Mike Milosh didn’t really like Rhye’s debut album. After ‘Woman’ was released to critical acclaim in 2013, the multi-instrumentalist and singer drifted apart from the producer half of this mysterious LA R&B duo, Robin Hannibal, and two years later he said of its 10 songs, “There’s a veneer to the record that bothers me, like a polish that seems to remove or inhibit some of the emotions I would like to have come off.”
Consider that veneer gone along with Hannibal. In his absence, Milosh has stripped back Rhye’s slick instrumental palette to an organic base, having written much of the material while on tour. By recording the album with his live band, he frames his unmistakable husky countertenor with a set of warm, natural sounds that form a bedrock for the raw emotions on ‘Blood’, rather than distracting from them.
Like ‘Woman’, ‘Blood’ is often unabashedly lusty – “I’m coming fast, oh my god, oh my god,” Milosh gushes on the funky standout ‘Phoenix’ – but many of the songs deal with loss and heartbreak too. Over miserable organ and minimal beats, desolate opener ‘Waste’ examines a bombed-out relationship as though it were a dead tree, post-apocalypse: “It doesn’t have a season, especially not a fall.” In its own quiet way, it’s gutting.
‘Blood’ arrives 18 months after Milosh reportedly split from the actor Alexa Nikolas, his wife of four years, and he says, “I believe very wholeheartedly that I can’t write a song if it didn’t happen to me in real life.” Hence ‘Waste’ is about “the past”, and the songs that follow are “summoning something new for the future”. There are weepies aplenty (tender piano cut ‘Please’, growling stomper ‘Blood Knows’, the maudlin ‘Stay Safe’) but Milosh also bounces back by continuing to play to Rhye’s existing strengths: much of ‘Blood’ remains the sound of seduction.
‘Count To Five’ balances ASMR-stimulating flourishes with cheeky lines such as, “I’ll keep you waiting”. Over bubbling bursts of clarinet, ‘Taste’ has Milosh sighing, “One more time for my taste / See me fall from your eyes to your waist“. ‘Song For You’ finds him paring back a bossa nova rhythm to coo, “Why don’t you tell me what you need?” And, like an offcut from Nils Frahm’s beloved 2011 album ‘Felt’, ‘Softly’ is a swirl of pillowy, percussive piano adorned with organ and smoky vocals. “I’ll heal you,” he promises.
Best of all, though, is the album’s final, filmic curveball ‘Sinful’, whose self-indulgent guitar line could well form the basis for Rhye’s foray into movie soundtracks. As an emblem of what Milosh is capable of – magnetic vocals, unshakable melodies, arrangements that are both delicate and robust – it’s a triumph.