For a lucky few, YouTube can be a lucrative avenue of employment. But in December, Fusion explored the stark reality of being a known figure on the website while still using outside means to pay the bills. The stories of viral stardom are feel-good in that they transform the lives of those who are found and become stars, but what of the seemingly infinite pool of talent whose break simply hadn’t come, or wasn’t looking for one? This latter group is explored and wonderfully transformed on James Hinton’s sophomore album as the Range, Potential.
The vocal work on Potential was found by Hinton’s “very hyper-specific” method of searching for samples. Both original work and covers were used, but one common theme was that the view counts weren’t substantial. Like any master-class producer, he modifies the vocals to powerful effect. Potential‘s opening words, “Right now, I don’t have a backup plan for if I don’t make it / But even if… / I’ll just decide to move on,” are crucial to understanding the album as a whole thanks to the middle phrase. “But even if” is a statement cut short, allowing the listener to imagine scenarios in which the artist behind the voice goes on to an illustrious career and decides to move on after exhausting their creative capacity, or happily accepting that fame is elusive and that other pursuits are worth chasing. By appearing on an album whose creation has received its rightful share of coverage, it’s worth considering either case playing out.
“Copper Wire” begins with an “All My Friends”-esque single staccato piano note (albeit a lower one) and hits upon another important electronic touchstone in the presumably Burial-inspired pitch-altered vocals uttering a longing “Without you…” over and over. Even with those vital figures looming over the track, the true star is Hinton’s personal mark — that of the hopeful twinkling shading in the track to make it complete. As a former physics student, his production reflects the cleanliness of a well-executed mathematical proof, with no extraneous sounds existing on the album. Instead, it’s an enjoyable exercise to locate the subtle parts of each song and figure out how they relate to the whole. On early single “Florida”, for instance, the cover of Ariana Grande’s “You’ll Never Know” is anchored by a bass groove that directs the pace of the track.
Each producer has their favorite instrument, and on Potential, Hinton reveals an affinity for piano compositions that often times sound straight out of a classical performance. But this doesn’t last for the whole album, as the halfway point, “Falling Out of Phase” signals a more mysterious sound for the latter half of the album as compared to the frequently euphoric first. This becomes immediately apparent on the following song, “No Loss”, which pairs an ominous piano with ghostly vocals that float together until a midway burst of synths and drums. It’s as effective as the highlights like “Copper Wire” and “Florida” at producing an emotional response, and one can get to feeling empowered by either half of the album.
Empowerment is to be one of the major themes of Potential. YouTube gave the people whose samples Hinton used a place for them to find and subsequently use their voices, and by adding them to his album (as well as talking to them, the journey to finding the samples and engaging with the people behind said samples is being made into a documentary), he’s widened their reach and given their efforts recognition. Potential is as great an album as it is a story, and the songs allow you to sink into them while simultaneously offering a chance to think about one’s dreams and actually putting in the effort to chase them. As Potential shows, you might discover a platform you previously never knew you could have.