How much you like this album depends on how much you like the opening track. Me? I like it a lot, but I understand if other people don’t – I haven’t heard exploitation of empathy on this sort of level since Hospice, and hey, I fell for that one too. Here, you the Range (a.k.a. James Hinton) samples an obscure YouTube recording of what sounds like a British young adult saying “Right now, I don’t have a backup for if I don’t make—. But even if—. I’ll just decide to move on.” Hell, just the way the sample (either the original or the way Hinton chops it) keeps disintegrating at the key moments highlighted above achieves an effect similar to Kanye West cutting off the voices in the intro of “Family Business.” Hinton then loops the sample again, this time propelled forward by drums – sonically representing that feeling of moving on. Then: a bed of angelic backing vocals; an overwhelming bass (“Something bigger and better…”); a keyboard line that dances between and around those two pitches, adding a third melodic layer to the song – it’s an Eno-buildup that would make Eno proud. In sum: Hinton starts with a negative sentiment that almost everyone can relate to, and flips it into something positive: forward-looking and onward-moving.
In fact, most of this album’s samples (if not all? And no, that’s not an Ariana Grande sample in “Florida”, that’s a sample of someone else singing Ariana Grande) are from obscure YouTube videos, and what results is something like Holly Herndon’s Platformfrom last year; something self-aware; something modern; something relevant. And while the album’s far from perfect, it’s that sort of relevancy that makes it attractive. You know, real stories by real people told again by someone who has his own story to tell. For example, “Copper Wire” employs a pitch-shifted vocal sample that’s reminiscent of Burial’s “Archangel” in how Hinton starts it on the low-end in the first half and moves it to a high-pitched one in the song’s second half, communicating that same feeling from “Regular” in one minor detail. Around that sample, is another sample of a then-13-year old London rapper named Kruddy Zak, whose words resonated with Hinton: “Zak’s verse has a piece in it that states ’09 was emotional / it’s a memory / I wish that everything was still the same’ and that hit me particularly deeply as that was the year I lost my mom.”
Which brings us to lead single “Florida,” the album’s most momentous song thanks to that aforementioned Ariana Grande cover sample, teasing it from texture to full melody and back again as The Range incorporates footwork percussion on a song more poignant than a lot of footwork. The bass explodes in the choruses; the synthesizers twinkle in the verses. After that, other highlights include “Five Four” juxtaposing the keyboard arpeggio with the rumble of a bass and more footwork-inspired drumming, and the exuberant “Retune,” which recalls M83’s underrated “Year One, One UFO.”
But James Hinton reveals himself over the 12 songs to be extremely limited in songwriting ability; I was initially afraid that confining himself to YouTube samples was going to be problematic (sort of like Oh No’s Ohnomite), but Hinton keeps feeding every song through the same Eno crescendos with arpeggiated melodies on a keyboard/synth that appears on at least half of these songs (I count six of them, anyway: tracks 5, 6, 8, 10, 11, 12; probably more) that it just gets wearying. Elsewhere, the alternative R&B “Superimpose” is filler; the clash of the dancehall singer on “1804” and Hinton’s aesthetic is simply cheesy.
So it’s no masterpiece. But in the hellhole that is adulthood and the slow year that is 2016, this suits me just fine.