End of the Rope
There comes a time for all DJs when they have to realize that what they are doing is not really that interesting. Some accept this reality and move forward, while others live out their days in denial, but all must face the music eventually. The problem of the uninteresting DJ hitting that wall is even more pronounced in today’s world, where literally anyone with a laptop can dress up and play DJ.
Derek Vincent Smith, or Pretty Lights, has run into this wall head first and he’s come up with an interesting solution to the problem. Rather than putting together an album by sampling other records, he decided to sample his own work for A Color Map of the Sun. In a bold move, Pretty Lights recorded a slew of live studio sessions to vinyl for use in his latest work. It’s as though Da Vinci painted the Mona Lisa so that he could chop it up for a collage. It doesn’t make sense. Of course, music doesn’t have to make sense; it only has to be good. So has Pretty Lights succeeded in making good music? Maybe.
A Color Map of the Sun includes both the album proper, and a second disc of the studio recordings from which the album was sampled. While the album has plenty of nice soul-tinged hip-hop tracks that make for good listening, none of it is particularly memorable. Honestly, the second disc of raw studio material is a much more interesting listen. DJs need to be special in order to be worthwhile, just like musicians in any other field. Artists like Daft Punk have been able to do great things with the DJ persona, but many others are obviously struggling. They are a phenomenon of party culture, a scene that has the artistic impact of a wet napkin and the longevity of a goldfish. DJs come and go, and we all know that someone else will be spinning something similar tomorrow, so why bother listening today?
Pretty Lights has done a pretty good job with A Color Map of the Sun, but it’s not as special as it should be. Whether there is any point to making an album in such a convoluted way, except to prove that you can, remains unclear. The music is good, but it’s actually better before Smith goes and does his DJ thing all over it. At least he’s thinking outside the box.