Little more than a year ago, we were introduced to the enigmatic Rhye. With no knowledge of who was behind the veil, all we could do was listen in sheer curiosity to their ethereal lone track “Open”. The inception of the song draws you in to a beautifully rendered soundscape, as delicate violin strings and calming horns give way to tranquil simplicities. It revels in its finesse, its minimalist approach, finding evocation in its most subtle nuances. The fluid vocals drift along with distant yearning, imbuing a sense of desire and restraint upon the listener. It’s sexy yet despondent, never forceful but always suggestive of its emotions. Now, a year gone by, the veil has been cast aside, yet Rhye retains its mystery. Their debut album Woman embodies an expressive restraint, knowing what it wants to emote and how. The mystery of Rhye remains not by means of the physical presence behind it, but through the music itself.
Rhye is Los Angeles-based duo Robin Hannibal and Mike Milosh. With their identities no longer a point of contention and curiosity, the focus shifts instead towards the lush, soulful sounds comprising Woman. What Hannibal and Milosh have accomplished together is unadulterated pleasure, with the two melding their talents in perfect harmony.
As we move from “Open” to “The Fall”, the harmony of these two artists becomes ever more apparent. Haunting piano keys glide throughout as soft percussion compounds with a simple bassline. Violins pluck and crescendo. Horns slip in and out, increasing the emotional intensity in concert. It all provides an ideal foundation on which Milosh compounds his breathtaking vocals. He carries his voice so deftly, allowing the instrumentation to accentuate it and vice versa. It is so easy to get lost in his sultry, heavenly tones.
It is the relationship between vocals and instrumentation that pushes Woman beyond a mere one-off album, something you listen to a few times then put aside. Separate the two and they might be deemed good or great standalone representations of talent, but together Hannibal and Milosh compel one another, achieving perfection through unison. “Verse”, for example, finds Milosh setting a pace for the song to move forward, but his vocals never overpower Hannibal’s minimalist production. As a result, we are left with angelic melodies that climb and descend as appropriately simplistic or complex instrumentation swells around it—steel drums are always a plus, and the subtle manner with which they are employed here is excellent. Similarly, “Major Minor Love” finds deep emotion and strength in this relationship, with the first minute being a simple connection between Milosh’s vocal chords and the deep plucking of a bass guitar.
“One Of Those Summer Days” is perhaps the most somber engagement throughout Woman’s 35-minute run, finding compelling affection through the joining of an echoing acoustic guitar, a saxophone, and Milosh’s voice. The emotions exposed never feel forced, rather they seep through the lyrics and the slow delivery. At four-and-a-half minutes the song drifts along almost aimlessly, not caring about its destination. It seems intentionally aware of an end goal, but pushes it aside in favor of the dream-like journey.
There are, however, moments where Woman veers away from its beautiful, airy simplicity, experimenting in upbeat instrumentation yet never escaping the transience of love. “Last Dance” takes things in a funky direction, brazenly opening with the groove-laden combination of synthesizers and bass. The inescapable affects of love—never far away—permeate through Milosh, whose voice evokes such powerful feelings of pain and longing. By the end of the song, the funk is nearly gone, leaving his voice to tremble under its own weight. Another experiment in optimism is “3 Days”, which, unlike any other song on this album, comes across as contradictory. Its beautiful harp plucks are simply captivating, its underlying combination of bouncy synthesizers and resonating piano chords is wonderful, but the instrumentation is never evocative of the bleak lyrics. While this is a small gripe, it exists as such because of the seeming importance of lyrical and instrumental cohesion displayed throughout the rest of the album. That being said, the song is immensely charming, and it is rare that a moment of calm is met with such delicate energy as it rises once more.
Love is an emotion so deeply ingrained in music. Throughout Woman, Rhye masterfully grasp this emotion, using it to their advantage rather than letting it consume them. Hannibal crafts beautiful soundscapes to match the evocation in Milosh’s voice, and the two work in wondrous tandem. Instruments meld beautifully around the lyrics, and the relationship is such that one never overpowers the other, yet they inflect in a way that as each song shifts and progresses it feels wholly natural. No longer are Rhye an enigmatic entity, yet their music embraces the enigmatic nature of love. Love is something that everyone deals with in their lifetime, and foregrounded in Woman is the beauty and pain embedded within it.