words by JEAN-LUC MARSH
When “Open” emerged early last year, it was the only thing concrete about the enigmatic Rhye, a neo-soul outfit cloaked in anonymity. It was a first impression, providing a window into the psyche of something that was rife with potential. “Open” is a minimalistic tour de force, glimmering with a subtle, sexual energy. Within its delicate, satin folds lies a song about love at its purest; passions and pain rendered in the cadence of a lullaby. “Open” is an early indicator of the tact and finesse Rhye demonstrates when dealing with the topic of love, and a fitting foundation for their debut album, Woman.
No longer obscured behind a shroud of secrecy, Rhye is now known to be composed of Los Angeles-based duo Robin Hannibal and Mike Milosh, that latter whom is responsible for the ethereal vocals weaved within each track on Woman. Milosh’s voice is at its most spellbinding on second track “The Fall,” where he seductively croons “Don’t run away / Don’t slip away my dear” over a sultry piano. His words are an invitation, beckoning the listener to delve deeper into the amorous universe of Rhye.
This universe is thrown on its axis by “Last Dance,” which trades the silkiness of earlier tracks, for something funkier. Milosh’s voice takes on a new exigency to match the rhythm. However, it is when this rhythm falls away near the three-minute mark, and leaves his voice alone, quivering in the void, imbued with an almost ghostly quality, that the track truly finds its footing. Order is restored by “Verse,” which returns to a downtempo melody consisting of steel drums and the sound of dripping water. “In the morning light those circles fade / I always hated that moment” muses a now forlorn Milosh, whose somber lyrics stand incongruous to the airy sounds produced by the steel drums. Only when the violins enter, does the melody match his disconsolate lyrics. “Verse” explores the more dangerous side of love, encapsulating its conflicting emotions and gnawing, inner pain.
The ephemeral nature of love is expressed on album standout “3 Days.” The track begins with the nimble music of a harp before transforming into an addictively simple, synth-driven beat. However, the upbeat nature of the melody is not reciprocated by the lyrics, which tend to veer towards the negative. “It’s just my nature / I ruin love” confesses Milosh, revealing the fragility of love. It is precisely this pessimism that fuels the most poignant lyric within Woman. “Love is terminal / not built to last / burn bright / burn fast.” The words are delivered unceremoniously, tapering off at the end, and fading into the next line. Within those words, sandwiched between verses, in the most unassuming package, is the most devastating truth.
“One Of Those Summer Days” is a respite from the harsh truth presented in the preceding song. In the span of four and a half minutes, a hypnotic guitar, Milosh’s airy vocals, and a saxophone lull the listener into a dreamlike state. The song meanders like a slow moving river on a sweltering day, in no rush to reach its destination. It simply continues forward, moving inexorably toward some faraway purpose, enveloping the listener in its warm waters.
Album closer “Woman,” is a track consisting of one lyric that shares the name of the album. Wailed and echoed in various voices and tones over a robotic background, a single word creates and populates a vivid musical tableau. “Woman” is a song of unbridled devotion aimed at a very specific woman (Milosh’s wife), instilling the song, in its one-worded simplicity, with a passion that exceeds the very general nature of the word.
Throughout Woman, Rhye deals deftly with the double-edged dagger of love, exposing both its beauty and its faults. In ten songs, the spectrum of emotions triggered by love, ranging from infinite highs to crushing lows, is explored with a sense of discretion that is often absent in today’s music. Woman works because it balances restraint and candor, presenting love in neither a chaste nor debauched light. Milosh, through his gossamer vocals, delivers a message of stunning clarity: despite the risk, love is beautiful. [A-]
Find it at:
Stream the album in full @ Pitchfork Advance