Pretty Lights – A Color Map of the Sun (Full Album Review)

Jay Laiche June 26, 2013 Best Of, Electro, Hip Hop, Music Comments Off

“A Color Map of the Sun” is a definitive link between the old and the new, the ancient and the futuristic. While Pretty Lights created an incredibly unique style of his own over his entire career, the release of these much-anticipated 13 tracks marks a landmark in not jusy current electronic music, but contemporary music as a whole. By building a vinyl collection of his own from the ground up, Derek Vincent Smith found a way to incorporate antiquated elements with ultramodern production styles for an intoxicating combination of sound.

This “album” is a multi-medium map of my mind and my self. It is personal and honest and I put everything into it. I have stayed on the path of being a completely independent musician and with the help of every supporter and friend, we have transformed a simple idea into a movement, a cultural beacon of light. – Derek Vincent Smith on the production of A Color Map of the Sun

From tracks that echo qualities of the classic slow dance in “Yellow Bird”, to technologized journeys into outer-space synths in “Prophet”, this album showcases Pretty Lights’ empathetic grasp towards music’s spectrum as a whole. There is something for everybody;a distinct essence from each of his previous releases can be found in certain songs while fresh promise rings throughout other elements. Fans of Pretty Lights will see more than change, they’ll see innovation.

A huge part of this album’s success is Smith’s ability to merge styles. ACMOTS features elements derived from electronica, hip-hop, and even pulls on rock, soul, blues, and other outmoded styles. His electronic production has become crisper, edgier, heavier and cleaner, while his use of live instrumentation has protruded to the forefront as a dominating aspect. Instruments include trumpets, trombones, violins, cellos, and other incorporated oddities like a harmonium and the inner workings of a music box.

Truth: Pretty Lights music speaks to it’s listener on a level that is both deep and personal. His mantra carries relatable moods encrypted with underlying messages of hope. Albeit fully danceable in the live setting, Derek’s music is therapeutic beyond the limits of festival gates.


Contradicting The Stereotype

“Anyone can press a button. Producers aren’t musicians.”

You’ve heard it before. In 15 years we’re all going to look back, question, and try to collectively identify those defining moments within this thriving “era of edm”. When the conversation rises regarding the artists who molded the authenticity of this new-age digital music era, Derek Vincent Smith will undoubtedly be held in unanimous regard.

“A Color Map of the Sun” is a gift to the identity of electronic dance music and it’s communal landscape . For a scene which prides itself on creativity and individualism, this album speaks volumes for pushing the envelope on intricate composition. Musical ingenuity at it’s finest.

Pre-order “A Color Map of the Sun” packages now.

Stream the album:

A Color Map of the Sun Track by Track Review:

1. Color Of My Soul
Opening the album on a high-note, “Color Of My Soul” is an up-beat jazz-inspired banger. This track may sound familiar to you; Pretty Lights released the live session used to sample this track about a month ago, but with this album we are graced with the full version. It features scratchy horns over guitar picks and deep bass. The song breaks down, then transitions into a heavy-electronic section with cutting synths that contrast beautifully over the gritty horns and drums.

2. Press Pause
This track opens with electronic hip-hop percussion that is consistent throughout the 4:49. “Press Pause” has echoes of the “Glowing in the Darkest Night” EP for its somewhat sad and almost gloomy, yearning feeling. Deep bass fluctuates throughout the track, accompanied by jazz horns and very bluesy female vocals. The overall tone of this track gives off a feeling not quite of regret, but of a desire for the present, hence the title.

3. Let’s Get Busy
A very blues-rock inspired track, “Let’s Get Busy” showcases Pretty Lights’ ability to combine many genres. I feel elements of rock, blues, soul, hip-hop and even a bit of dubstep in this track. The piano keys in the background add a nice effect and subtle electronic keys float in and out. The overall sample “Let’s Get Busy” is very soulful and emphatic, and you can’t help but sing along when it comes in. Despite this track having a bit of a slow melody, it gives off a positive and uptempo vibe.

4. Around the Block
“Around the Block”, the first released single, is a beautiful fusion of hip-hop and electronica. The entire song has a very chill beat and overall vibe, and reminds me very much of cruising around in a car on a warm summer evening. It features uplifting, soulful vocal sampling, followed by Talib Kweli’s classic old-school-esque rapping. His verse fits in perfectly, not overpowering but fitting in with the background like a puzzle piece. The bass drops at the end are heavy but the chill melody remains in tact with relaxing guitar notes strung out behind it.

5. Yellow Bird
Dedicated to his girlfriend Krystle, “Yellow Bird” is Smith’s attempt to “bring back the slow dance”. Its very slow and floaty, as if you can imagine yourself spaced out in a field just watching clouds go by to this song. I love the high-pitched piano keys and it has just enough drums and bass to not be too overbearing. The samples at the end of the song fit in beautifully as well; the woman’s light, r’n’b-esque vocals protrude emotion as she exclaims, “yellow bird, yellow bird, don’t fly away”.

6. Go Down Sunshine
Another very blues-inspired track, “Go Down Sunshine” begins very slow but quickly moves uptempo. Despite the quick and strong percussion, the melancholy atmosphere remains with a string of deep bass notes consistent throughout the track. The sampling, and even the percussion to an extent, seems very muffled and distorted in this song, adding to the roughness of it all. The synths towards the end blend behind the bass and percussion for a great addition. It’s easy to get lost in this song as you can almost imagine yourself as the vocalist, lamenting the loss of sunshine and feeling in the dark.

7. So Bright
Though released for months now, “So Bright” is still fits perfectly into this album. Contrasting to the name of the track, this song gives off a very dark vibe to it. I love the subtle drum beat accompanied by the distorted bass line that follows it. The piano keys give off an eerie atmosphere to the track as well as the samples that give off emotions of sadness. The bass drops at the end of the track are a huge part to this as well; very smooth synths bounce around over gritty bass and dirtier sub-synth. The short rap verse towards the end is a nice addition as well.

8. Vibe Vendetta
A more uptempo track, it opens with light, bouncy chime-like synths that I love. The high-pitched, soulful vocals enter and are then followed by funky, drawn out guitar notes. What really makes this track interesting is the blending of styles. Subtle synthesized keys bounce around in the background as scratchy horns come through as if they are straight off a vintage record player. I believe the “Vibe Vendetta” refers to the laid back, almost lethargic vibe of the track in conflict with strong and quick percussion. This conflict makes for a light, carefree five minutes.

9. Done Wrong
A gloomy blues track, “Done Wrong” is the epitome of blues-tronica. Muffled percussion lays underneath occasional guitar notes and a variety of clean and more indistinct synth keys. The drums begin to pick up later in the track, followed by a faint wobble heard in the background and scratchy guitar riffs. The track features sad, blues vocals of a male man that can only be heard scarcely throughout the song.

10. Prophet
Probably the most “electronic” sounding song on the album, “Prophet” is very upbeat and is the most dancefloor ready track. It features heavily modulated synth throughout the track, with deep, heavy bass. However, at times, breaks will occur with the subtleties of a music box and minimalistic, clean guitar notes. You may notice this song also contains very few vocal samples, simply unneeded for the power of the synths and bass. The tempo picks up from slow to fast and vice versa frequently, without the listener even realizing it. It’s future-bass Pretty Lights with echoes of the old, classic sampling. [Jay]

11. One Day They’ll Know
From subtle beginnings, “One Day They’ll Know” is a gem of self-reflection. Melodramatic strings and a lethargic trumpet riff lay foundation for the bluesy vocal to cast itself into your inner conscience. With a beautiful blend of live instrumentation and subtle electronic elements, this has become a WRR personal favorite. Hip-hop drum beats lay the foundation with elongated synths over top of it. The end of the track is absolutely filled with energy; an intoxicating cocktail of synths and keys meld together with bass for a signature Pretty Lights track.

12. Always All Ways
This particular track instantly brought me back to the days of “Filling Up the City Skies” with its high-pitched vocals and atmospheric, light sounds. It features strong percussion with a classic hip-hop drum beat. Vocal shrills fade into the track and add a nice touch of emotion. There is constant and deep bass, with no need in this track for much electronic elements. The male vocal samples in this track are pretty distorted but the female vocals come out clean, making for an interesting dichotomy in the track. Overall it has a relaxed melody with undertones of the blues.

13. My Only Hope
“My Only Hope” is a song whose title literally reflects the overall vibe you get from the song. While the lethargic and elongated synth pads give off a feeling of despair and lethargy, the upbeat drums bring the “hope” that is alluded to in the title. High-pitched blues vocal add to the hopeless feelings. Pretty Lights signature synth leads come in towards the end, crisp but melded behind the drums beautifully. It turns this track into a nice blend of blues, soul and electronica.

Jay’s Editor Note: As a massive Pretty Lights fan, this album speaks to me in more ways than one can imagine, and being able to put those feelings all into words is harder than it seems. A huge thanks to Wade for the collaborative effort, and much love to the PLF for engaging me in the amazing lifestyle that is Pretty Lights. This album is the Next Level.

Wade’s Editor’s Note: Pretty Lights introduced me to the realm of electronic dance music years ago in Charleston, SC. Derek and Adam were still playing together and the venue was two stories deep; the dance floor and the dance floor’s shoulders – an experience I’ll never forget. It’s an honor to be able to share my interpretation on such a massive body of work with the amazing fans at WhiteRaverRafting. Huge shoutout to the Pretty Lights camp and Rephlektor for providing us this opportunity and thanks to Jay for teaming up on this review. …and to my PL fam everywhere.

More Pretty Lights:

This is a collaborative review by Jay Laiche and Wade Davis

About Jay Laiche

Jay Laiche has written 269 posts on WhiteRaverRafting.

He's a junior Professional Writing major at Virginia Tech, and enjoys bass music, snowboarding, racquetball and hiking.

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