Masses of interstellar brume, nebulae are conglomerations of hydrogen, helium, dust, and various iodized gasses. Imagine one, if you would; that which you are visualizing most likely comes from the famed photograph “Pillars of Creation,” shot by the Hubble Telescope, wherein massive columnar elephant trunks rise as if from a carmine swamp, tendrils and flagella backlit in a pea soup corona, a soupçon of natalitial appendices seeming to slough of their phallic form. The pillars are so named because nebulae, upon reaching a critical mass, will collapse into stars, birthing planets and asteroids and satellites.
Supreme Cuts operate on a similar—albeit obviously less grand—scale; production duo Austin Keultjes and Mike Perry gather about breathy wisps and tonal basses, fog-cutting synth snaps and roiling, syncopated drum lines, sultry saxophones and melancholic pianos and a myriad of other sounds, coalescing them into soundscapes with the imperfect majesty and adjective-taxing qualities of “Pillars of Creation”, the force that binds, here, being an appreciation of pop aesthetic. It’s the same dissociative, touch off kind flexed by the likes of How To Dress Well and Super Ultra era Charli XCX—that allows Supreme Cuts to float about somewhere between R&B, dance, and hip-hop, a miasmic no man’s land which, consequently, allows itself quite easily to be gently prodded in the direction of either of the three or, one imagines, towards some hitherto unseen fourth.
Divine Ecstasy could be considered cloud rap-esque, evaporated R&B, trap lite, footwork tapping pastiche, or any other of a number of modifier/genre constructions, the kind of record which sub genre coining, taxonomically inclined critics tend to love. Unfortunately, that is a sound—no matter how hard to quite pin down and vivisect—with which the music world has been familiar for going on a few years now, and very little groundbreaking—cloud breaking? sunshine breaks through clouds, right?—is going on here, although Cuts’ brand of amoeba production does have enough individuality to stand apart from its peers, too tight and caliginous for Balam Acab, too loose and lacking in sacrosanctity for Clams Casino, and too willing to avail itself to aspects of Chicago specificity for most other comparisons. Take, for example, “Enivision”, which raises the walls of old Chicago house, replete with percolating bubble pops, whilst decorating the interior with hauntingly catchy vocals from Polica’s Channy.
“Envision” is a fine example of what this album does best, but not the finest: that would go to “It’s Like That”, which combines Supreme Cuts’ pop aspects—the kind expressed in “Cocktails”, featuring Portland’s Shy Girls—with the aforementioned, slowly coagulating nebular sensibilities which seems to lay intrinsically at Divine Ecstasy’s center, the thumping drums and noodling sax and Yen Tech vocals and entire swirling milieu finally falling in on itself, condensing, retracting, then expanding, heavier than ever before, into a wall of sound and fury and dance inducing energy. It’s Divine Ecstasy’s climax, and it is fleeting, and perhaps all the more enjoyable for it.
This one numinous moment is the high point of what is otherwise a consistently enjoyable, surprisingly approachable, if emulsified, record; Chicago Reader music writer Mile Raymer noted in a 2012 profile of the group that the gap between mainstream pop and the Plutonian seemed to be closing, and Supreme Cuts appeared poised to bridge it. Raymer’s prescience was proven in 2013; our most regnant artist augered, screaming, Messianically, right into the abyss, and even an album as mainstream as Nothing Was the Same can feature as its champion something as delightfully odd as “Worst Behavior”. The dark energy which has been powering the red shift of popular music is now measurable, tracked empirically in Billboard charts and the top 40 stations Midwestern high school junior girls listen to as they pre-wrap hair lines and cinch up ponytails on the bus to soccer games, and this is neither bad nor good—“So it goes,” as Billy Pilgrim would say—but simply is, and if we want to venture out just a bit left of field, toward the edge of it, we can find Supreme Cuts, Divine Ecstasy spinning nicely on an arm resting roughly midway between the center and the periphery of the universe.