They say “Talent borrows, geniuses steal”. But the truly great ones find a way to carve their own niche, masking their influences so well that only the highly acute ear can pick them out. In the realm of instrumental hip-hop, DJ Shadow paved the way for RJD2, RJD2 laid down the road for Blockhead, and Blockhead has blazed a trail for Pretty Lights. Pretty Lights is the work of Fort Collins, CO producer Derek Vincent Smith, who has taken a unique approach to his latest project, A Color Map Of The Sun. Rather than just building tracks from samples, he has jammed with live musicians, and then he’s taken their sessions and chopped them up into his own brand of traditional heavy beats, mixed with a more modern electronic edge.
The music of Pretty Lights is nonabrasive, chilled out, and mellow, and sort of melts into the background of any given situation. While this type of thing is usually great for smoke or sex, for this critic, it even provided an ample soundtrack for a nighttime five mile run, despite the low BPM’S. That says something about the quality of the production, when most opt for high-energy podcasts or playlists.
Musically, Pretty Lights does sound closest to Blockhead, employing lots of brooding basslines, dusty horns, and super slowed down vocals from (seemingly) another era (“Always All Ways”, “Press Pause”). However his drums are pure Shadow, as at times you can hear him getting loose on the MPC (or equivalent device) on tracks like “Let’s Get Busy” and “Go Down Sunshine”. He’s got some beautiful melodies here, such as “Yellow Bird”, which sounds like the soundtrack to an easy Sunday morning, as you are lying next to some fine lady you met last night.
Talib Kweli helps out on the bluesy “Around The Block”, which finds Pretty Lights dabbling in some not-quite-dubstep electronic overtones. He goes a little heavier with the EDM influence as the album progresses, on songs like “So Bright”, “Done Wrong” and “Prophet”, but the organic backbone of the sound dominates. It’s almost hard to picture this cat sharing the same stage as Knife Party.
While purists may balk at him carrying on the legacy of those that came before him, suggesting his sound is too similar, Pretty Lights is hardly in jeopardy of using the same sample as his peers, as his band is creating the sample sources! A Color Map Of The Sun is a long album, and many times the beats go well past five minutes, but all in all a solid listen, and his best work to date.
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