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REVIEW: The Range ‘Potential’

In a world where more music is being created than ever before, it is becoming harder and harder to trace the origins of sounds we’re hearing in mainstream music. Over the last decade especially, the ability to sample sounds and voices in music, and the ability to dig deep into the seemingly endless source known as the internet, has become a huge part of music production. The internet, in this same way, has become a way for budding musicians and artists to share their voice with the world, and hope that it smiles on them.

27-year-old, Brooklyn-based producer The Range released his second album, Potential, last week; his first as part of the Domino family. Potential explores both of these things. Using vocal samples he’s sourced from the low-view-depths of Youtube of people from all over the world, The Range (real name James Hinton) is packing a lot into this roughly 40 minute record. First and foremost, as the name might suggest, Potential is an exhibition of the work of people who never quite made it. “Right now, I don’t have a backup plan for if I don’t make it,” we hear on the album’s opener, Regular. In a recent interview with us, Hinton explained that the album is an exploration of the stories of these people- these people who sat themselves in front of a camera of their own volition, hoping to share something with the world.

Throughout Potential, each vocal sample gives us a small insight into the lives of the people singing it. Whether it’s an American girl covering Ariana Grande on Falling Out Of Phase, or two budding English grime MCs on Five Four, The Range is teasing us constantly, with tracks being like vignettes into the lives of others. As impressive as all the thought behind Potential is, so too is the pairing of music alongside samples. Having been a drummer for many years, Hinton has an obvious skill in a number of different genres, tempos and styles. From dancehall on 1804, to footwork influences on Florida, samples and instrumentation work perfectly alongside each other in every track. In many of these cases, samples which were obviously in a certain vocal style have been transposed into another genre, making it all the more interesting to listen to. In our interview with him, Hinton himself said that “Regular [is] a great example [of this transposition]. That was straight up and down a grime vocal sample but I think I’m trying to contextualise it in a different way. Where by putting it at a much lower BPM and having a lot more sparse production around it I’m trying to cue people’s brains with it being a grime sample, but obviously not making a grime track out of it.”

By playing with instrumentation and context in this way, Potential becomes an album which is – as a whole – bitter sweet. Listening to Copper Wire, another song utilising a grime sample, we hear a young English boy repeating “and everything’s changed, my life’s like a book but the pain still remains,” over minimal drums, twinkling bells and light piano. Hinton uses a lot of instruments that give off this nostalgic kind of vibe, like you’d be listening to it in the car or as it rained. Lots of reverb across pianos, light synths, percussion, and on the vocals themselves bring it into this slightly melancholy sphere, but that said, there are still elements of joy in each track. Florida and Retune are the most obvious examples of these, with the brightest vocals and highest pitched instruments. It’s this mix of feelings that leaves us wanting more once the record is finished.

Though yes, no doubt The Range’s next album will be phenomenal too, it’s the people he’s collaborated with that we feel the need to know more about. What’s become of them since they recorded these videos? Have they continued with music? What do they think of where their voice has ended up? Luckily, alongside the release of Potential, Hinton has been working with Domino to create a documentary about the people he’s sampled, which hopefully we’ll be seeing down under very soon.

The fact that we need to ask these questions though, has meant that The Range has done something very special with this record. He has made us care. These people, who we’d never heard from before, now matter to us. James Hinton has not only succeeded in producing an album which is impressive on all musical levels, but also on many emotional and human ones too. This is an album unlike any other, and you’d be a fool to sleep on it.

Read our interview with The Range here

Image: Domino Recordings