‘A Color Map of the Sun’: Pretty Lights’ greatest artistic milestone to date [Review]
It was three years ago, in the quiet comfort of a summer night, when I heard my first Pretty Lights track. In the 2:00 a.m. stillness of July, I became enamored to the tune of “Change is Gonna Come.” Five YouTube videos later, I had developed a full-blown love affair. At the time, Pretty Lights was a name reserved for niche communities, from Colorado’s burgeoning glitch hop scene to sporadic hubs of jamtronica on the East Coast. Flash forward to today: Derek’s new album a A Color Map of the Sun has been one the most anticipated releases of 2013 (and for good reason). After two and a half years of diligent composition, Derek Vincent Smith’s most ambitious project to date is finally seeing the light of day.
I can’t claim to have been listening to Derek’s music since the beginning, but I certainly know my way around Filling Up the City Skies, Glowing in the Darkest Night and everything in between. When contemplating my response to A Color Map of the Sun, I took everything into consideration, from Derek’s massive discography, to his painstaking process, to his one-of-a-kind artistic vision.
After consecutive days and nights spent with A Color Map of the Sun, I can confidently say that the album is phenomenal — in fact, it gets better with every listen. Admittedly, the LP blends into a sort of glitchy, jazzy amalgamation at first, but as your mind begins to decipher individual tracks, the true wonder of A Color Map of the Sun slowly unravels. While I was immediately drawn to “Press Pause,” “Yellow Bird,” and “Around the Block” (likely due to prior exposure), I’ve since come to love nearly every track, from the heavy syncopation of “Done Wrong,” to the Pink Floyd-like psychedelia of “One Day They’ll Know.”
Pretty Lights – One Day They’ll Know
As always, it’s the drum work that enthuses me most with Derek’s music, and A Color Map of the Sun is a showcase of the best drum programming and processing electronic music has to offer. “Vibe Vendetta” and “Press Pause” are especially delectable through their use of variegated rhythms and precise attention to detail. After the flawless percussive elements, it’s the wind instruments that get me next, from the trumpet on “Color of My Soul” to the jazzy horns on “Always All Ways.” From then on, it’s a free-for-all between the silky string work on tracks like “Yellow Bird” and “One Day They’ll Know” to the off-color keys featured on “So Bright” and “My Only Hope.”
Pretty Lights – Press Pause
I’ve got to constantly remind myself that these are all samples which Derek orchestrated himself. As a producer who’s earned his namesake through deft manipulation of old school samples (an approach inspired by the one and only DJ Shadow), it’s doubly impressive to realize Derek both conducted and reworked his own material. If you get a chance to listen to Live Sessions from A Color Map of the Sun, it’s truly astonishing how distinctly Pretty Lights each recording sounds. While in theory, any producer should be able to recreate their music with real musicians, I can’t help but believe that Derek excels in this aspect.
How does A Color Map of the Sun stack up to Derek’s previous work? On the whole, I found the album to be a bit more heavily distorted than previous releases. By this I mean Derek has amplified the glitchier elements of his production to a new level. The subbass is more prominent, the instruments more saturated, the synths more rugged. It’s worth mentioning that Derek learned and applied modular synthesis to the entire album, staying away from digital synthesis altogether. The result is a grittier appeal than his previous work, and it’s certainly not a bad thing. In fact, I’d argue that this subtle advancement of his sound will translate to a deeper, more engaging live experience.
Pretty Lights – Let’s Get Busy
The beautiful thing about this album is that it’s the perfect realization of an artist’s unconventional vision. Derek set out on a daunting two and a half year mission to do something he’d never done before, and he triumphed. He’s once again created an album of soundscapes that are the perfect atmosphere for any setting. These tracks are just as likely to elicit an emphatic response in a packed outdoor amphitheater as they are at a casual Sunday BBQ.
Through his wondrous Pretty Lights project, Derek Vincent Smith has truly carved and owned his own niche in electronic music, and this marks his biggest creative milestone to date. This is not just A Color Map of the Sun, but a color map of the soul of one of electronic music’s most innovative producers.
Pretty Lights – Yellow Bird