The original download of Tourist’s debut album U, released on May 6th 2016, included a track list for a mix tape of “Sad Dance Songs,” which the London-based producer refers to as “music I love.” It’s no wonder. Tourist’s album isn’t easily classifiable as “dance music,” although it shares sonic elements with both house and EDM. U is less the soundtrack for a dance party than a soundscape that reflects the interior monologue of the dancer. It is immediate rather than transcendent.
Tourist is the project of London-based producer William Phillips (a force behind Sam Smith’s “Stay with Me,” among other hits). Phillips is adept at creating sounds that are evocative without being literal. In different moments we recall a pack of coyotes howling in the distance, sirens and the incessant scream of public transit on “To Have You Back” while “Waves” recalls the ocean. The sounds of paranoia and grandeur are wedded together.
The repetition of a single word (“Run,” on a track of the same name) or phrase (“Separate Ways” or “Too Late,” for instance) is also a pervasive tactic. It’s reminiscent of the mesmerizing, energized but semi-somnolent state we enter when transported by dance music. But as they do in dreams, other noises, shades and images pop up from the morass, making themselves known at random and slipping away before we can even grasp hold of them and their appending associations.
I listened to this album on a train ride from Hudson, NY to Penn Station. The wrinkled silken surface of the river dyed lavender by the sunset and the boulders and soft greenery on the opposite shore were the perfect setting for letting it unfold.
A music video set to the second track “Run” reveals acres of plowed earth surrounded by a stark, almost mystical forest, two human bodies intent on approaching each other. This is an album that speaks to stretched distances, threads of uncertainty tied between a shattered urgency. The very title of the album is a stark vowel, at once sharp and forgiving. It deflects the focus away from the self while simultaneously reinforcing the standpoint of the self-as-observer. Sad dance music at its finest.