This article previously appeared on Crossfader
BLOOD by Rhye
Genre: Sophisti-Pop, Smooth Soul
Favorite Tracks: “Waste,” “Taste,” “Feel Your Weight,” “Song For You,” “Phoenix,” “Softly”
On rare occasion an album captures emotion more accurately than words ever will. Rhye’s WOMAN is one of those albums. I’ll never forget my first time listening to “Open,” Rhye’s breakout single. I was a high school sophomore, it was a brisk November night, and the moment I heard the opening string melody it sounded like love. Not the kind of love a 16-year-old can fully comprehend, but the type of love I imagine one is only capable of experiencing on their wedding day.
WOMAN lodged itself in my headphones for over a year. I listened to it, start to finish, at least once a week. I had never heard an album so uniquely seductive while simultaneously tender, and perhaps still haven’t to this day. Seeing Rhye perform in candlelight at an 18th century synagogue in DC reassured my notion that the band was as special as I had thought them to be.
Five years later, Rhye has finally graced us with their sophomore album, BLOOD. From the muffled opening track, “Waste,” it’s clear that Mike Milosh and his collaborators have stayed true to the formula that made them so wonderfully unusual with their debut. The vocals are still an androgynous moan, perpetuating the common misconception that Rhye is a single female singer instead of a male-driven musical act. The instruments are still organic and lush, complemented by a string section that only Rhye can so flawlessly mesh into their music.
Although “Waste” was initially a lyrical letdown, the second track, “Taste,” remedies this qualm. There is something stunningly eerie and captivating about the hook, “are you dancing with your eyes closed?” As with every track on WOMAN, “Taste” has an intimate quality that makes it feel like the song was written solely for the listener, and the first time I listened, I had no choice but to mouth the word “yes” in response to Milosh’s question.
“Taste” also introduces a disco influence that manifests itself throughout the rest of the album. Though Rhye briefly dabbled in danceability on “Last Dance” and “Hunger,” most of WOMAN was steadfastly downtempo. Though Rhye is able to keep their mellowness engaging, the dancibility of BLOOD is a welcome addition to the group’s musical equation. On “Feel Your Weight,” an unexpected toy piano and fluttering drum machine hi-hat are especially interesting, making it the best instrumental on the record.
My only real complaint about BLOOD is that it abandons the prominent orchestral elements that made WOMAN such a luxurious listening experience. Where baroque elements used to guide the way, live piano and electric bass take the lead on most of the album’s tracks. There is also a gorgeous acoustic guitar hook on closer “Sinful” that I imagine would have been played on a harp instead of a more conventional instrument had the track been written at the same time as WOMAN. Although it’s definitely a bummer to not feel like I’m not attending an orchestral matinee when listening to new Rhye material, the more predictable instrumental pallette on the album evoke the same ardor of the group’s debut.
BLOOD is an interesting listen, and its release is timely with Valentine’s Day around the corner. Listening to it, I realized that listening to Rhye in the 2010s is probably what it felt like to listen to the unfiltered passion of groups like the Alessi Brothers in the 1970s. Even though it’s not quite WOMAN, BLOOD is a solid sophomore album that shows potential for more well-deserved mainstream recognition. I can only hope the third Rhye record takes less than half a decade to complete.