With mashup artists popping up in the last decade like moles waiting to be whacked it’s difficult to give sample-based music a listen without a hint of doubt. The blogosphere thoroughly documents this trend. Thousands of Internet junkies publish newcomers that add wobbling basses to Lily Allen tracks or blend a few one-liners from Prodigy of Mobb Deep with a rave-centric kick and snare. To what avail? Hopefully the music world learned a couple of key pointers from this phenomenon. First, bad song plus bad song does not necessarily equal good song (read: not everyone is Girl Talk). And second, for those avid listeners, if you keep digging in the crates you’ll find something spectacular. One of these gems, lost among the relentless slew of garbage, is Colorado musician Pretty Lights. For discoveries such as this, I champion the efforts of bloggers worldwide.
Derek Vincent Smith, aka Pretty Lights, owes his sound to plenty of clear-cut influences. The opening track, “Still Rockin” begins with a Just Blaze-esque introduction and enters into a beat citing dubstep and hip-hop rhythm, C.R.E.A.M. like vocal samples and plenty of glitchy sounding nuances. Later on, the track evolves into a fiesta of horns, wobbly bass, vocal samples and string hits. During the second track, “I Can See It In Your Face”, he keeps the party in check with a straight mid tempo beat driven by a nasty electro bass, horns and soul samples. Right away a huge crescendo occurs with heavier synths, a swift guitar lick and crash cymbals up until a sinister rap quote of “I can see it in your face!” Then the beat carries on with its sassy electro and sample heavy business, eventually breaking down into a short big band jazz cadenza and even a few measures of ruthless dubstep synth.
During the song “Future Blind”, one cannot help but recall DJ Shadow’s classic track “Midnight in a Perfect World”. The mood, vocal samples and piano lick in the opening few bars are just too similar to be disregarded. But even if this introduction was meant to pay homage to a mastermind of turntablism, Pretty Lights puts his own spin on it. He layers his version more heavily with glitches, extra percussion tracks and an electro bass line to create foundation for the eery vocal and piano clips. It just goes to show how far electronic and sample based music has journeyed since the era of Endtroducing... in terms of production.
Making Up a Changing Mind is an album for any music fan, jazz, electronic, hip-hop or indie rock. Its genre-bending and energetic nature should compel any listener regardless of their incredulity of the most recent electronic and turntablism music. Standing for complex beats with sophisticated sampling and structure, Pretty Lights will never need a rapper in the forefront of his musical work to be seen as a compelling artist. All his work is free for download from his website, so why not listen?
Pretty Lights Live @ Red Rocks – July 2009