Music

With Rhye's New Album 'Blood', Mike Milosh Is Stepping Out of the Shadows

Los Angeles Times (TNS)
Photo: Genevieve Medow Jenkins

Rhye's Blood is slightly rougher around the edges than Woman; it's less polished and precise, with more air in the arrangements. But the music is still strikingly tender.

LOS ANGELES — "I'm gonna do this one kind of quiet," Mike Milosh said, standing in a Westside rehearsal studio surrounded by the members of his sophisticated soul-funk band Rhye.

As the musicians eased into the relaxed groove of "Song for You," Milosh murmured breathily about finding the courage to make oneself vulnerable to a lover. Eventually the tune picked up a bit of weight with Claire Courchene's trombone and a beat that drummer Zach Morillo tapped out against his thighs; in response, Milosh sank slowly to his knees, as though he could restrain the music by making himself smaller.

A singer of uncommon delicacy and nuance, Rhye's frontman and mastermind was doing what he could on a recent afternoon to protect his voice ahead of a lengthy tour behind Blood, the Los Angeles group's stirring new album, which came out Friday.

"I don't want to risk straining it," he explained.

In truth, quiet isn't a mere practicality for Milosh — it's an aesthetic position.

Five years ago, the soft, refined sound of Rhye's debut, Woman, made the act an instant sensation among fans and critics who compared the group to sensual R&B thinkers like Sade and Maxwell. Some of the attention came initially as a result of the mystery that Milosh and his former creative partner, producer Robin Hannibal, cultivated by keeping their faces hidden in photographs; many assumed the high-voiced Milosh was a woman.

Even after the picture cleared, though, Rhye continued to thrive, earning a nomination for the Polaris Music Prize and playing high-profile gigs at Coachella and Walt Disney Concert Hall.

Now the group, minus Hannibal, is back with its long-awaited follow-up.

Blood is slightly rougher around the edges than Woman; it's less polished and precise, with more air in the arrangements. But the music is still strikingly tender. And in songs like "Please" and "Song for You," Milosh is still tweaking slow-jam convention by presenting himself as a romantic supplicant — a man eager to be vanquished by love — rather than a sexual conqueror.

"My heart's on the pavement where we're building you and me," he sings with something like ecstasy in "Please."

What's remarkable about the singer's commitment to this style is that the time between albums might easily have coarsened his attitude. Milosh and his wife (to whom he dedicated "Woman") divorced, and he went through a protracted dispute with his old record label. There was also his split from Hannibal, who went on to collaborate with artists such as Wet, Kimbra and L.A.'s Niia.

"A lot of hard things happened over the last few years," Milosh, 42, said after the rehearsal, curled on a sofa in the studio's dimly lighted control room. "But life is short. Why would you waste time sitting in trauma over something?"

Indeed, though Blood opens with a track in which the singer reflects on his divorce — it's called "Waste" — the album soon moves on to explore the promise of new love. And not in a single-and-ready-to-mingle way. Milosh's depiction of courtship, with its slow development of a shared universe, can feel refreshingly respectful in this age of countless news stories about callous and domineering men.

"Mike really cares about fragility, which there's far too little of in basic ideas of masculinity," said Thomas Bartlett, a songwriter and producer (also known as Doveman) who worked with him on the new record. "It was a little bit of a mission to make that fragility central — to not be embarrassed by it."

Which isn't to say the music is prudish or effete. Milosh writes vividly about the physical sensations of sex, and Blood's album cover shows his girlfriend's naked body. Recently, the singer said, an online ad for the record was flagged by Facebook for nudity, which got him thinking about how the impulse to objectify is a learned behavior.

"Maybe I have a really naive perspective," he admitted, "but I just thought it was a beautiful shot that embodied the intimacy of the record."

Much of that intimacy comes from Milosh's lyrics and from his vocals, recorded in whispery close-up. But Blood also has a sense of musicians playing together in a small room that distinguishes the album from the slicker, more digitally processed "Woman."

In "Please," for instance, Milosh proudly noted that you can hear the creak of Bartlett's piano bench — something he and Hannibal would've been careful to remove from one of Rhye's older songs.

The singer attributed that shift to the nearly 500 concerts Rhye played around the world after its debut came out. The live work, Milosh said, was in part a means of making money in order to buy back an option on Rhye's second album. (Hannibal never performed onstage with the group, one reason he and Milosh drifted apart.)

In the studio this time Milosh was inspired to capture the peculiarities of a given moment: what happened when a certain group of players gathered in a certain place at a certain time. Beyond Bartlett, his collaborators included Nate Mercereau, known for his work with Kesha and Jay-Z, and King Henry, an L.A.-based producer with credits on songs by Beyonce and Major Lazer; the album also features input from members of Rhye's live band.

Asked how he might define Rhye — as a group or a project or perhaps a concept — Milosh said he wouldn't, really. "I'm not married to any one identity of what it is," he said, though his singing and lyrical sensibility definitely serve as a through-line.

So, too, does his face at this point. Thinking back to Rhye's early days, Milosh insisted he wasn't trying to be enigmatic. He'd had his feelings hurt when someone made fun of his nose in an online comment, so he decided not to put himself in the act's photos.

But those five years of shows got him comfortable enough with being looked at that he appears in the music video for "Please."

And at a moment when the influence of Rhye's crafty yet tranquil sound can be detected in mainstream pop — listen to Calvin Harris' "Slide" or "Ruin the Friendship" by Demi Lovato — Milosh says he'd be open to teaming with an established star if the right person were interested in trying out his style.

Especially if it helped fund his big dream, which is to buy a farm in Canada, where he grew up, and build his own secluded recording studio, far from the distractions and the noise of L.A. and New York.

"People could fly in for a month," he said, "and just cook and hang out and go on wilderness hikes."

And enjoy the limitless quiet.



Music


Books


Film


Television


Recent
Music

The 10 Best Experimental Albums of 2015

Music of all kinds are tending toward a consciously experimental direction. Maybe we’re finally getting through to them.

Books

John Lewis, C.T. Vivian, and Their Fellow Freedom Riders Are Celebrated in 'Breach of Peace'

John Lewis and C.T. Vivian were titans of the Civil Rights struggle, but they are far from alone in fighting for change. Eric Etheridge's masterful then-and-now project, Breach of Peace, tells the stories of many of the Freedom Riders.

Music

Unwed Sailor's Johnathon Ford Discusses Their New Album and 20 Years of Music

Johnathon Ford has overseen Unwed Sailor for more than 20 years. The veteran musician shows no sign of letting up with the latest opus, Look Alive.

Jedd Beaudoin
Music

Jazz Trombonist Nick Finzer Creates a 'Cast of Characters'

Jazz trombonist Nick Finzer shines with his compositions on this mainstream jazz sextet release, Cast of Characters.

Music

Datura4 Travel Blues-Rock Roads on 'West Coast Highway Cosmic'

Australian rockers Datura4 take inspiration from the never-ending coastal landscape of their home country to deliver a well-grounded album between blues, hard rock, and psychedelia.

Books

Murder Is Most Factorial in 'Eighth Detective'

Mathematician Alex Pavesi's debut novel, The Eighth Detective, posits mathematical rules defining 'detective fiction'.

Music

Eyedress Sets Emotions Against Shoegaze Backdrops on 'Let's Skip to the Wedding'

Eyedress' Let's Skip to the Wedding is a jaggedly dreamy assemblage of sounds that's both temporally compact and imaginatively expansive, all wrapped in vintage shoegaze ephemera.

Film

Of Purges and Prescience: On David France's LGBTQ Documentary, 'Welcome to Chechnya'

The ongoing persecution of LGBTQ individuals in Chechnya, or anywhere in the world, should come as no surprise, or "amazement". It's a motif undergirding the history of civil society that certain people will always be identified for extermination.

Television

Padma Lakshmi's 'Taste the Nation' Questions What, Exactly, Is American Food

Can food alone undo centuries of anti-immigrant policies that are ingrained in the fabric of the American nation? Padma Lakshmi's Taste the Nation certainly tries.

Film

Performing Race in James Whale's 'Show Boat'

There's a song performed in James Whale's musical, Show Boat, wherein race is revealed as a set of variegated and contradictory performances, signals to others, a manner of being seen and a manner of remaining hidden, and it isn't "Old Man River".

Music

The Greyboy Allstars Rise Up to Help America Come Together with 'Como De Allstars'

If America could come together as one nation under a groove, Karl Denson & the Greyboy Allstars would be leading candidates of musical unity with their funky new album, Como De Allstars.

Music

The Beatles' 'Help!' Redefined How Personal Popular Music Could Be 55 Years Ago

Help! is the record on which the Beatles really started to investigate just how much they could get away with. The album was released 55 years ago this week, and it's the kick-off to our new "All Things Reconsidered" series.

Music

Porridge Radio's Mercury Prize-Nominated 'Every Bad' Is a Wonderful Epistemological Nightmare

With Every Bad, Porridge Radio seduce us with the vulnerability and existential confusion of Dana Margolin's deathly beautiful lyricism interweaved with alluring pop melodies.

Music

​​Beyoncé's 'Black Is King' Builds Identity From Afrofuturism

Beyoncé's Black Is King's reliance on Afrofuturism recuperates the film from Disney's clutches while reclaiming Black excellence.

Reading Pandemics

Colonial Pandemics and Indigenous Futurism in Louise Erdrich and Gerald Vizenor

From a non-Native perspective, COVID-19 may be experienced as an unexpected and unprecedented catastrophe. Yet from a Native perspective, this current catastrophe links to a longer history that is synonymous with European colonization.

Music

John Fullbright Salutes Leon Russell with "If the Shoe Fits" (premiere + interview)

John Fullbright and other Tulsa musicians decamped to Leon Russell's defunct studio for a four-day session that's a tribute to Dwight Twilley, Hoyt Axton, the Gap Band and more. Hear Fullbright's take on Russell's "If The Shoe Fits".

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.