Promises: Expressed with honour, intention and assurance, and sometimes a little grandeur.
James Hinton (The Range) heralds from Providence, Rhode Island. Through his early single releases to his Seneca EP and now full LP Nonfiction, he has displayed a perspicacity in production and conviction in song construction peculiar to other forms of contemporary electronic music. Expressed in a sheen and tentative ear, Hinton’s music combines a tremendously wide embrace of influences: skwee, juke and footwork, arpeggiators, spoken and broken word, all blended with more authentic song structures and RNB samples. Despite such ambition it not only works, but is utterly, compellingly distinctive.
As Hinton explained when we caught up earlier this summer, the juts of footwork and stabs of RNB vocal are quite at odds with the town’s noise heritage.
‘In the 90s Fort Thunder and Lightning Bolt were the major part of putting Providence on the map as a noise city, and I think a lot of artists moved to Providence during that time to live and work under that pretence,’ he says. ‘Still to this day almost all of the well-attended shows are of that ilk. It’s actually kind of nice because I get to be in my own pocket and just make a lot of music instead of always having to be at shows. It’s nice that Providence still has that identity to draw from’.
As shown on older tracks ‘Nothing Left’ and ‘Motivate’, and newer ones like ‘The One’, Hinton is a master of polyrhythmic drum patterns, utilising off-beats and syncopation; elements of percussion continuously roll over each other. Other contemporary artists use similarly inventive and upset polyrhythms, but none seems to use them to such consistent effect. The impermanence of the beat can lead to the impermanence of an idea, but with Hinton the songs remain short, cogent and memorable.
‘I think my first obsession with it was with Baltimore Club around 08-09,’ he says. ‘I played the drums growing up so something clicked for me when I heard that level of polyrhythms presented in a non-proggy way. It just felt like there was something there for me with those rhythms and the possibility for harmonic work on top of those drum patterns. It was a relatively gradual change for me from acoustic drums and synthesizer when I was little to all electronic music.’
His ‘Promises (edit)’ is a perfect example of this melding of complicated polyrhythm and more orthodox structures. A rework of Ciara’s RNB plodder ‘Promise’, Hinton’s version implements a plunging polyrhythmic funk and a near epoch-defining synth line. Across it lie powerful harmonies and the pitch-shifted main vocal, turned into a more androgynous and pained voice. It is a song transformed from pop banger to understated, danceable, electronic anthem.
A key part of his distinctive sound is his manipulation of the vocal, yet he is sure to mix up the style and intonation. On the Seneca EP track ‘Greg Maddux Change Up’ is led by a vocal barking about ‘vegetables in the garden’. On his new record Nonfiction words are deployed as a mantra in ‘Jamie’ (‘Fuck it I can benefit/And I’ve seen friends turn to enemies/And the more people that surround me the more lonely I feel’) and as a cut, distant, echo-laden quasi-rap in long-time-coming track ‘Metal Swing’. On ‘The One’ they are more chipmunk, redolent of British dance music c.2011.
‘Part of the reason you use voices in work is that you get the level of comfort in hearing someone talking and singing,’ explains Hinton. ‘Because that will be true even if you completely warp the vocal, I think the onus is on the person sampling that voice to do something interesting with it.’
As aforementioned, Hinton is just about to release his debut album, Nonfiction, on Brighton’s Donky Pitch. The label got in touch after hearing his work The Big Dip (Astro Nautico, 2011), and invited him to work with them on an EP, which became Seneca. Now comes the album, on 14 October.
Nonfiction, which can be streamed on soundcloud, has a slightly more glorious feel than his previous work - illustrated by ‘Everything But’ and ‘Seneca’. As far as the beat seems lighter, however, it isn’t because he has deliberately toned it down. Indeed, speaking during the making of the album, Hinton said that a more reflective and luxurious sound was ‘not a conscious thing at all’.
‘I feel like I have shifted rhythmic emphasis from the kick drum to the higher frequencies so there is more complex polyrhythm happening in the higher end than where it would be noticed in the bass. I suppose I can see that I have taken some overall instrument density out for clarity, but whether it’s real or not I think I’m still trying to use harmonic lines that end up being rhythmically interesting along with some more supporting elements that act as grounding features.’
Overall, Hinton’s philosophy can be simply described: ‘I think if anything I am just trying to advance relatively percussive music in an accessible way. I have always enjoyed more complex percussion and appreciate when it’s done out of the spotlight but still underlying the whole track nicely.’
In support of the 14 October release, Hinton is playing a few dates across Europe which include The Old Blue Last in London tomorrow (Thursday, 10 October).
A friend wondered the other day why Hinton’s music wasn’t more well-known. Part of the reason might be its rhythmic complexity. The other part? Because not enough people have heard it yet. With the release of Nonfiction, hopefully this will change.
The Range plays The Old Blue Last, Shoreditch, London, Thursday 10 October.
His debut LP Nonfiction is out on Monday 14 October.