On July 2, 2013, not one but two new Pretty Lights albums were released: A Color Map of the Sun and its essential companion, Live Studio Sessions From A Color Map of the Sun. The first PL efforts to be sold commercially after a series of acclaimed free-download albums and EPs, the Color Map project represents a turning point in Pretty Lights mastermind Derek Vincent Smith’s artistic growth. A self-professed “sample collage” artist, Smith decided it was time to create his own. “Before, I’d combine 25 samples into one song,” he explains. “This time, I was going to create my own original sources, retaining the timbre that spans the great musical era of the last century – from modern classical and jazz, to ‘60s soul and beyond.”
This idea sent Smith into an intensely laborious, obsessive, ambitious creative process. Where so much of today’s music is created entirely “in the box” using digital plug-ins, Smith went totally analog – recording musicians direct to tape (including himself on bass, keys, and modular synths), using authentic vintage instruments, pressing the results onto vinyl. He then fashioned those sounds into two visionary works. A Color Map… finds Smith taking Pretty Lights’ trademark combo of gritty, crate-digging hip-hop, speaker-shredding digital thump, and instrumentally-based psychedelia to new heights over 13 songs – from the dancefloor-ready yet kaleidoscopically abstract “Prophet” to the syncopated funk of the Talib Kweli-driven single “Around The Block.” Live Studio Sessions…, meanwhile, boils down the raw material used to create the tracks on A Color Map…, reducing 30 minute jams into 4 minute breaks. It’s all part of the multifaceted creativity that the albums’ titles suggest – a reference to a 1670s-era essay by Isaac Newton describing the experiments that led to his discovery of visible light’s color spectrum. “What Newton evoked I found especially poetic and beautiful,” Smith explains. “It fit what the name ‘Pretty Lights’ is supposed to embody – the idea of an artistic eye always looking at the world, searching for beauty and new inspiration.”
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