Tourist, writer of ‘Stay With Me’ amongst other things, has made things very hard indeed for himself on his debut album. He has attempted to create a concept album with little to no lyrics – a story without words.
It is some story, but in another way it is entirely ordinary. The electronica artist, we are informed via album blurb (that little digital sidebar being the liner note’s poor, modern relative), has recently broken up with his girlfriend of four years and has used this album to tell that story. So it is scarcely a rare story, but perhaps all the more powerful because of this.
But since words fail him, where does Tourist (known to his mum as Will Philips) look in order to tell this story? Nowhere, really. Instead, he simply gets his PR people to inform us of the album’s context, and then sits back and hopes for the best. But for a concept album, the best will only ever come when story successfully combines with the music.
This album does exactly that. It is a burning success. The very human story bleeds through every synthesised note. Right from the get go, title track ‘U’ evokes a sense of dread at what we know is about to come. And, sure enough, there is a real current running through the album, that of the sound of real, pure sadness. From the frenzied, crashing chords of ‘To Have You Back’ to the gothic choral elements of ‘Wait’ to the perfectly and centrally placed piano notes of ‘For Sarah’ to the pounding, tragic certainty of ‘Waves’’ beat, this album strives to contain no division between its content and its creator’s feelings. It is music which creates feelings by how it feels – it needs no words. And on the rare occasion it does contain lyrics, their content only vocalises what has already been heard.
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Why? Because most dance music does not aim at that target. It aims at the target of the constituent parts of the music – the beat, the drop, the breakdown – and their success. Philips abandons that completely. His dance music is not really of dance. It is, as he describes, music which ultimately comes from the experience of “listening to pirate radio stations on the Internet as a 12-year-old in Cornwall. I couldn’t go out clubbing, I listened to dance music in my bedroom — not usually the place that you listen to that. It spoke to me in less of a visceral, clubby way and more of a melodic, emotive way’” It shows. It does so because Philips responds to his surroundings like a chameleon. He indicated this in one particular interview, detailing how his exact situation at that particular point in time can be heard in each of his EPs.
‘U’ is far from a perfect album. The second half grinds in places, as you hear Tourist beginning to run out of ideas. Elsewhere, some songs simply continue past their end date (‘Waves,’ ‘Too Late,’ ‘Sarah’). But the core of this album is one which means it deserves high praise. It is a core of the feels, rather than one of pure physical feeling usually employed in dance music. Not only that, but rarely is there so much emotion expressed through so few words – whether they are in prose, film or ambitious debut albums.
‘U’ is out now via Monday Records.
This Tourist review was written by Ben Duncan-Duggal, a GIGsoup Contributor. Edited by Stephen Butchard.