Rhye seduces with contemporary R&B
If you could sum up the feel of Rhye’s seductive, slinking debut album, singer Mike Milosh’s opening lines on the single “The Fall” might be a good place to start. “Oh, make love to me,” he croons, his whispery vocals crescendoing as piano chords plink away in the background.
Not that we should pigeonhole or anything, by the way. Woman is Rhye’s debut album, and the duo — composed of producer Robin Hannibal (of electronic duo Quadron) and producer/vocalist Milosh — has created not just a mix of songs perfect for intimate nights but a soulful record full of creative compositions and contemplative lyricism. It’s the kind of album that steals your breath when you least expect it, and before you know it, Woman’s mysteriously swooping strings and electronic foreplay buries deep into the heart.
There’s an enigmatic air to Woman, one that pervades not just the arrangements but also the real-world background of the duo. Search the web for how Rhye came to be — there’s hardly any information to be found. The liner notes don’t reveal much about how the album came to be, either. For all intents and purposes, it appears that the duo appeared out of thin air.
In that vein, the album holds many happy surprises, perhaps the biggest of all being Milosh’s lovely countertenor voice. You might assume that a woman is singing, and that wouldn’t be much of a misstep; Milosh’s vocals sound a bit androgynous on many of Woman’s tracks, but they work to add another layer of sexy intrigue to the record.
Many critics have compared Milosh’s voice to that of British singer-songwriter Sade, which is a pretty solid assessment — both reach deep into R&B and soul roots while leaving out any ostentatious vocal gymnastics. But Milosh can, at times, sound like anyone from Joni Mitchell on “A Case of You” to the xx’s bluntly sweet Romy Madley Croft. It’s a voice that melds remarkably well with the minimal production of Woman’s tracks.
Whereas many electronic compositions feature dense, sophisticated instrumentation, Milosh and Hannibal choose to strip away the fussy bits, leaving behind a sleek blend of keyboards, strings, jazzy percussion and electronic accents. Take album opener “Open,” for one: A softly thudding bass drum and finger snaps drive the beat as Milosh sings, “I’m a fool for that shake in your thighs / I’m a fool for that sound in your sighs.” Then, the chorus arrives: “I want to make this play — oh, I know you’re faded / Hmm, but stay — don’t close your hands,” he sings as lilting horns and strings jump in to play.
These compositions can feel both intensely fresh and a bit like deja vu, which overall makes for some serious aural comfort food. “Shed Some Blood” features fleeting tinges of Marvin Gaye’s classic “Sexual Healing,” while “One of Those Summer Days” strolls into the warm realm of indie dream-pop. Going beyond the bedroom-music label, one could call Woman the perfect comedown album, the sort of record you play the morning after while stretching out sore muscles and shaking away the mental cobwebs.
But that’s not to say Woman is just sensual and mellow; some of Rhye’s best moments come when the duo picks up the pace. “Hunger” and “Last Dance” both display some deliciously sharp funk influences that’ll get heads bobbing in seconds, and “3 Days” reps hypnotic four-on-the-floor drums that will probably inspire a bit of dancing. The biggest flaw of the album, in fact, is that the slowest tracks can feel draggy in comparison; “Major Minor Love” and the title track, for example, present ethereal soundtracks that you might love or hate depending on the mood.
A second complaint? Woman’s run time. The album clocks in at about 36 minutes, and its 10 tracks go by in a flash. Perhaps it’s not such a terrible thing for a record to leave a craving for more, but some listens can feel alarmingly short, especially if the album’s left on as background music.
But that just leaves greater anticipation for more music from Rhye, and the attention the duo has received leaves them with the tall task of crafting an equally quality follow-up. For now, Woman stands as a remarkable achievement in blending old and new to form a tightly produced treatise on romance, both of the heart and of the flesh.
“Make love to me,” indeed.