3.5 stars (out of 4)
For the last year, Rhye made music under a cloak of anonymity. Who exactly was making this intoxicating sound? The airy, androgynous vocals led many listeners (and more than a few reviewers) to conclude that the lead singer was a woman.
In the last few weeks, the personalities behind Rhye have stepped forward: Canadian multi-instrumentalist Mike Milosh and Danish electro-soul artist Robin Hannibal. And, yes, Milosh’s vocals do occasionally echo that ‘80s paragon of coolly remote lounge-soul,
Rhye's debut album, "Woman" (Innovative Leisure), is a beautifully sequenced song cycle of soul music with the flame turned low. It's sexy, but not overheated. Sade had the ability to make sensuality sound cool, even a bit remote, as if she were trying to conceal the hurt from a love affair by limiting herself to a melancholy whisper. Milosh is more transparent, but he also keeps things at low volume, often rising to a delicate falsetto that blurs gender lines. He sings with restraint and directness about love and lust, while still leaving something to the imagination.
“Open” begins with a string arrangement that suggests the first crack of sunlight through a bedroom window. “I’m a fool for that shake in your thighs/I’m a fool for the sound in your sighs,” Milosh sings. The way he stretches the word “fool” evokes
The album documents the stages of a love affair, each track an exquisitely arranged snapshot of a moment in time. Percussion percolates, bass lines exude an almost subliminal pull (while occasionally rising to a dancefloor-worthy pulse, especially on "Last Dance" and "Hunger"). Strings and horns flicker in and out, sometimes barely noticed, sometimes for only a few seconds – each note adding or subtracting a few carefully calibrated degrees to the emotional temperature.
The usual sonic cliches of the "quiet-storm" sound aren't much in evidence: the unctuous saxophones, the stacks of synthetic keyboard goo. The sound of dripping water sets the pensive tone of "Verse." In "3 Days," the strings make a seductive entrance midway through the song, and then slip away, as if to affirm the narrator's rueful observation: "Love is terminal/not built to last/burn bright/burn fast." On the closing title track, Milosh's voice becomes another instrument atop an undulating, neo-classical synthesizer line, repeating the word "woman" over and over until it finally turns into pure sound. At a certain point, words fail.