About over a year ago, the track “Open” was uploaded onto the Internet under the name of an artist called Rhye. My first thoughts were dripping with ecstatic enthusiasm. It was unadorned with the pretentious trappings of modern-day love songs; an unassuming ballad so simplistic in its nature it made committing the entire song to memory a cinch. “I wanna make this plain, oh I know you’re fading but stay, don’t close your hands,” a line went. And that the Internet and its denizens did. Modest and meek, yet evocative and stirring, “Open” was an excellent introduction to the then-mysterious group. Rhye were noticeably sparse with details, never divulging too much information to the media, with questions such as who they were and where they were from going unanswered until they revealed, to collective surprise, that the voice behind it all was that of Mike Milosh working in tandem with Robin Hannibal.
The group’s debut album, Woman, follows in much of the same stead and is a collection of luscious platitudes to love and other feelings smouldering with lusty invitation. It’s a work of mesmerizing elegance, with moments of intensely spellbinding intimacy and flourishes of grace (as on the album’s opening number and our No. 1 Song of 2012). It’s not without its firecracker fanfare, however; tracks like “Hunger” and “Last Dance” brim with a kinetic vigour. The former’s fun, swaggering brass and jiving rhythms give Woman a spirited texture while the latter employs an R&B groove that Destiny’s Child might have played with. Simultaneously retaining an omnipresent tenderness, Milosh and Hannibal craft a soundstage of exquisite potency overflowing with emotive cadences that evoke and stimulate; it’s as soothing and comforting as it is rousing and exciting.
The album revolves around the exploration of love, capturing typical, yet varying sentiments and adding depth to them, echoing emotions like confusion and longing, from the sweetness of “The Fall” to the fleeting brevity of a pained relationship that is “3 Days”. But through it all, Woman remains compellingly seductive and enamouringly romantic, even if it’s by using the simplest of lines, such as Milosh’s admission on “The Fall” where he confesses “there should be words that explain the way, but I’m tongue-tied and twisted,” after repeatedly asking the object of his affection to stay – we’ve all heard it before, but we’ve all at thought of using it at one point (admit it). “One of Those Summer Days” oozes with downright sexual character. Unassuming in its attempt to allure with unassertive instrumentation, it packs sensual magnetism.
Thematically singular, Woman is by no means a musical flatland; the album’s slight deviations in style take you from the rich pastures of the opulent “Open” to the cavernous chambers on the echoing and full-bodied “Major Minor Love”; from the solitary grandness and interplanetary atmospherics of “Woman” to the sprawling marine depths of “Verse” with its leaky faucet set to a heartbeat. These variations in the group’s sonic aesthetic are minute and calculated. They’re never too much of a jarring departure from the album’s central style, and the result is vivid and highly resonant with Milosh’s lyricism. Although stylistically borrowing heavily from Sade and dipping into Mariah Carey territory, the duo retain a strong sense of individuality, and with the emotional honesty of Milosh’s delivery, how could they not?
Saucy but delicate, invigorating but restful, Rhye have made an album of incredible scope, tapping into opposite ends of the emotional spectrum and incorporating them into Woman with an effortlessness and focus to be praised. Minimalist but bursting with emotion, in its simplicity and love-drenched drama, Woman is a remarkable example of the time-old adage that “less is more”, especially when it’s done right.