The widespread acclaim for Rhye’s 2012 debut album Woman was a bit of a fluke. Much of the viral fascination surrounding the project concerned Mike Milosh’s incandescently fragile and feminine voice. Cannily, Polydor initially withheld biographical details of the two men behind the project – Milosh and producer Robin Hannibal, who apparently recorded the songs during a few fruitful bedroom sessions – resulting in fevered speculation over the gender of the singer. (Indie fans might have recognized Milosh from his solo albums on Plug Research, and Hannibal’s distinct production style from his work with Quadron.) Woman arrived at the height of the alt-R&B trend, giving it cache among listeners eager for new visions of auteur soul.
Rhye’s follow-up, Blood, couldn’t possibly replicate those circumstances. Now expanded to a full band led by Milosh, Rhye no longer benefits from the surprise effect that made Woman such an intriguing delight. (Hannibal didn’t stick around for the release of Woman or Rhye’s subsequent tours, instead working with Yuna, Little Dragon, Jessie Ware, and others. In recent interviews Milosh has seemingly minimized Hannibal’s initial importance to the project.) Yet the original template of warm, breathy vocal jazz, soft rock and quiet storm remains, and Rhye is mostly content to slightly expand it slightly, allowing the arrangements to breathe and the musicians to add brightly colorful touches – the steady backbeat over the electro-funk tinged “Phoenix,” and the handclap-like percussion of “Please.”
Blood begins with a terrific opener in “Waste,” a suite of quiet Rhodes notes and lovelorn longing. “Oh, you’re waiting in my mind/Oh, your face is all I find,” sings Milosh. His halting diction and clear, glassy tone remains utterly unique, even as he cakewalks between the sensitive lover of “Song for You” and the lothario of “Feel Your Weight” who coos over a throbbing synth-pop track reminiscent of Junior Boys.
The first half engages with songs like “Count to Five” and its strutting tone that hearkens to turn-of-the-Eighties boogie-style jazz-funk. But Woman’s second half doesn’t falter as much as it fades. Tracks like “Blood Knows” and “Stay Safe” sound baroque and formless despite the band’s gentle yet swinging touches. It all descends into mood, vapors and whispers of romance that soothe yet don’t excite. As lovely as Rhye sounds, it’s never as good as the first time.