Chicago is a city with a wide-ranging musical history; rather than have a single scene for which it’s known, it sports many different genres and styles that have represented its beating heart. From the sounds of soul and blues that came out of Chess Records to the stylish synth-led artists that have emerged since the ’80s (don’t forget that it’s the Windy City that gave birth to house). Then there’s the extensive hip-hop scene, too substantial to dissect in a succinct and meaningful manner.
Supreme Cuts, the pairing of Mike Perry and Austin Kjeulties, seem to hold plenty of appreciation for their home city’s musical history. Their second album, Divine Ecstasy, is the first to be released in Europe. What they’ve come up with is something unrestricted that should leave the listener’s brain in a state of turmoil. But, helped by a combo of their own woozy exuberance and a lot of help from highly talented guests, it’s a rousing success. It’s running time is a hefty 53 minutes, yet it turns out to be an LP that speeds along. For all of its experimental and cavalier nature to song construction, the fact that Divine Ecstasy seemingly consists of four separate sections suggests that Perry and Kjeulties know what they’re doing and have everything under control.
Firstly, there are the anthemic numbers that, whilst short in number, are tonnes of fun. Envision is an utterly captivating piece of thumping techno – boosted by Poliça‘s Channy Leaneagh, who has a voice that is excellent for this type of dance music – whilst Yen Tech adds just enough radio-friendly auto-tune to It’s Like That without sounding comical.
Secondly, the instrumentals are chiefly comprised of short interludes. It’s only here that Divine Ecstasy starts to sag since they add little of interest to the mix; it’s hard to see a logical reason for the inclusion of Peak Experience or Dionysus Rising. However, the lengthier cuts, where layers are allowed to build and develop, are much more beguiling. The title track introduces itself with thumps and a rat-a-tat-tat rhythm that is frequently shifting, with passages that are either quiet and serene or made of brute power; it is delightfully frantic.
Thirdly, there’s a lot of soul, with Mahaut Mondino in particular taking the limelight. Her work on Gone manages to just about rise above the pounding kicks and its endless layers of synths. In the album’s second half on Brown Flowers, where Perry and Kjeulties decide to pull everything back in order for her to fully steal the show on a charming slow jam.
Lastly, there are the two hip-hop-rooted tracks that are worlds apart in style but equally good. In the hands of anyone else, Down, which features The GTW, Khallee and David Ashley, might have sounded dull, but the textures make for an exciting and enjoyable listen. At the opposite end of the scale, the impressive Haleek Maul sounds much older than he actually is (he’s still only in his late teens) on the heavily meditative ISIS, which is given an extra boost courtesy of atmospheric-sounding backing vocals provided by Bago.
This is a record that could have only been made in Chicago, even if it doesn’t seem so on the first listen. Divine Ecstasy is not impeccable by any means – if the interludes were ejected from the running order the end result would be a lot leaner – but its success rate is stellar. It’s never dull and is sometimes quite extraordinary, taking multiple turns as it goes in order to keep listeners on their toes. Supreme Cuts is a scarce example of an artist moniker that well manages to sum up its own album.