"Hipster-friendly" rap and R&B has lately turned a downcast nod towards sombre melody and hazy atmospherics, exemplified by acts like Drake and producers like Clams Casino. Coincidentally or not, there's a glut of sadsack beat artists, and for every Holy Other or Synkro, there's innumerable generic acts willing to put some chipmunk vocals on preset drums and call it a day. So with any new name that swims in the same school, I tend to approach them with a tad of trepidation. My previous experience with the Chicago duo of Mike Perry and Austin Kjeultes was last year's debut EP, Trouble, and it was a firmly average one. They had a great grip on melody and build but not exactly the means to express them—potential not yet reached.
Fast forward a year and Whispers in the Dark is the graceful leap forwards that any group would dream of—there's no dramatic shift in style, only in confidence. They're no longer indebted to the Mount Kimbie-style "bass music" tropes and instead reach deep into the heart of hip-hop, their true love. Or as they put it themselves, "R&B with a winky face." The tracks that do have drums, like the cinematic "Belly," use rattling hip-hop snares and elastically catapulting basslines in a way that somehow feels more honest—and more visceral—than their "trap"-happy cohorts. On the deeply moving closer and title track, the duo pair billowing riffs and slamming percussion for an effect that's more melancholy than aggrandizing, while the hypnotic swirl of "Epitome" is like opioid progressive house, more of a glide than a chug.
That's not to say that Supreme Cuts are at all po-faced. Indeed, read my interview with them from earlier this year, and you'll see they've got quite a sense of humour. While so many other American acts make intentionally ridiculous, boisterous rave tracks, Supreme Cuts craft delicate models of space and texture, like ice sculptures rendered in sound. Their success is in dynamic range; the stunning "Ciroc Waterfalls" is just another ambient meander on first glance, but listen closely and it's a painstakingly built structure so fragile and thin it's almost transparent, melting as it plays. On the opposite end of the spectrum "Val Venus" stomps all over its own stateliness, erupting into a flurry of kick drums approaching gabber in its angry, single-minded tantrum.
It's tempting to align Supreme Cuts with the cloud-rap movement, especially considering the preponderance of vocals that bear resemblance to Clams' muddled choral pastorals. However, their music is too careful, too defined, to fit into that movement's smudgy borders. All of this is bolstered by the fact that the group's potentially maudlin melodies are written with an intangible but omnipresent gentility that keeps their work from collapsing under the weight of its own heavyhearted sighing, swooning but never quite tipping over. There's no doubt you'll hear a lot of records in 2012 that sound like Whispers in the Dark, but you'll rarely hear it done this well.
Tracklist: Supreme Cuts - Whispers In The Dark01. Whispers PT1
02. Lessons of Darkness (Apology)
03. (Youngster Gone Off That) Sherm
05. Ciroc Waterfalls
07. Whispers PT2
11. Val Venus
12. Whispers in the Dark