It’s probably fitting that Rhye’s debut album, released in March, is called ‘Woman’. So much has been written, painted, sculpted, sung about the fairer sex and yet, the gender remains the source of impossible bafflement to men the world over. And Rhye’s album, which seemingly came out of nowhere as the Californian duo had a very sharp uptick in their global approval rating soon after Brother J first wrote about them and the painfully beautiful ‘The Fall’ in December last year, won’t be the last to grapple with the topic. But it is certainly one of the best, in recent times, to attempt to tap the mystique that surrounds women, and men’s relationships with them, and manage to deliver that in a gentle and intricate way and yet still cut through with the blogosphere (and beyond) masses in an almost unprecedented way. Making soft music requires artists to walk a delicate tightrope between two extremes. Too circumspect and quiet about things and the whole enterprise will be written off as boring and forgotten accordingly. Alternatively, if done properly, with just the right mix of vulnerability and wonderment, the results can be utterly captivating.
Rhye, as evidence by this, the second post on the band in just under five months, does the latter and does it astoundingly well. I wasn’t immediately taken with ‘The Fall’ when J first posted about it and so never really invested in exploring the rest of what Rhye had to offer. Having listened to this track now myriad times – most recently back-to-back three times on a run through the woods: some indication of how enthralling these tunes are – I need no further convincing of its charm. The piece opens with what I regard as very Sufjan Stevens-y strings, florid arrangements that hint at a complex and grandiose narrative to follow. And yet, what we get on ‘Open’, as with much of Rhye’s work, is restrained brilliance, warm tones and deliberations on a central theme that don’t necessarily evolve in the ways we might expect but instead, and particularly through repetition, become more and more profound as the song continues. The beseeching quality of vocalist Mike Milosh’s lyrics is impressively reinforced with his delivery, at once breathy and memorable. Milosh’s crooning, especially on the key ‘Stay Open’ refrain that underpins the track, strikes me as one of the best manifestations of voice as instrument I’ve heard for a while.
Alongside the evident technical chops of the band (the Danish, producing half is, in another life, another half of the ‘next generation mood music‘ machine that was Quadron), they also demonstrate a maturity towards their topic of choice – here sex – that is refreshing. Music has the habit of treating sex in one of two ways: blunt obsession and barely obscured innuendo. Rhye treads the ground, so heavily trodden in recent years, in a more subtle way. They’re not trying to pretend this is not about sex. But it’s not shoved all up in your grill like so many Rihanna tracks either. Instead, lines like “I’m a fool for that shake in your thighs” blend a certain sensitivity with the sensual to make for an adult approach to the issue. As a result, there is something both perverse and intimate about this track that intrigues like nothing else. It’s hard to stop listening when you can’t readily determine on which side of the fence (raunchy or romantic) the lads stand. The music behind it all, strings eventually joined by the lightest of synth lines and finger snaps, do nothing to distract us from our fascination but in their non-committal nature (never quite forcefully there), intensify the woozy sentiment at the track’s core. ‘Woman’ is an awesome debut and ‘Open’ typifies it; smart, sexy and sentient.
Rhye – Open