Review Summary: This album was awesome.
A self proclaimed combination of an “epic fist pumping dubsteppy downtempo saga,” Pretty Lights’s newest album Making Up A Changing Mind does not disappoint. Opening with the driving beat of “Still Rockin” Pretty Lights, brainchild of Derek Vincent Smith, combines elements of hip-hop, electronic driven sounds, and old school samples to create an electronic journey through time and space. Pretty lights is unlike any other band I have listened to, with a satisfying blend of solid beats with innovative electronic sounds that create an airy-atmospheric feel to all of their songs. It is as if you are transported to the main deck of an alien spacecraft, entangled in a passionate space tango that has endured for all of eternity. Many of the tracks have an echoey feel that was reminiscent of Iannis Xenakis’s “Interlude” for the Philips Pavilion in Brussels. Their songs often include samples of both old songs as well as sounds from nature and the world around us. In this way they follow and extend the legacy of music concrete in this new generation of electronic music.
The first track on the album is “Still Rockin,” and it sets the pace of the album. They sample real sounds from the world, such as people speaking. But they also create the feel of recreation of real things through electronic synthesis. For example they include this steadily rising, chirping, that sounds much like a bird flying up and away would, were it made by a computer. There is also a signature “wha-wha” type effect employed in many of their sounds. It creates a rhythmic feel as well as a distinctly electronic wavelength feel to the songs. This is accompanied by what sounds like someone tapping on a metal pipe in an empty cavernous room. It then shifts instantly into a retro-funk type of horn riff, followed by more heavily altered sounds. They are hard to identify as they are unlike most anything I have heard in non electronic music.
Many of the songs follow a similar formula to the first, with various variations throughout. However one thing I found most compelling about nearly every piece was the coherence in sound and tempo throughout each individual piece. It was as if each song had a theme and each sample and electronic sound fit perfectly into an intricately woven electronic tapestry of unrivaled beauty. There is a level of hip-hop and soul that melds into an almost glittery extravaganza. The twinkling or tinkling sounds, something like running your hands through a bowl of tiny metal beads, are reminiscent of the crackling of glass in Xenakis’s interlude. The sounds are often cloud like and certainly ambient, as Pretty Lights layers on sound after sound until it is difficult to distinguish one from the other or the origins of either.
I had the pleasure of seeing them live at the National in Richmond, VA last fall and it was an experience I will not soon forget. One unique aspect to the show was the combination of the main electronic elements with a live drummer providing the drum track. Smith manned what appeared to be some sort of MIDI controller along with the requisite turn tables of any DJ. It was refreshing to see an actual performance, by both man and machine, and not simply a man behind a laptop pressing play. Pretty Lights takes the foundations for electronic music, laid by Xenakis and others, and draws from it and adds to it to create an entirely new and exciting sound.