- James Hinton doesn't really make dance music. Instead, he ties ideas from various genres into neat bows of downtempo instrumentation. On Nonfiction, his 2013 breakthrough album as The Range, he added a baroque, often tender feel to his eclectic sound. It was bedroom-born electronica not unlike, say, Dntel, music that was earnest but meek. After the strong reception of Nonfiction and its follow-up EP, Panasonic, Hinton signed to indie giant Domino, coming back with an album of grander gestures and stronger feelings.
Like so many artists who came up in the post-dubstep era, Hinton has a preoccupation with vocal samples. He seeks out voices from odd corners of the internet rather than typical R&B acapellas, and that method is the foundation of Potential. Hinton scoured YouTube for unheard sounds, focusing on amateur videos with fewer than 100 views. In doing so, he tapped into a human poignancy that could only come from such a vulnerable and unguarded source.
As such, Potential is loaded with voices—people chatter, coo, whine and cry out. "Right now, I don't have a backup plan for if I don't make it," a man says in clipped phrases on opener "Regular." For "Falling Out Of Phase," Hinton uses a recording of someone singing Keyshia Cole in their bathroom. "Florida" takes a big vocal hook—the kind that Pangaea might have played with back in the day—and straps it to a monstrous instrumental made of twitchy rhythms and steel drums. The latter track is among Hinton's best, conveying an array of bittersweet emotions within seconds, and its vocal is key: wordless moans are placed strategically, pushing the song forward in all the right ways. Moments like these find Hinton writing what's essentially pop music, three-minute bites of pure pleasure and vibrant colour.
The way Hinton smoothly works dance music elements into these frameworks is half the fun. The heart-tugging melodrama of "Falling Out Of Phase" is dragged along by trap hi-hats that hiss quietly in the background, while the sentimental "No Loss" gets a major boost when jungle breaks burst in like blazing sunlight. "Regular" makes Reese basslines, one of the more aggressive elements of drum & bass, sound comforting.
When Hinton isn't going for broke with vocals and clever genre interpolations, the results are less convincing. Less notable tracks, like "Retune" and "1804," are saccharine and unaffecting; the constant use of angelic piano grows numbing towards the finish line. That said, Potential is largely a wonderful collection of uplifting and humble electronic pop. Hinton has explained that he wanted to "[tell] my own story alongside the stories of the people I sampled," and "to cope with problems in ways that don't drag you into the abyss." Such a universal mission statement goes some way towards explaining Potential's appeal. He's not working for dance heads or for indie fans—he's making electronic music that anyone can understand.
02. Copper Wire
05. Five Four
06. Falling Out of Phase
07. No Loss