On June 17th, Colorado based Pretty Lights (Derek Vincent Smith), held a listening party for his new album, A Color Map of the Sun, at Sonos Studio in Los Angeles. The event, which featured a screening of a film on the making of the album, a Q&A with conducted by KCRW’s Jason Bentley, and a live performance, was held in Sonos’ sound gallery (designed to provide perfect acoustics). A distinctly LA crowd was on hand to get a first listen of Smith’s new work.
On paper, the concept is noteworthy: record live music, put it on tape, transfer it to vinyl, and then sample it to create new music from new sounds. Smith put a tremendous amount of passion in the product, shown on the streams of the original recordings. They are raw and fierce, and based on what has been released so far, would stand on their own as modern funk and soul recordings.
The translation to modern EDM is where the project falters. The first single from the album, “Around the Block” featuring Talib Kweli, parallels much of the record’s debut performance at Sonos. The solid hip-hop sampling technique preserves the organic flow of the instruments, but they are then twisted into a tired glitch-step pattern that looses the original vibe. The song turns into something reminiscent of what regrettably brought dubstep from the underground into bottle service clubs, almost killing the genre.
Smith, while vocally proud of his work in print, at the interview, and on stage, seemed to tire as well. He was energetic for the first half, and then he began to waiver. Perhaps he was not aware of the extra time allowed for his set as he mentioned about an hour in but when you’re killing it in a room full of fans, you don’t care about the time.
His ambition might have overtaken the project's potential, and no matter how grand of intent he had, it ultimately yielded hackneyed results. No matter what is put into an electro grinder, the electro grinder can only make electro grinder noises. For now though, the fans don’t seem to mind.
Perhaps it will sound different on the physical album; as showmanship on stage can often over take the art found in a recording. Respect to Pretty Lights for offering downloaded copies of the album for free and only charging for the physical double CD or vinyl sets. Because of this, the artistic model wins over the business model, and at the very least Pretty Lights is in it for the right reasons.
Impressive box sets are available for pre-order on Pretty Lights’ website. The album will be available for free download on July 2nd. KCRW will air the recording of the performance on that date as well.
All photo credit: Jerod Harris/Getty Images