Reviewed by: Max Miller
“Right now,” says a male voice in a thick British accent, “I don’t have a backup plan for if I don’t make it.” “But even if—,” the voice continues, before a pause, the following words either never uttered or purposely cut from the recording before the voice concludes, “I’ll just decide to move on.” A snappy beat appears beneath the looped vocal sample, the words never quite syncing up with the rhythm, making the sample seem not like a part of the music, but ethereally removed from it, as bright synths swirl cheerily in the background.
Thus begins “Regular,” the opener on Potential, the second full-length from Providence, RI-based producer James Hinton, AKA the Range. It’s entirely plausible to take the underlying message at face-value: Hinton is riding the crest of critical acclaim for his debut, Nonfiction, while acutely aware that the fickle tides of taste could drop him just as easily. And yet, Hinton seems unperturbed; content, instead, to do what he does well without worrying about how his music is perceived.
“What he does well” is sample-heavy, hip-hop-influenced electronic instrumentals with a paradoxically jittery serenity, like the moment when you’re so high you can’t get off the couch, but your heart feels like it’s racing like Secretariat. “Florida,” for example, creates a fittingly tropical vibe with marimba-like synths and R&B-vocal samples all drenched in reverb so heavy they sound like they’re coming from beneath the ocean, while a frantic hi-hat beat anchors the listener to dry land. “Superimpose,” on the other hand, locks into an equally summery, but altogether less frenetic groove.
“Five Four” samples a fast-paced rap on “mindfulness” and matches it with a calmer, almost cinematic instrumental that, at times, borders on menacing. It’s a noteworthy outlier from much of Potential’s otherwise optimistic mood. Hinton once joked in an interview on Pitchfork that his project’s name could refer to a number of things: “It could be Bruce Hornsby’s backing band, or it could be math, or it could be that you’re making lots of different music.” Maybe it’s the American in me, but when I hear “the Range,” I think of the fabled frontier of the Old West. Of course, the actual history of the West is plagued with racism and violence, but the idealized vision of a person being able to stake his or her claim and find nothing but adventure and novelty just over the horizon is what comes to mind when I hear the angelic otherworldliness of “No Loss” or the looped string samples on “So.” Hinton doesn’t need a backup plan, because he need not concern himself with “making it.” Right now, he stands before a vast landscape, and he has time to go exploring.