The long hiatus did nothing to temper Milosh’s immaculate aesthetics.
When Rhye, the brainchild of Mike Milosh and Robin Hannibal, released Woman in 2013, listeners seemed to talk about it in whispers. While it didn’t captivate audiences in the same way as the similarly lush and intimate debut by now-seasoned indie-R&B darlings The XX, it nevertheless left a twinkle in a lot of eyes. Five years later, Rhye, now just Milosh, returns with Blood, one of this year’s most quietly anticipated records. The long hiatus did nothing to temper Milosh’s immaculate aesthetics. From its polished beats to its cover imagery of nude women, the album feels effortless and comfortable, and never feels needs to flaunt its coolness, stripping back some of the more electrifying elements in favor of something that feels even more intimate than the debut.
“I’m going through some changes,” coos Milosh on opener “Waste,” which is slightly misleading. Blood doesn’t do much to change the elegant style built with Woman, but perfects what he’s built so far. At times it gives the impression that its beats have been carved out of stone and polished after endless tinkering. This level of poise can feel sterile, but with repeat listens its human elements shine a little brighter; sleigh bells jingle (the most infectious part of “Waste”) and drum beats echo in cavernous spaces with a crisp fade-out, making even the natural properties of the sounds feel deliberately planned. “Phoenix” dazzles with a tasteful bass groove that makes wish Rhye would collaborate with Erlend Øye’s Whitest Boy Alive project. The end result is a gorgeous listen that, just like the debut, makes you want to throw an intimate dinner party just so you have an excuse to share its charms.
Yet as richly inviting as Blood is, it never stops feeling safe. Milosh has done very little to reinvent the wheel, and while he may see no need to fix what ain’t broke, the album he fails to build upon the successes of Woman. Part of the joy of the debut was hearing such a fully-formed sound coming from a completely new band and wondering what would happen as it grew. There are fresh textures here: “Count to Five” and, perhaps ironically, “Stay Safe” are slow-burning standouts that provide some of the more playful moments, but it’s easy to feel like Milosh spent too much time building a mood and sustaining Rhye as a project, and too little time making an engaging album.
So where does Rhye go from here? With two beautifully-rendered albums (if sometimes difficult to engage with) under its belt, the logical next step would be to expand the sonic palette. It’s clear from Blood that perfectionism is Milosh’s natural state, but if the unexpected finger-picking textures of album closer “Sinful” are any indication, there’s still room for this band to grow. But it may come from simply letting the music be the messy product of flawed human beings, rather than that of an ever-tinkering perfectionist.