This would have been a magnum opus for me — a Mona Lisa of music review. In my attempt to bring back the long form, music journalism that made its mark through Rolling Stone during the 1970s via Cameron Crowe, I wanted nothing more than to spend a few hours with Smith as not only a writer, but also a true fan with some burning questions. I’m not going to lie; I’m pretty bummed that I couldn’t get an interview with Derek Vincent Smith.
Smith IS Pretty Lights. And I don’t even care to take the time to remember the number of times he has been to Reno over the last few years, although I’m pretty sure this is three or four. Returning the night before Thanksgiving on the 27th at the Grand Sierra Resort Summit Pavilion, there’s not a doubt in my mind that Reno will turn out for this show. Throw in The Grouch and Eligh with ODESZA? Did you have plans that night other than this? Cancel them.
Smith’s music runs deeper than most for me, especially at this venue. The first time I saw him was at this same venue, two years ago. Burning Man had ended two days prior, and it seemed the whole population of Black Rock City picked up and moved to the Pretty Lights show. Same burner clothes, props, and no shower. It was so packed, in fact, that I didn’t get a single drink the whole show for fear of losing the awesome spot I had acquired. I’ve seen scores of shows in this town – but never one that turned out an audience of that magnitude, with that energy.
This is the power that Smith has.
He mobilizes the masses through sound. I would argue to say that it all started with his song “Finally Moving,” one of many songs that even alludes to the idea of fluidity and motion. His following has gained as much momentum as the music itself over the years, reminding us through every aspect that he is an artist that knows movement and change are necessary to progress.
And so Smith has progressed, and in an awe-inspiring way. Heavily influenced from Hip-Hop, his earlier albums and EPs such as “Making Up a Changing Mind,” and “Filling Up the City Skies” showcase his deep love for break beats, which he believes is the very core of much of his music — the stuff that isn’t cluttered, as he puts it.
It’s so damn apparent in everything you hear, too. Regardless of if he chooses to sample something that might not sound like it fits together at first, Smith has a mad scientist type of way of taking the bits and pieces of music that he loves, regardless of genre, and putting them into something bigger than what they were to begin with.
This idea of raw creation is the heart of what inspired him to dedicate more than two years of his life to making his newest full-length LP “A Color Map of the Sun.”
“I wanted to make an album that would showcase countless genres and time periods, but would have a modern style of production to it,” Smith says in the documentary about the album.
Some have called it the first album he made completely free of samples, and he has rejected that, saying it’s not that he didn’t use samples; it’s just that he also happened to be the one to create him.
No lie, when this dual-album dropped, I set aside an entire two hours to listen to it one go. I made sure I could get through it undisturbed, because — knowing Smith — I anticipated a concept album, one that urges you to listen to every second sequentially.
This man went through some shit to make this stunningly one-of-a-kind album. He traveled to Brooklyn to record breaks from live musicians, New Orleans to find the soul he was lacking in the melodies, and back home to Denver to fashion the pieces together into something as striking as the sun itself.
He didn’t use sheet music. He didn’t use a digital synthesizer. He found out-of-touch and, what many might say, out-of-place instruments to help create what he heard in his head: mandolins, trumpet violins, toy pianos, music boxes, and harmoniums, to name a few.
I had to research some of these instruments to double and triple check that they were real. A trumpet violin? Who the hell uses that, and who invented it? Smith uses it, and integrates the most unexpected sounds into a symposium of musical genius.
The end product, as he describes it, is what you should be looking for in the dusty crates at the back of the record store. Something that makes you feel deeply, a longing for an experience, and a never-ending love for music of all genres and time periods. It’s never the same, but it stitches itself together and tells a story of the heart and soul that goes into raw creation at its finest. It’s something the music world has been lacking since the likes of Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin. And that is a high compliment.
It’s real. It’s surprising and breathtaking and unlike anything you’ve ever heard before. That is the trajectory of Smith’s music, and his lives shows are something to not be missed. Because for that time period, and that moment of the music, it’s all yours…whatever you want to make of it. It’s personal interaction and interpretation.
It’s finally moving.
Pretty Lights will play on Nov. 27 at the Grand Sierra Resort featuring Eligh and The Grouch and ODESZA. Tickets are $34 in advance and can be purchased at www.www.staging.freshbakin.flywheelsites.com. Doors at 7 p.m., show at 8 p.m. All ages are welcome.