Rhye move between muted disco and yearning ballads on their debut album.
Rhye is a jet-setting collaboration, the work of Denmark's Robin Hannibal and Canada's Mike Milosh. Hannibal has recorded albums as part of Quadron, a Danish group that favors the swing of '60s soul – often updated with synthesizers or augmented with minimal string arrangements – and a lusher set of R&B sounds – Quadron has covered Michael Jackson's "Baby Be Mine" and collaborated with Leon Ware, a master of sexually-expressive, heavily orchestrated funk like Marvin Gaye's I Want You and Ware's own Musical Massage. Milosh is no stranger to this style, since he has also released some slinky electronic R&B music on the same label as Quadron. What started out as just a remix project for the two musicians turned into a couple of new songs, a burst of positive internet response, a shower of Sade references ("My voice has been compared to Sade's tons in my career; it wasn't a shock," said Milosh matter-of-factly), a lot of people saying that Rhye was a female duo with beautiful voices, and then a full album, Woman.
Woman splits its time between muted disco and yearning ballads, working with the tools of several genres of smooth '80s pop and R&B. Most of the songs build around synths or keyboards. The funkier, more up-tempo numbers assemble themselves around a precise and steady beat, sturdy and flirting with the dance floor but not quite muscular, while the percussive base on the slower tunes leans towards soft sets of pops and clicks (on one song, it sounds like there’s a steel drum in there), or sometimes nothing at all. Guitars, horns, and strings flicker around to add definition. The songs are light around the edges, clear but never sharp. Things often end abruptly, like the group just drifted till it ran out of gas.
Milosh handles much of the singing. He favors long phrasings, holding notes but making quick twists and turns, rolls and quavers. All the singing is gentle – Milosh said in an interview, "I don’t actually sing that high...I just sing soft" – and sometimes it's multi-tracked, with the layers tracing languid curves in the air. The songs often start with a hint of a bang (pun intended), as Milosh sings "I'm a fool for that shake in your thighs," "Make love to me," "I'm famished, so I'll eat your minerals." But the way the words are sighed and stretched diffuses their come-on into whisps of longing. Key lines are repeated: "Don't call me love / unless you mean it," "Don't tell me to change."
Though Rhye's music is intimate and vulnerable, Milosh seems in control – perhaps he's one of those smooth operators Sade sang about. His vocal tone is subtly imperialistic, bending the other instruments to its will, so that they begin to sound like modulated echoes of his thoughts and desires. Again and again, Milosh warns his lover; he'll "lace your thighs with beautiful lies," he's "so bad." Moments later, he's asking her to stay: "Don't run away / Don't slip away my dear;" "I know your faded...stay;" "Don't walk away." But don't tell him to change either – Milosh sucks you in with his honesty, and then you're caught in his trap.