Rhye leader Michael Milosh remains king of the most respectable horny music possible. His new album testifies to those talents without calling too much attention to itself.
Michael Milosh was born with the gift of a golden voice. His swooning, androgynous countertenor—which has been compared to Sade’s so many times she should probably receive a portion of Milosh’s royalties by now—seems to radiate desire and longing with every vibration. At times, he sounds a little like Marvin Gaye at his most weightless, with the anguish shaved off.
That voice has been the beating heart of nearly every song released by Rhye, the musical project Milosh founded a decade ago with producer Robin Hannibal and of which he is the only continuous member. So it’s striking that Home, the group’s latest, is the first Rhye album to make significant use of voices other than Milosh’s. Forty-nine voices, in fact: Home begins and ends with ghostly, wordless cantos sung by the 49-piece Danish National Girls’ Choir, which took advantage of Danish grant money to travel to Los Angeles to record with Rhye. Midway through “Holy,” the album’s muted climax, those cherubic voices “Oooh” and “Aaaah” their way into the groove, like sunlight streaming into a dim room.
Perhaps the moment resonates because it evokes a particular kind of musical togetherness that’s been lost to the pandemic: large choral groups singing together in the same space. (Since the early spread of COVID-19, choir performances have been linked to outbreaks in the United States, Germany, England, and other countries; these recordings, thankfully, are from 2019.) It’s a form of communion that’s clearly meaningful to Milosh, who sang in a choir as a child. Or maybe it’s just a supremely well-engineered slice of downtempo bliss, as Rhye is wont to deliver. But the choir also stands out as one of the few aspects of Home that breaks substantially from the group’s by-now-familiar soft-pop formula.
Otherwise, all the usual elements of a Rhye album are here and accounted for. Milosh still slips in and out of falsetto with enviable grace. He still addresses most of his lyrics in the second-person—“The more I love your face/The more I get to taste,” “Can you feel my fire deep inside/Can you feel my fire growing high,” etc.—cooing sweet innuendos to the object of his desire. The album cover once again depicts a woman, naked and tastefully cropped. And the title is another one-word noun—Home—meant to signify the house in the Santa Monica Mountains that has been both a home and creative base for Milosh and his partner/collaborator, Geneviève Medow-Jenkins, since 2019. (That’s where the album first took shape, and where the couple has been broadcasting experiential events incorporating ambient music, massage, and meditation in recent months.)
On Home, Rhye remains enamored with the sonic touchstones of early ’80s sophisti-pop and smooth R&B: softly puttering beats, slinky bass lines, half-whispered vocals, and sultry grooves that rarely rise above a sleek, expensive-sounding murmur. (Milosh doesn’t just borrow from the aesthetic of quiet storm—he literally incorporates the phrase “quiet storm” into the lyrics of his songs, like Sade did on “The Sweetest Taboo.”) Analog synthesizers fill out the sound on “Helpless,” whose velvety groove sounds a little like Steely Dan’s “My Rival” with the urgency sucked out.
On tracks like “Holy,” the mix is so intimate you can hear the piano creak and rattle. Elsewhere, Milosh revs up the tempos and arrangements from 2019’s meditative, piano-driven Spirit, incorporating ornate string arrangements. “Come in Closer” is a particular delight: The track opens with little more than a tapping Wurlitzer and some falling rain. After the drums come in—forming an unexpected syncopated counterpart with the Wurlitzer—the song builds to a stirring orchestral climax. The retro disco-pop of “Black Rain” is an appealing jolt of adrenaline, and the Danish choir makes a welcome return in “Hold You Down.”
But a solid chunk of Home blends into the background, with songs that introduce all their moving parts at the beginning and don’t particularly build anywhere. Lyrically, the album’s carnal imagery hints at an interest in dominant and submissive play: There’s “Safeword,” with its thumping drum programming and tightly coiled strings, and there’s “Sweetest Revenge,” with its lurching funk licks and lines like “Oh, I don’t like to behave/No more master to slave.” But the music is so bloodless and restrained that it doesn’t evoke freaky sex at all. Milosh remains king of the most respectable, dignified horny music possible, and Home testifies to those talents without calling too much attention to itself.
Perhaps the most surprising thing about Home is that, including Spirit, it’s Rhye’s third release in three years—an impressively prolific burst, considering the five-year gap between 2013’s Woman and 2018’s Blood. But as the albums pile up, they can also blur together. Like those meditation broadcasts, Home works as a sensual mood-setting exercise, but less so as a distinct creative statement.
Buy: Rough Trade