Break ups are pretty much the Lingua Franca of pop music: from Amy Winehouse to Sinead O' Connor, few things are more guaranteed to connect with an audience than spilling all the gory details about your past relationship's sad demise.
Tourist is the alias London based - and Grammy award winning - producer William Phillips uses and although you might not be able to place the name you've almost certainly heard some of his work, as the previously mentioned gong was for co-writing Sam Smith's Stay With Me. His début album, U is based around the personally experienced sensations of love and intimacy in retreat, but instead of a hastily alchemical transformation of pathos into melodrama, it's made up of warmly abstract instrumentals which do a remarkably sanguine job of exploring modern romance's jumbled coda.
That's not to say that there aren't voices on U - including apparently that of Phillips former gal - but as on the titular opener, they're not afforded the luxury of much more than cut-up phrases with which to narrate. The track itself is sets tone and texture, free of low end rumble, it's rhythms picked out in spectral form whilst discombobulated R&B snippets attempt to snatch a harmony from each other.
In taking what could've been smothered under a thick gloss of sentiment and re-purposing it for the sometimes abrasive outside world, Phillips has performed a similar kind of trickery as Jamie XX mastered on In Colour. Make no mistake, this is a club-orientated album, as both the spartan but euphoric house of Run and it's sublime partner Wait prove, whilst the trance/rave hybrid Too Late is steeped in underground hedonism and 2am snap.
As U draws nearer to a close you assume that it's chronicling fissures turning into rejection and silence, but there's no feeling of rising abrasion, although the rippling bass of Foolish and competing melodies latterly become almost frantic. Breaking point reached, the seismic moments which inspired Separate Ways are dealt with only tangentially, the heavily treated vocals turned into a kind of machine duet, all the earlier jubilation left like confetti on the floor.
People like to bombard people who've been in this situation with well-meaning and useless tokens of support - normally by telling them that the loss is that of the other party. Perhaps in Phillips head U's final track is some kind of at-distance attempt at closure: For Sarah is certainly the album's warmest and most contemplative track, a wasted piano, front foot drums and pitch shifted breaths all meshing into a washed out but upbeat finale.
In some ways, much of the insecurity and tenderness of Stay With Me resides here, although you need to dig to find its essence, the same exploration of fragility and the way in which love makes you weak as much as it can lend resolve. Phillips may never write a song like it again, but in amongst U's exfoliated passion plays, that same intuitive streak gives us a unique window into someone else's life, one that opens onto a world rich and sincerely articulated.
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