Despite their debut album’s title and what sounds almost certainly like female vocals, Rhye is actually made up of two dudes. That’s Canadian vocalist Mike Milosh singing like a siren throughout an album packed with sultry electronics from Danish instrumentalist Robin Hannibal. Together, the duo put together an album in Woman that’s as appropriate for the bedroom as it is for a moment of quiet reflection. Milosh’s androgynous vocals add greater depth to the duo’s sound, evoking universal emotions of love and lust without adhering to the expectations inherent of any one specific gender. With Woman, Rhye refuses to be boxed in by labels and simply makes music that emotes.
While Milosh’s unique voice understandably garners a great deal of the attention, Hannibal’s instrumentation makes for an equally crucial component. Glistening strings introduce the album on the intro for the glorious “Open,” an intensely alluring track that was also simply one of the best songs of 2013. On an album that flows with shifty electronic beats and floating synths, these moments of organic strings add more diverse texture to a record that’s restrained in its approach yet fearless in its honesty. Strings return on “3 Days” in the form of a gorgeous harp, and that track also includes the most yearning on an album that’s full of desire. As Milosh sings, “Oh, I’m famished/ So I’ll eat your minerals/ A rabid beast at a foolish feast,” Hannibal’s shoulder-shimmying beat and shifty synths temper lyrics that are quite gruesome in their cannibalistic metaphors about lovemaking, invoking the images of cracked spines and bloody sheets.
Woman’s songwriting is top notch, but some tracks focus more on the mood of the music (of which Milosh’s voice is a crucial component even when his specific words aren’t). “Shed Some Blood” has a shuffling and stuttered beat, Milosh’s silky voice spiraling out and coloring the atmosphere, his largely obscured words setting the mood rather than conjuring up specific images. And tucked away at the tail end of the album, “Hunger” injects the kind of bouncy bass and background sax stylings that shows Rhye isn’t all love ballads but can bring their own flavor of funk.
Closing out with the title track, Rhye goes full-on ethereal, Milosh’s coos never actually articulating speech but instead blending into the dreamy ambience. And that’s emblematic of Woman as a whole, an album that defies any preconceived notions about what a sexy R&B record should be or how a male vocalist is expected to sing. – Josh Goller