Pretty Lights

“A Color Map of the Sun”

Grade: A-minus

The buzz about the new Pretty Lights (aka producer-songwriter Derek Vincent Smith) album, “A Color Map of the Sun,” (Pretty Lights Music) is all about the process behind its creation.

Instead of once again digging through crates of vintage vinyl to cobble together samples for his eclectic-sounding, hip-hop-infused electronica, Smith worked with dozens of musicians to create new music, in a variety of styles, that he would then sample into his songs. It was a remarkably work-intensive plan, made even tougher by his decision to record the original music using pre-1970 equipment to give everything a warmer, more imperfect sound. (In another twist, true to his community-based style, Pretty Lights will offer the album for free download on its website for the first day of release before it goes on sale elsewhere.)

However, how Smith made “A Color Map of the Sun” happen wouldn’t really matter if the resulting songs weren’t so compelling.

On “Around the Block,” he combines neo-soul and dubstep, while dropping in some ’90s-styled glitchy sampling and a great verse from rapper Talib Kweli — basically bringing together styles from the past five decades in one song. For “One Day They’ll Know,” he downloads bits of blues, jazz, trip-hop and classical-sounding string sections into a more aggressive, dubstep-fueled setting.

The unique combinations will likely draw in many first-time listeners, but the strength of the songs will keep them coming back. “A Color Map of the Sun” could do for the current electronic music scene what Moby’s “Play” did in 2000, becoming the soundtrack of cool for a new generation.


“Nothing to Be Gained Here”

Grade: B-plus

NK’s impressively eclectic debut “Nothing to Be Gained Here” (Triple Crown) makes complete sense, considering its lineage. Featuring Ryan Hunter from Long Island scene heroes Envy on the Coast on vocals and guitar, bassist Michael Sadis from The Rivalry and drummer Billy Rymer from The Dillinger Escape Plan, NK travels all the sonic ground of those bands and then some. The hard-hitting “Confessional” and groove-heavy “Shoulder Gorilla” drop them firmly in Rage Against the Machine territory, but they don’t stay there long, following them with the breezy, Beck-ish “Vacation Days,” where Hunter alternates between a sweet falsetto and a wistful croon.

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