James Hinton’s second album as The Range is a concept fully realized; a stunning amalgamation of masterful production with vocals by unknown artists from the deepest corners of YouTube. And while an album about undiscovered YouTube stars called Potential might seem corny to some, Hinton captures the current cultural moment—with its wealth of burgeoning musical talent and seemingly arbitrary nature of success in the music industry—perfectly, weaving together stories that speak to the difficulty of “making it” as a musician and the potential that we all have for greatness.
“Regular” introduces this tension between struggle and success underlying the album. “Right now / I don’t have a backup plan for if I don’t make it,” the speaker repeats a capella, as the production builds in the background. “I’ll just decide to move on to something bigger and better,” he says as the bass drops off behind him. It’s easy to forget that all the vocals on this album have been taken from YouTube videos, and weren’t recorded in a studio on top of production that was already there; rather, Hinton built tracks around the vocals, blending any unwanted background noise into the texture of his production.
And the textures he weaves together here are gorgeous. Multi-layered synths and pads create a bigger, brighter, and more polished sound than 2013’s Nonfiction. Nonfiction was one of the best electronic albums of that year, voted as such by critics and individual listeners alike. But Potential is James Hinton’s biggest statement to date. “Copper Wire” is the embodiment of this bigger, more sparkling sound. It comes in with a huge synth line, and the lyrics “All I’m trying to do from a young age / trying to get paid / But we’re all grown up / And everything’s changed.” You can picture the kid in the video, barely 9 years old, when he sings “09 was emotional / It’s a memory / I wish that everything was the same / talking like we can make it rain on a sunny day.” It clearly stuck with Hinton too, as he puts him front and center here.
“Florida” was the first single released from the album, featuring a teenage girl’s YouTube Ariana Grande cover, but you wouldn’t know that from the finished product. Hinton uses her flawless, studio-quality sounding vocals as the hook on top of a tropical beat complete with steel drums and ear-shattering UK-style bass. I predict it won’t be long before Hinton finds himself playing shows with the likes of Jamie xx and other like-minded producers like Mount Kimbie and King Krule. Other highlights from the album include “Five Four,” the second single previously released alongside a touching and well-crafted music video that solidifies the album’s strong concept visually.
The second half of the album is just as good as the first, and track 8, “Skeptical,” is a clear highlight. Hinton’s affinity with East London rappers in particular is accentuated here, although the range of rappers and vocalists he draws upon span many different backgrounds, cultures, and generations. Potential’s defining message is clear and writ large: everyone has enormous potential, and learning about the stories and struggles of others only makes our own potential for greatness that much bigger. IDM, electronic, whatever you want to call it: Hinton’s conceptual vision on Potential has the power to shake up the genre—and change the way future stars get made.