-coming vocalists, with each artist adding his or her own special touch to the tracks. This gives the music an extra dimension — one that transforms Supreme Cuts’ music from simple electronic beats into more developed songs, with valleys and climaxes that gush emotion and feeling.

Without vocals, songs like, “Faded (ft. Py),” and “Brown Flowers (ft. Mahaut Mondino),” would be mere skeletons of songs. It is through the addition of real vocal melodies and progressions that Supreme Cuts is able to create a much more intimate connection with listeners, taking them to faraway lands with  twinkling chords and reeling them in with the talented voices of many collaborators.

Critics of current alternative electronic music often point to the lack of feeling and emotion that results from the either non-existent or non-audible vocal presence on modern alternative R&B albums. These critiques often dismiss the music for sticking with cut-and-paste formulas and for failing to branch out into more interesting realms. On “Divine Ecstasy,” Perry and Keultjes take these criticisms to heart, constantly shifting between genres and enlisting the help of many singers — including Channy Leaneagh from the popular indie group Polica, Portland, Ore. act Shy Girls, rapper Haleek Maul and promising vocalists Mondino, Py and Yen Tech.

These acts add much needed soul  to the duo’s songs. Lyrics like, “I don’t want to wake up / so hypnotized” on “It’s Like That (ft. Yen Tech)” and, “We’re religious and we’re used to crawling / sitting down with the moon and stars” on the single “Envision (ft. Channy Leaneagh)” give the album its otherworldly feeling.

Perhaps the best part about “Divine Ecstasy” is its ethereal undertone. The record transforms from just another electronic music release into a strong conceptual tour de force — a work of art that pulls the listener in from the soul-searching introduction and captivates till the very end. The album’s opener and closing track both feature stirring monologues delivered by the same seemingly computerized voice — acting as bookends to the conceptual attempt. The voice waxes poetical about various themes: loneliness, bliss and the end of humanity as we know it. These motifs run throughout the whole album, injecting it with feeling and a sense of purpose.

The desire to represent these natural feelings of complete joy and exaltation referenced in the album’s title shines through on “Divine Ecstasy,” and Supreme Cuts has finally delivered the electronic odyssey that fans had been hoping for over the past few years. This record is a complete and well thought out work of art — one that deserves a careful listen and one that puts the duo in the top tier of R&B producers today.

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