Tourist – otherwise known as William Phillips – has enjoyed a fascinating rise to recognition. Feeding on a meaty diet of ’90s garage and house music during his later formative years in London, the relatively unknown producer has openly acknowledged his roots but instead traversed a divergent path: graceful, cinematic electronic music in the same realm as Teen Daze, Chrome Sparks, Washed Out or The Range. After finding his feet with a self-titled EP back in 2012, Phillips further nurtured his blissful sound with ‘Tonight’, ‘Patterns’ and “Holding On” – two more four-track sets and a primed pop anthem that managed to attract guest features from Australian singer-songwriter Josef Salvat and the magnetic New York songstress Niia.
In retrospect, it’s ground that has been tread by many before, but what renders ‘U’ so deeply effective is Phillips’ astounding ability to convey complex, relatable emotion through sounds and textures instead of veiled poetry or stark lyricism.
Regardless of his discography up until now, Tourist’s first full-length effort ‘U’ has been on the cards for years. A debut album is the defining maiden voyage for a developing artist; it’s a powerful embodiment of everything they’ve revelled in and triumphed over from day one. For Phillips, it was a long-term failed relationship that set the course for ‘U’. Titled around the idea of two people going their own separate ways and becoming ‘you’ rather than ‘us’, the ten-track LP is a cohesive audial tour through the elation, madness, pain and growth of what was clearly a relationship that redefined Phillips as a human being.
In retrospect, it’s ground that has been tread by many before, but what renders ‘U’ so deeply effective is Phillips’ astounding ability to convey complex, relatable emotion through sounds and textures instead of veiled poetry or stark lyricism. ‘U’ is an album of few words; there are vocal hooks aplenty, but Phillips has clearly opted to keep any inclusions relegated to unadorned, malleable phrases. There are no flashy feature vocals or drawcard guest inclusions in sight. As a result, these snappy little samples are simply extra layers in the meticulously structured fray; additional crew members aboard a tight, efficient ship. It’s a perplexing choice when you consider that Phillips landed a Grammy as a co-writer on Sam Smith‘s melodramatic, drippy hit ballad “Stay With Me”, but this is a producer with an impressively stacked hand and a clear desire to differentiate Tourist as its own outlet and entity.
Album opener “U” immediately introduces Phillip’s mission statement, rolling in on a steely beeping hook and a tandem chopped-up vocal sample. It’s a helium light hello to the listener, conjuring a sense of personal selection through repetition and a candid, immediately accessible slow build. At the same time, “U” feels like a warm introduction to the object of his affection.
In the face of such weighty subject matter, it’s no surprise that ‘U’ takes a swift nosedive into murkier, despondent waters. “To Have You Back” is a foreboding, mournful anthem, entrenched with pumping beats, steamy industrial effects and a climactic, soul-swallowing bass drop. Phillips grieves with his synthesisers, desperately pining for a treasure slipping through his fingers right in front of him. This sorrow apparates once again on “Wait”, a soulful piano-laden ode to in-betweens and aborted rendezvous at the halfway line. Phillips only needs the line “The more I still wait” to verbalise his dejection, leaving his churning layers of warped production to do the rest of the work.
Phillips has constructed a labour and summation of love, brimming with personable, emotive energy that challenges the often austere, detached tropes of current dance music.
Although ‘U’ is essentially a break-up album, Phillips is careful to also document the fleeting ecstasy that comes with infatuation. “Run” – a euphoric six-minute experience that could easily soundtrack a record-breaking sprint through misty mountain trails or bustling city streets – is the most unabashedly jubilant track on ‘U’, charging forward on a thumping beat, vibrant synth arrangements and a rapturous falsetto-laden vocal hook. The picturesque “Waves” literally washes in with recordings of a lapping shoreline, crafting a sense of carefree serenity before eventually swelling from a whisper-quiet lullaby into a shuffling, super-charged climax. “I’ll be happy / Just to make you happy”, a pitch-shifted voice moans, indicating an idyllic calm before the impending storm. It’s the most clear-cut lyric on ‘U’, but it’s also far from the key conduit behind what makes “Waves” so special – it’s just another supporting component in the mix.
The tail end of ‘U’ takes a frenetic, wholly welcome turn into an untamed array of reckless beats and energised transitions. “Too Late” intertwines a sensual female moan with a booming male vocal, birthing a stunning interchange that soars over a thundering arrangement. “Foolish” follows suit, mashing climbing melodies into ringing alarms that serve the leaping ardour of the moment. Without a moment to recover, “Separate Ways” bursts forward with buzzing under-the-sea synth lines and bubbly samples, finally slowing down in the final act for a moment of reflection. This succession of zealous, danceable tracks exhibits the overwhelming throws of fervent affection, each chewing over the spectrum of raw emotional whiplash in their own distinct way.
After a trio of mesmeric electronic earworms, “For Sarah” rounds out the album in a beautifully reflective manner. Tying up the entire experience in a neat nostalgic bow, the coruscating closer is a stunning white flag and a confirmation of the overarching intention behind ‘U’. Phillips has constructed a labour and summation of love, brimming with personable, emotive energy that challenges the often austere, detached tropes of current dance music. Each and every track is a dynamic moment of reflection on the euphoric highs and the brooding lows of a failed relationship. With directional, deliberate sonic landscapes and purposeful textures alone, Phillips has managed to spin a heart-wrenching tale of shattered romance.
‘U’ is available to purchase right here.
If you’re in Sydney or Melbourne, you’re in luck – Tourist is heading down under for two very special headline shows in August. Head here for tickets and information.