For most musicians, there’s no greater achievement than winning a Grammy. But as most artists will tell you, the award can be both a blessing and a curse. Sure, there’s the fame and fortune that comes with recording a hit record, but there’s also some pretty daunting expectations to live up to. In the case of Tourist‘s William Phillips, this was neither a problem nor a concern. After winning a golden statue for his work on Sam Smith‘s hit single “Stay With Me,” the producer returned to his home in London to record his debut album, U, in the comfort of his bedroom. Now, after months of waiting (and a few unexpected delays), we finally can hear the results of his hard work.
Clocking in at just over 43 minutes, U is a solid collection of electronica that flirts with dance, dub and garage. Unlike the majority of electronic records released this year, though, it manages to hold your attention from start to finish. With opening track “U,” Phillips sets the stage for the rest of the album with a slow sonic swell of white noise and vocal samples. From there, he takes things up a notch, injecting a healthy dose of space into the mix. On “Run,” he gives us his best Armin van Buuren, employing elements of trance and even the occasionally hint of prog-house. What starts with a simple, three-letter vocal sample, slowly but surely erupts into a pulsing, four-on-the-floor beat. When the song eventually reaches a satisfying climax, the carpet is pulled out from underneath the listener and replaced with a surging bassline. It’s one of the album’s most compelling moments, but hardly its last.
Other notable standouts “My Love (Interlude)” and “Separate Ways,” see the producer embrace his dancier side, while “Wait” and “Foolish” call to mind Phillips’ earlier work. Surprisingly, though, there isn’t a whole lot of recycled material on this record. In fact, none of the album’s ten tracks appeared on the three EPs that preceded its release. While this is an impressive feat in its own right, it’s not the only reason this record sounds both new and fresh to long-time listeners like ourselves. Each and every track has its own theme and sonic palette, meaning no two songs sound the same. This can make it a challenging listen at first, but it also helps to separate Tourist from the rest of producers out there and give the album some depth.
On the surface, U is just another electronic record, but beneath the burbling beats and crafty vocal samples, there lies a complex but accessible body of work. In a year with big releases from fellow electronic heavyweights, James Blake and Kaytranada, Tourist has managed to push the envelope, while staying true to his sound. It’s a lesson in persuasion, and one that shouldn’t go without notice.
Stream the album in its entirety below.