Pretty Lights, "A Color Map of the Sun" (Pretty Lights)
The buzz about the new Pretty Lights (a k a producer/songwriter Derek Vincent Smith) album 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.
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.
Glenn Gamboa, Newsday
Mikal Cronin, "MCII" (Merge)
Guitarist Mikal Cronin, based in California's Bay Area, is strongly associated with his rowdy garage-rock-playing buddy Ty Segall, in whose band he regularly tours. On "MCII," the 27-year-old singer's second solo disc and first for indie stalwarts Merge, he confidently steps out on his own with a 10-song collection of brightly catchy tunes. "MCII" splits the difference between strummy, sun-kissed, bittersweet pop like the harmony happy "I'm Done Running From You" and the chugging power chord crunch of "See It My Way."
Cronin's sophomore release is a self-querying coming-of-age record, with the shimmering "Peace of Mind" at its existential core ("I want to say I'm on my way," he sweetly sings. "But I can't find that peace of mind"). Cronin doesn't pretend to have found any answers but sure makes his post-collegiate confusion sound enticing.
Dan DeLuca, Philadelphia Inquirer