With long overdue releases from Daft Punk and Pretty Lights finally coming to light, this has been quite the summer of high expectations. And both artists share a lot, at least in this writer’s eyes. Both helped shape my love and passion for electronic music very early on, when I began to become consumed by the digital noises they produced and was particularly enticed by the hip-hop crossover of Pretty Lights’ music. Derek Vincent Smith, while he has maintained a rigorous tour schedule, has not produced a full length album in over two years, pouring his work over that time into today’s release A Color Map of The Sun. For some background, Derek travelled the world working with many musicians creating his own samples from jam sessions and instrumentals, making his own vinyl records with the sole purpose of re-sampling it all for this album (which you can listen to on the included second CD). Needless to say, Derek poured his heart and soul into the production of this album and it shows: Not in the immediately apparent sense but in the abstract, intricate and technical sense, whereby listening you can hear a gentle soul feeling the music more than ever hearing it, orchestrating it more than ever producing it.
Anyone who’s ever been to a Pretty Lights’ show knows the large pool of fans he draws from – fans of jam bands, hip-hop, electronic music, indie music, you name it. The diversity of his music, especially over the course of his collection, is largely responsible for that, as throughout his nearly decade-long career he has produced music for the quieter, more instrospective moments of life as well as the more impactful and high-energy ones. And it doesn’t hurt that his shows are always as visually (and aurally) stimulating as the name would indicate. Pretty Lights has almost always produced music that you would be excited to introduce all your friends to, but wouldn’t hesitate to bring it home to mom and dad either. A Color Map of The Sun finds Derek returning to the mellow, hip-hop and soul roots he laid down in all his other full length albums, particularly his 2006 debut Taking Up Your Precious Time and its double-album follow up Filling Up the City Skies.
In that respect, unfortunately fair-weather and newer fans may not enjoy this new effort as much. The hard, wobbly sound he’s been putting forth on his intermediary EP’s is nary to be found, save for a few emphatic appearances. The album plays through as a modern day Pink Floyd album might (and is intended to be enjoyed as such) – it is more a journey in sound than a collection of songs and activates parts of your brain most modern day electronic music would not. Never before has his sound been so mature, so developed and honed. For that reason, much in the same way that Random Access Memories was so quickly discarded by mainstream dance audiences, I fear the same fate may befall this amazing record. Perhaps the most introspective part of this album is the way it makes you think about dance music and its current state. Are artists like Pretty Lights and Daft Punk pushing the limits with their toned down sound? Are they no longer even producing modern day “dance music”? Does any of it matter? I cannot and will not answer any of those questions for you, even from my own vault of opinions, but I strongly suggest you sit down, listen to this album in its entirety and become fully aware of the possibilities of modern day music, no matter what you call it.
As with all of Derek’s music, you can download A Color Map of The Sun for free on his website here or you can support him by purchasing it on iTunes. If you have time, I encourage you to watch this interesting documentary on the making of the album. It will provide you with the insight you need to fully understand what makes this album so special. If you’re like me and want the opportunity to see some of these amazing songs played out live, check out the tour dates for his A Color Map of The Sun Tour on his site here. Boston – make sure to catch him at Ocean Club TOMORROW (tickets here).
If you have 30 minutes, check out the making of the album. *Hint* it’s pretty mind-blowing