It could be argued that an artist of any kind, whether it’s a painter, musician, or writer, dream of the same thing. He dreams of creating a piece of art that is so magical and unique that it cannot properly be classified into any single genre or category. When it's actually achieved in music, the results are staggering. We are talking about that music that makes the sun burn brighter and food taste better; the kind of music that makes your body AND your soul dance. Some artists go their entire career without crafting that perfect piece of art…
Derek Vincent Smith, better known as Pretty Lights, is not one of those artists. With the release of A Color Map of the Sun, Smith is sending a message to the rest of his peers in the music industry: Step up. To accompany the release, Smith also put out a half-hour documentary about the creative process behind Color Map. If you haven’t seen it, stop reading, go watch it, and come back. We will be here all day.
As far as we know, the process by which Smith created this album is unprecedented. Although this project was an “experiment” for him, it feels like he has been doing it for decades. From start to finish, Color Map is gritty, soulful, and authentic.
Pretty Lights sets the tone for the whole album with the hypnotic “Always All Ways.” He uses haunting female vocals and pain-filled male vocals combined with jazz horns from the New Orleans sessions to make a triumphant intro for Color Map. Chances are, the first time you hear this song, you’ll say something along the lines of “Oh shit, this is going to be good.”
It’s not good; it’s great. Every song takes on its own personality while maintaining the vintage sound that Smith strived to create by using analog sound equipment. The crackly washed out vocals feel like they were pulled off a record from the 60’s. Songs like “One Day They Will Know,” “Yellow Bird,” and “Press Pause” are so sonically raw and different that they require at least three listens to properly appreciate their epic-ness.
If you are looking for the rowdy tracks on this album, look no further than “Color of my Soul,” “So Bright,” “All Around the Block,” and “Prophet.” Even these songs, while being the most modern (in the sense of dance music) songs on the album, still stay true to Pretty Light’s goal of creating music that sounds like it came from a different generation. These songs are sure to have you gasping for air on the forthcoming Pretty Lights tour, for which dates have been announced featuring the full live band.
After dinner, we get dessert in the form of 13 cuts from the nearly two years of studio sessions. Many of these can be heard in the documentary. As far as we know, Pretty Lights is the first artist to do anything like this. So let’s call this album what it is: groundbreaking. Everything about this album is groundbreaking. To say that Derek Smith didn’t cut corners on Color Map would be a gross understatement. He created corners for everyone else. He has set the bar so ridiculously high for all others around him that it feels unfair to even compare him to anyone. The man who made “More Important Than Michael Jordan” has proven that he very well may be the Michael Jordan of electronic music. And all we can do is sit back and enjoy the magic.