This is Resuscitation


The voice of Derek Vincent Smith oozes through the receiver, as if he’s just awoken from a glorious nap. The music maker, better known by his stage name, Pretty Lights, has a new album, many shades different from the ones before. He speaks about A Color Map of the Sun with nonchalance, so familiar with the grueling recording process it’s like he’s recounting his favorite movie.
The album, released July 2, had a clear intention from the beginning. Smith would create music that, when examined under the microscope, reveals a thorough and precise homage to his predecessors, a list that is decades long.
These days, music is partitioned into genres, and poked, prodded and infinitely scrutinized by the assembly of groundlings in the website comments section — really, anyone with an opinion and a keyboard. What’s often overlooked is whether any of it is simply good to begin with.
To Smith, that came first. “None of that [process] really matters if the music sucks,” he says.
Raised in Fort Collins, Colorado, Smith describes growing up in a sterile landscape, completely absent of music. He split time between his parents’ houses and discovered what would become his life on his own. Under the watchful eyes of a chaperone, the first concert he attended was the Eagles’ Hell Freezes Over tour. Middle school marked the first years of his exploration of the past. “I was trying to find my way out of there. To find the grasslands of grunge,” he pauses, “and the lakes of hip-hop,” he says with a laugh.
Then came Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon and it turned his world sideways. He heard the beauty and the poetry and understood the power of a record even after four decades on the store shelf. Those hallowed libraries of yesteryear became his favorite hangout. He’d wander the aisles, eagerly flipping through glossy packaging to find new music and create the playlist that would define his career.

Technology eventually caught up, introducing the likes of Napster and Soulseek, and music sharing became ubiquitous to anyone with an Internet connection.
Some critics of the laidback deejay pan Smith’s musicianship, citing a lack of actual musical talent, and assuming he operates solely behind the glow of a laptop. Though the naysayers always provide motivation, they were only a small part of the bigger picture Smith devised for the most daunting idea he could think of. The results of this developed dream are astounding.
“Music is lost in the past,” he says. “I tried to find those beautiful moments of music that are long forgotten.” He thinks of himself as a first responder, bound by some innate code to bring life to the ghosts buried deep in the racks of vinyl, far away from the road most traveled.
The most difficult concept he could think of was to make everything from scratch. His music is described as sample collages, where he can use up to 30 fragments on just one song. For this record, he set out to compose the music, find talented musicians to play what he scrawled, and record using the most analog methods, all while conducting, composing and playing bass guitar. Instead of sectioning off instruments to singular rooms, he recorded everything in one space. To Smith, cross-pollination is crucial to authenticity. He found a studio in Brooklyn, explained his idea, and set out to single-track every sound produced.
Smith’s homework was meticulous, but his methods were spontaneous. He had to think on his feet and use his reflexes to master the ebb and flow of the mighty river he was creating. He educated me on the importance of sonic timbre, something he worked hard to retain over the recording process. If he wrote a song with an instrument from 1953, for example, Smith would research which microphones were used during that year and use them to record.
Listen and you recognize what is distinctly Pretty Lights. A track begins and music is laid over the progressive beats that Smith seems to have in his bones, handed down from hip-hop ancestors and other turntable magicians. Throughout the album are horns, the pretty clink of a piano, smoky, haunting vocals and everything else under the sun. The chaos comes together magnificently. This is Smith’s Gatsby, and it’s laden with untold amounts of soul.
He wanted this album to be a statement, and it is. It’s a declaration to the critics and especially to the young, talented producers to prove that “it’s not all about creating everything on a laptop.” This is a history lesson. It’s the spectrum Smith longed for when he began this adventure. Isaac Newton’s poetic description of the light that surrounds our waking hours is responsible for the album title, articulating the notion hatched by the man behind the turntables. Derek Vincent Smith has crafted such precise moments that, when refracted, show a vast array of sounds and apparitions nearly forgotten in the vacuum of time.
Listen to the album because, as Smith intended, it’s good music. But also listen because throughout his most formative creation he tells stories, a hundred thousand beautiful stories.
Text by  Alex May
Photography by CHRISTIAN SMITH