Music Reviews

Rhye Woman

(Innovative Leisure) Rating - 9/10

A thought: If youthful rebellion is a core value of rock n roll, then just what are today’s youngsters to do, when those that they are meant to be rebelling against refused to grow up themselves?

One option would be to enthusiastically embrace that which the previous generation abhorred for its supposed blandness. It wasn’t so long ago when calling someone a Sade fan was somehow a fouler insult than any manner of expletive, and yet here we are, facing an unlikely resurgence of Ms Adu’s trademark pristine coffee table soul, with the hotly tipped likes of Jessie Ware turning it into the hip sound of 2012-3 (an odd trend which itself follows the even weirder trend of 2011; now known in musical circles as the year of the sax as Destroyer, Planningtorock et al practically banished any memories of Kenny G and those Moods compilations for good).

Or it could be that the success of those artists is entirely built on appealing to an adult audience (after all, grown-ups are apparently the only people who still buy records these days). A hypothesis which transatlantic duo Rhye’s debut very much supports, as what’s particularly striking about its ten romantic sketches is how ‘mature’ they are. And mature in the traditional sense of the term, rather than as a euphemism for the cheap and tawdry.

What’s even more striking about Woman though, is its infallible sense of melody. It’s fair to say that expectations for the record were considerably high, following (previous No Ripcord single of the week) The Fall’s gentle, slightly Gallic piano-pop and the majestic fanfare of Open (one of our top tracks of 2012), and seeing them placed prominently at the start of the album might set alarm bells ringing; that Woman will end up being one of those incredibly front-loaded records where the (ir)responsible parties behind it have created a strong opening to cover up for an otherwise dearth of material. Astonishingly though, following such a blissfully sensual start, not even for a second does it look like Rhye might drop the ball. Last Dance is easily the equal of those singles thanks to the still stunningly feminine vocals of Canadian Mike Milosh, as is Verse’s Deep Cuts-era The Knife nodding steel drum sound, and Shed Some Blood’s Chic-alike guitar patterns, and 3 Days… you might get where I’m going with this.

Perhaps because what Milosh and songwriting/producing partner Robin Hannibal are doing isn’t complicated at all – they sum up their whole modus operandi in the title Major Minor Love, as both have enough wisdom and, more importantly, experience (Rhye being a side-project to each of their well-established careers) to know that the most euphoric music needs a touch of melancholy for balance. It could be said that this is taken a bit too far in the title track, which in addition to quite possibly referencing those disco-reworkings of the baroque (thanks to a woozy spiral of an organ part), is both the most simplistic and melancholic thing here. Whether that means it doesn’t work as well isn’t really an issue, as really it’s an epilogue for the actual body of Woman

Given the slick near-perfection of the album, the duo’s claim that their work was born out of a handful of astonishingly productive jam sessions with precisely zero waste (which, on the negative side, means that there’s nothing in the vault for album number two) seems a little incredible. Yet even so, the backstory of the album’s creation is important in attempting to understand its success, as such a focused, yet relaxed, song-writing atmosphere has resulted in something completely sophisticated yet entirely effortless, and genuinely warm, thanks in part to the well-placed orchestrations, or the shoe-gazing guitar and sax (they had to get it in somewhere) of the appropriately titled One of those Summer Days, calling to mind the LA sun that the duo work under.

And while, lyrically speaking, the subject matter is limited and well-worn, at first largely appearing to be merely a vehicle for that voice (plus an abundance of gleefully clever harmonies), there is a depth of feeling here, that also feels honest (a useful quality to have considering such lines as the opener "I’m a fool for the shake in your thighs" could have easily ended up being sleazy). By peppering even their most upbeat moments with titles like Hunger and lines like "I’m famished so I’ll eat your minerals" and "So many things I wish to do, I want to split you into two" what could’ve merely been throwaway fluff is given the heft of a definite, almost insatiable, ravenousness working below the surface. But if music be the food of love… then these 36 minutes have got to be a pretty satisfying three course meal in themselves.