The Student Playlist

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REVIEW: Rhye – ‘Blood’ (Loma Vista)

Having released their critically acclaimed debut Woman way back in 2013, the soft R&B project Rhye, headed by Michael Milosh, finally decided that we could all use some more sensuality in our lives for 2018. Their sophomore release Blood reflects both the on-stage and off-stage changes that took place around the project over the last five years, while also sticking to exactly the same style and mood that made their debut a break-out bedroom hit in the first place. Almost frustratingly so.

Recounting the internal changes within Rhye between Woman and Blood isn’t exactly the most hot-gossip credential worthy experience: the other half of the original studio duo, Danish instrumentalist and producer Robin Hannibal, quietly left the group not long after the release of Woman. Milosh then reworked the project to be centered around its live band, which also contributed to the recording of Blood. He also expressed light dissatisfaction with the production quality of their debut, stating that there’s “a veneer to the record that bothers me”. His lust for a more organic, less polished approach is subtly reflected in the production of Blood.

Mostly gone are the drum machines and the majority of the more obvious synthesizers, instead replaced by an extremely closely-mic’ed drum set, funky basslines and the occasional congruent guitar riff. Strings stay as prominent as ever, as does Milosh’s soft, androgynous contralto. Considering these changes in the project’s recording process, one would probably expect an album that’s just a tad bit rougher than the sheer mellowness of Woman. And one would be completely wrong.

If anything, the overall feel for the album comes off even more sweet and soothing. Like the whole ‘bedroom R&B’ label was literally meant as a ‘go to sleep’ type of music. Opener ‘Waste’ very vaguely recounts the feelings stemming from an internally broken relationship, but the soft drumming and even softer synth are more likely to evoke the sensation of a relationship being suffocated by too much cuddling. At least, until the more dramatic (and admittedly excellently orchestrated) string section kicks in about halfway through. After that, Blood follows almost completely in the footsteps of its predecessor in wallowing in sensuality and delicate hedonism for ten more songs.

The strong point of the album, and arguably the only definite leg up it has on Woman, is the excellent orchestration, with Milosh displaying a deep understanding of timbre and texture as he layers together pianos, pizzicato strings, electric guitar, bass, and an intermittent wind section.  On ‘Taste’, he crafts an unexpectedly dance-y tune, considering the instrumentation. Another highlight, ‘Phoenix’, showcases a feel for groovy basslines and Milosh’s ability to inflect his voice to perfect sync with the music. Lyrics such as “I thought you’d love me ‘til I’m raw, oh my God” and “It’s tough to face / My Phoenix rising crazy” aren’t exactly going to win any accolades for excellent poetry, but they get their point of sex-is-fun across.

Blood doesn’t veer far of the beaten path for Rhye. It’s still essentially bedroom mood music, albeit uncharacteristically classy. Excellent arrangements abound, the album makes its point well-enough, despite some of the lyrics being straightforward to the point of cringeworthy. Despite losing half of its original creative force, the project doesn’t lose direction in Milosh’s hands, though one might wonder if it might have been more interesting if it had. (6/10) (Ellie Wolf)

Listen to Blood by Rhye here via Spotify, and tell us what you think below!

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