Two facts about YouTube: On average, over 100 hours of video are uploaded to the website every minute, and if uploading were to cease altogether, it would still take you some 60,000 years to view all of its data. Its eyes have seen more beauty and horrors than any, and James Hinton is after its secrets. For Potential, his second album as The Range, Hinton scavenges YouTube’s wild split ends, collecting snippets of human voices, isolating them, and assembling them into a collage held together with the paste of his top-of-game production skills — each beat directing focus towards a vocal-sample-as-pièce-de résistance. They add up to one single staggering statement on the present moment.
Hinton’s samples all bludgeon with deceptive weight: a man pondering his fallback life plan, a woman urging someone to “say something,” a prayer. Hinton practically imagines himself walking through Times Square incognito with a digital recorder, picking up fragments of conversations, free of context, and later distilling them into their elementary feelings. Potential, as a result, is the latest consummation of today’s sample-ecstatic movement of Macbook music that strives to stretch the full spectrum of human emotions — or, if you will, “the range.”
Hinton wastes no time on Potential accelerating to his full stride, which is stronger than ever, by a lot. The first words on opener “Regular” are those of a dreamer under pure stress: “Right now, I don’t have a backup plan for if I don’t make it.” It’s actually the voice of S Dot Star, himself a musician and rapper, discussing a career that he himself is depending on YouTube to build. The beat that gradually materializes around it paints a complex gloom, but the next two tracks, “Copper Wire” and “Florida”, double down on Hinton’s huge duality ambitions by transitioning boldly into blindingly bright lights.
(Read: The Secret Collaborator: A Conversation with The Range’s James Hinton)
“Copper Wire” is the album’s best track. The possibilities of its faceless vocalist’s woes are endless; “I wish that everything were still the same,” he raps, “but we can make it rain on a sunny day.” In the background, an anonymous, androgynous voice wails the two words “without you” — passionately, without a doubt, but never revealing whether the attached sentiment is grief or joy. Two tracks later, on “Superimpose”, the lead sample is the voice of someone dwelling in the opposite: “My days, my nights, my life with you, you, you.”
The Range has always worn loud traces of earlier electronic music transparently, especially that which gestated in the UK around the turn of the century from royalty such as Massive Attack and Burial. Jungle and grime are just a couple of the album’s obvious precursor movements, but Potential owes the most to hip-hop standards of the past 10 years. Potential’s elements themselves aren’t necessarily innovative, but they are used to construct an engaging sonic map of modern anonymity.
Hinton loads the best that Potential has to offer into its bookends. He drives the album out as strongly as he fades it in, and the concluding sequence of “Retune”, “So”, and “1804” is, itself, as concise and convincing a demonstration of “where music is going” as you need, all evidence self-provided. Potential not only makes a shockingly strong case for the top tier of contemporary sample-indebted electronic achievements (alongside pillars including Burial’s Rival Dealer EP and Jamie xx’s In Colour), but does so while insisting that the universe, much like ourselves, will never be explored in its entirety.
Essential Tracks: “Copper Wire”, “Retune”, and “1804”