The Range: Potential

The-Range-Potential-hi-resJames Hinton’s second album as The Range is a concept fully realized; a stunning amalgamation of masterful production with vocals by unknown artists from the deepest corners of YouTube. And while an album about undiscovered YouTube stars called Potential might seem corny to some, Hinton captures the current cultural moment—with its wealth of burgeoning musical talent and seemingly arbitrary nature of success in the music industry—perfectly, weaving together stories that speak to the difficulty of “making it” as a musician and the potential that we all have for greatness.

“Regular” introduces this tension between struggle and success underlying the album. “Right now / I don’t have a backup plan for if I don’t make it,” the speaker repeats a capella, as the production builds in the background. “I’ll just decide to move on to something bigger and better,” he says as the bass drops off behind him. It’s easy to forget that all the vocals on this album have been taken from YouTube videos, and weren’t recorded in a studio on top of production that was already there; rather, Hinton built tracks around the vocals, blending any unwanted background noise into the texture of his production.

And the textures he weaves together here are gorgeous. Multi-layered synths and pads create a bigger, brighter, and more polished sound than 2013’s Nonfiction. Nonfiction was one of the best electronic albums of that year, voted as such by critics and individual listeners alike. But Potential is James Hinton’s biggest statement to date. “Copper Wire” is the embodiment of this bigger, more sparkling sound. It comes in with a huge synth line, and the lyrics “All I’m trying to do from a young age / trying to get paid / But we’re all grown up / And everything’s changed.” You can picture the kid in the video, barely 9 years old, when he sings “09 was emotional / It’s a memory / I wish that everything was the same / talking like we can make it rain on a sunny day.” It clearly stuck with Hinton too, as he puts him front and center here.

Florida” was the first single released from the album, featuring a teenage girl’s YouTube Ariana Grande cover, but you wouldn’t know that from the finished product. Hinton uses her flawless, studio-quality sounding vocals as the hook on top of a tropical beat complete with steel drums and ear-shattering UK-style bass. I predict it won’t be long before Hinton finds himself playing shows with the likes of Jamie xx and other like-minded producers like Mount Kimbie and King Krule. Other highlights from the album include “Five Four,” the second single previously released alongside a touching and well-crafted music video that solidifies the album’s strong concept visually.

The second half of the album is just as good as the first, and track 8, “Skeptical,” is a clear highlight. Hinton’s affinity with East London rappers in particular is accentuated here, although the range of rappers and vocalists he draws upon span many different backgrounds, cultures, and generations. Potential’s defining message is clear and writ large: everyone has enormous potential, and learning about the stories and struggles of others only makes our own potential for greatness that much bigger. IDM, electronic, whatever you want to call it: Hinton’s conceptual vision on Potential has the power to shake up the genre—and change the way future stars get made.

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Freshly Squeezed’s 20 Best Albums of 2015

Freshly Squeezed’s 20 Best Albums of 2015

20. Bjork: Vulnicurahomepage_large.9ee25a14

Bjork’s vulnerable, honest self-portrait on Vulnicura detailed her breakup with longtime partner Matthew Barney, but its scope and breadth of sound make it much more than that. Bjork is a musical genius; socially and consciously relevant in 2015 as she rallied for women’s equality in music and stood up against climate change. However, Vulnicura finds her at her most emotionally raw.

homepage_large.eb62616b19. Mac DeMarco: Another One

Ahh, Mac DeMarco. He won our hearts last year with Salad Days (pronounced Sah-laad days) and is back again already with Another One. Also in 2015: DeMarco directed and appeared in a number of bizarre web videos and released Some Other OnesWatch him dance, grab himself, and play guitar in a creepy Michael Jackson mask in the video for “Another One:”

url18. CHVRCHES: Every Open Eye

CHVRCHES built on their unique brand of modern synth-pop showcased on 2013’s The Bones Of What You Believe for Every Open Eye, reaching soaring new heights. Lauren Mayberry and co. also stoop up for women’s rights, slammed Donald Trump, and defended their right to be seen as a band in the past year, despite Mayberry’s burgeoning stardom.

homepage_large.7389418117. Major Lazer: Peace Is The Mission

Major Lazer’s “Lean On” was everywhere this summer, but there’s more to Peace Is The Mission than just that. Features with Wild Belle, Ellie Goulding, Travi$ Scott, and Chronixx made for other highlights on a diverse album that showed off Diplo’s range and unique production style with Jillionaire and Walshy Fire, and soundtracked the beginning of the summer.

url-116. D’Angelo & The Vanguard: Black Messiah

Technically released at the end of 2014, Black Messiah was too late for the end of year lists last year, coming as a complete surprise and marking D’Angelo’s return after 14 years since 2000’s Voodoo. “Really Love” is now up for a Grammy, and Black Messiah has been hailed as a triumph, its influence on black music over the past year undeniable.

15. Miguel: Wildhearturl-2

Miguel’s Wildheart cements the singer’s sex symbol status, but the arrangements are luscious and diverse, making use of a wide range of production styles, such as funk, R&B, and alt-rock. Album highlights include “Coffee,” “Waves,” and “Simplethings,” but Wildheart is an album to throw on for a party, a chill Friday night, or just a good time.

homepage_large.04db1a4514. Donnie Trumpet & The Social Experiment: Surf

Chance The Rapper has had a busy year. When he hasn’t been talking to high school students, promoting his anti-violence and “Warmest Winter” initiatives, or being a father, he’s been collaborating, and on Surf he puts his fellow artists ahead of himself, resulting in a truly collaborative project which fuses great music with a bit of star power. Still, we can’t wait to see what he does next.

url-313. Sufjan Stevens: Carrie & Lowell

Sufjan Stevens’ Carrie & Lowell is a hauntingly beautiful depiction of death. Nostalgic, evocative, and heartbreaking, it details Stevens’ relationship with his mother and stepfather. “Death with Dignity” and “Should Have Known Better” are just the portal into Stevens’ family portrait on Carrie & Lowell, which traverses both time and space.

homepage_large.c5d9fc4f12. Panda Bear: Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper

The various members of Animal Collective were all fairly active this year, but Panda Bear’s Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper was the project that stood out most as a development of what AC were doing on Centipede Hz. Lennox now lives in Portugal, and his cosmopolitan brand of experimental pop is a natural segue from AC’s previous work to what’s coming next.

homepage_large.97efc20311. Vince Staples: Summertime ’06

Socially conscious, biting, and abrasive, Vince Staples has been hailed as the leader of the new generation of gangsta rap. On Summertime ’06 he fleshes out hooks like “I ain’t never ran from nothin’ but the police” with hard-hitting bars and sharped-edged lyricism. But there’s a lot more to Vince Staples than first meets the eye. Best Music Video of 2015.

homepage_large.283a416f10. Hot Chip: Why Make Sense?

Hot Chip’s Why Make Sense? took soaring singles “Hurache Lights” and “Need You Now” and based a whole album around that retro-modern sound. Hot Chip look to the tradition of artists like Bruce Springsteen and LCD Soundsystem in order to place themselves within the canon of the great electronic bands of the past, and on Why Make Sense? they do just that.

9. Courtney Barnett: Sometimes I Sit And Think, And Sometimes I Just SitSIJS-2400

Clever and quick-witted, Courtney Barnett has become known as Australia’s indie-rock goofball. However, on Sometimes I Sit And Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit, Barnett (sometimes) broaches heavier topics, such as environmental threats to the Great Barrier Reef. But she always keeps her distance, never letting on a firm stance. Thus, Sometimes (often comically) explores a large range of contemporary topics.

8. Mark Ronson: Uptown Specialhomepage_large.7045d945

There is more to Mark Ronson’s Uptown Special than “Uptown Funk.” A lot more. A truly modern rock record, traversing funk, R&B, and psychedelic rock, Ronson’s sense of what works musically is impeccable. The features with Kevin Parker (Tame Impala), Andrew Wyatt (Miike Snow), Stevie Wonder, and Mystikal make for some of the best rock jams of the year, and make the album a remarkably fluid listen from start to finish.

7. Kurt Vile: b’lieve i’m goin down…homepage_large.5f30eab1

Kurt Vile’s b’lieve i’m goin down… opens with “Pretty Pimpin,” a 5 minute long, rollicking track that sets up the rest of the album in its self-aware depiction of the man behind it. “That’s Life, tho (almost hate to say),” “Life Like This,” and “Wild Imagination” are album highlights, but Vile lets you into his head on b’lieve i’m going down, and once you start listening, it will be hard to get it out of yours.

homepage_large.4a7f78fc6. Neon Indian: VEGA INTL. Night School

One of 2015’s most triumphant returns was Neon Indian, with VEGA INTL. Night School, Alan Palomo’s first release since 2011’s Era Extraña (remember “Polish Girl“?). Palomo’s chillwave sound is bigger, funkier, and grander on VEGA INTL. Night School, with catchy hits like “Annie” and the epic “Slumlord.” A very welcome return from one of chillwave’s finest.

homepage_large.8a2cb9945. Father John Misty: I Love You, Honeybear

What would we have done without Father John Misty in 2015? His wry social commentary, brilliant wit, and cynicism made for one of the best albums (possibly ever) about love and relationships in the 21st century. “Bored In The USA,” “The Ideal Husband,” and “True Affection” are just some of the titles thrown out that encapsulate the magnetic attraction of Father John.

4. Tame Impala: Currents04192b63

Tame Impala’s Currents is Kevin Parker’s biggest statement to date. On it, he takes everything that was central to the Tame Impala project and adapts it to the changes in his personal life, the expectation that has come with his burgeoning success, and the current changes to how we experience music-and blasts off into uncharted territory…

Read the full review here.

3. Grimes: Art Angelshomepage_large.59ef246f

Grimes burst onto the scene back in 2012 with Visions, an album that topped many year-end lists that year. Under enormous pressure, Claire Boucher released Art Angels this year to widespread critical acclaim. An album that takes an immense range of musical knowledge and production styles and distills it into Boucher’s signature brand of alt-pop, Art Angels is one of the most important albums ever made by a female producer.

2. Jamie xx: In Colourhomepage_large.8f09545c

Jamie xx is a master-sampler. On his solo debut, In Colour, he proves that he doesn’t need a band to create anthemic and ground-breaking electronic music. “I Know There’s Gonna Be (Good Times)” takes a sample of The Persuasions’ “Good Times” and builds it up with Young Thug and Popcaan, while “Loud Places” samples Idris Muhammed’s “Could Heaven Ever Be Like This.” Certainly, listening to In Colour feels like being on a cloud.

homepage_large.d47a58801. Kendrick Lamar: To Pimp A Butterfly

It should be no surprise that Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly is topping virtually ever year-end list that has come out this year. Why?

The fact that there are still people out on the streets in some parts of the U.S. chanting “We gon be alright” in solidarity with the victims of police brutality is a testament to the power of music to enact social change. Lamar’s “Alright” has become an anthem for the anti-police movement in the United States in large part because it speaks to the universal…

Read the full think piece here.

Honourable Mentions

Best New Artist: Empress Of, Me

Best EP: FKA twigs, M3LL155X

Best Collaboration: Big Grams, Big Grams

Best Mixtape: Erykah Badu, But You Caint Use My Phone

Best Cat Album: Run the Jewels, Meow the Jewels