You will discern the primary influence behind Rhye roughly 0.00002 seconds after singer/producer Mike Milosh opens his mouth: In his creamy, untroubled contralto, edged with lingering hurt, you will hear Sade materialize in front of you. This apparition will doubtless disorient you; this voice is, after all, pouring like oily incense out of this white 30-something man. To hear Milosh tell it, he never intended or expected to be mistaken for a woman: “I have no control over what people think I sound like, [but] I’m not going to be like, ‘Oh, you don’t think I’m man enough?’” he joked to Pitchfork earlier this year. And yet his decision to let the first Rhye song into the world without identifying himself as its source has only heightened the impact of the revelation. It is also a sublimely appropriate gender-twisting parallel for an artist who herself has often been mistaken for a man.
Like Sade, Rhye seeks higher energies in the intermingling of the masculine and feminine. The full-length debut, tellingly titled Woman, follows through on the fusion proposed by those early songs — chamber pop and Lovers Rock, poised with their mouths inches apart, whispering. The sashaying beat of “Open” is introduced by a cycle of sumptuous chords played by a string quartet, surrounded by an extravagant harp ripple and nosed along by a muted clarinet. The house-music pulse suggested by the piano chords of “The Fall” is cut with a wateriness that suggests Debussy. This is music that beckons the body, but in the softest voice imaginable.
Accordingly, Woman is a feather-light album; if you don’t train your attention on it, it will almost certainly slip gently from your notice from time to time. What saves it from melting into dulcet consumer-retail murmuring is Milosh’s open-hearted presence. Like the xx before him, he writes lyrics that arrive at the intimacy of sex through the quiet pleading of relationship dynamics: “Stay open for me, baby,” he begs on “Open,” couching a simple request for communication in language that suggest something else entirely. On “Major Minor Love,” he sings frankly, “There’s so many things I wanna do/ I’ll split you into two…you’ll be my body.” Milosh casts sex in a profoundly spiritual light, and the music on Woman glows softly with the heat of his conviction.