Album Review: Tourist – U

By on Monday, 2nd May 2016 at 12:00 pm
 

Tourist U album coverThe Tourist debut album has been a long time coming. Electronic singer/songwriter and producer William Phillips hasn’t exactly been sitting on his hands in the last few years, however. He’s been biding his time with a series of EPs – ‘Tourist’ in 2012, ‘Tonight’ in 2013 and ‘Patterns’ in 2014 – and collaborated with several of current British pop royalty such as Lianne La Havas and Years and Years. In 2015, he won a Grammy for Song of the Year for his co-writing prowess for Sam Smith’s monster hit ‘Stay with Me’, a piece of trivia that probably hasn’t been advertised enough. On the other hand, dwelling on that fact could detract from Phillips’ own preferred mode of creativity, as a smart, inventive, engaging electronic artist.

On the last day of SXSW 2014, I caught Tourist at an afternoon showcase at the now-gone Holy Mountain. It didn’t matter that it was 1 in the afternoon. Phillips was in his element, creating a wall of sound in front of us, hunched over a Macbook and a tabletop full of equipment, and that’s the image I have of him while listening to ‘U’, envisioning him in the recording studio, laying down these tracks. The allure of electronic music for many is in its ambiguity, the need for the listener to really tune into the many elements of a track to achieve full-on appreciation for the art and the mood the creator intended. (In stark contrast, most top 40 pop is obvious, with its inclusion of a chorus, a hook, and verses that usually follow the same rhythmic pattern, all fitting neatly into a 3-minute bite of music.) Throughout the album, Phillips as Tourist shows his deft hand at developing soundscapes full of texture, of contrasts through light and dark, from contemplation to euphoria.

A great example of this is ‘Wait’. The track chugs along slowly with an insistent backbeat, with wub wubs and percussive flourishes towards a higher, smooth plateau of enjoyable consciousness for the listener. Another great moment on ‘U’ is previously released single ‘Run’, which was promoted with a NSFW video. Phillips describes it as “…a song about falling in love”, saying that he loved the Ozzie Pullin-directed video “because it’s so pure. It sums up the driving essence of what it means to be human.” After hearing his explanation of it, you hear the music and it all makes sense: at the core of the song is its pulsing heartbeat, a reminder of being alive and as an extension, the energised feeling you get when your heart is doing backflips over someone you’re attracted to.

Skittish in nature and with video game-esque blips and bloops, ‘Foolish’ is one of the more inspired moments on ‘U’. ‘Waves’ is similarly interesting: the song begins as if a casual dance stroll before it progresses to brighter, rave-worthy beats. The album ends on a wonderfully tropical note with ‘For Sarah’: gentle chords usher the track, which swells towards an expansive, shinier, lighter conclusion. Oddly, the one misstep on the record appears to be ‘Too Late’. Although the bpm is up for much of the track, the mood is largely one note, feeling like the sonic equivalent of your head being beat into a wall.

When I heard the Tourist album was going to be called ‘U’, I inwardly groaned, thinking that it was designed to appeal to a favourite text shorthand of millennials. But the more I’ve thought about it, ‘U’ represents a coolness that you yourself can embrace, by diving into this music, acknowledging it for the art it is. While it’s true that electronic music may not be for everyone, the songs contained on this album have a level of sophistication granted by Phillips’ way to putting together plenty of unique instrumental components and embellishments, and are therefore worthy of your time.

8/10

‘U’, the debut album from Tourist, is out this Friday, the 6th of May, on Monday Records. To read TGTF’s past coverage on Phillips’ work as Tourist, go here.

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There Goes The Fear is where we tell you about the latest music, gigs, and tours we love and think you should too.

We love music that has its heart on its sleeve, tells a story, swims around our head all day or makes us dance like no-one's watching.

TGTF is edited by Mary Chang, who is based in Washington, DC. She is joined by writers in England, America and Ireland. It began as a UK music blog by Phil Singer in 2005.

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