Rhye - Woman

I'm inclined to look at the cover to LA-based, multi-continental native, duo Rhye's debut LP Woman and instinctively feel that this is an album whose sound will focus on the close, personal feelings and sense of empathy in regards to the surrounding environments. Close-up shots of human flesh are nothing new or original - safe to say, it's one visual concept that's a few sleeves short from becoming a signature cliche of album cover design. And to end briefly on the subject - without sinking too deep into a visual connotation - albums that try to project a more personal and human expression in sound, hardly ever meet the standard set by the cover's bold underlining statement: honesty, bareness, truth. Chillwave hasn't exactly been the number one tag to fall under that sense of clarity and clear-cut understanding for its listener-base regarding such things as feelings and empathy, but at least many an electronic sub-genre like it, do succeed in creating some interesting sonic textures and means of crafting a piece from out of the many machines and computer workstations these ideas usually start from. Woman, as simple a title as it is, could be a tricky one, because - following on from what's been noted - is this really the bare, honest projection its cover is suggesting, or is it more the lavishly, layered, multi-tonal foray of sounds electronic music has created many a time before?

A sort of in-joke most-likely falling back to the album's own intention for honesty and literal word-play on what it expresses, Open...opens the album with a brisk, but downtempo brush of clicking fingers, vibrant guitar plucks and vocals which, from here on out, project in a kind of feminine, noir-esque bliss that, at the very least, suits the breezy flutter of the music surrounding it. There are trombones as much as there are synths here; already I'm getting a Moon Safari vibe from this palette of sounds, enticing me to soak myself even deeper into the track. 'I want to make this play/Oh I know you're faded/It's time to close your hands' The floating quality to Mike Milosh's lyrics certainly emphasize this is a sound meant for the nightly downtown bars or sealed-away apartment visages, and given the mood and momentum keeps to a fairly low and lowly-treading speed, it's pleasing to find the opening makes best of its supposed surrounding and pre-set demographic. The Fall incorporates a more heftier and heated emphasis on drums, percussion wavering between a dub muffle and crisp clarity. Away from the upscale in rhythm, vocals come off more richer and silkier than previous - strings too feel increasingly more lavish in how highly scaled they are. But there's no going away - or even escaping - what is still an overwhelming linger on the lounge-like seated orientation of which the music resides in. And knowing the rhythm and momentum comes to dictate the way it's presented (especially surrounding the instrumentation), you'd like to think there was a bit more variance and deterrence from this setting.

Last Dance could very well be the much-needed escape from the mid-evening bars and night clubs and a glorious welcome to the disco floorboards. Percussion, though texturally far more synthetic and rather boney alongside the deep swell of bass, makes use of its repetitive one-after-the-other approach to give the bright popping of brass and fluttered guitar strums much more character and colour against what feels like a very muddy, brown-grey swatch of percussion hits. But the clash of tone and fluidity about these differing instruments, gives the track's overall slow 4/4 deliverance a sense of credible justification and reason. And against the lesser disco-focused tracks, it stands out as one of more charisma and attitude. Unfortunately, this is where the frustration and eager desire for something more, comes into full, unavoidably apparent view. You'd think following track Verse would want to lift its listener's spirits. Or perhaps in the context of an album listen-along, entice them/us in its continuing push to show its music is both interesting, and demonstrates key awareness from the duo about developing a particular sound to make it last in its appeal. Unfortunately, the album (at this point) does neither; the music instead favoring what feels like an already-heard, already-attempted slow slap-handed, percussive beat that plays rather the low reaches but doesn't necessarily work the ground it's so closely treading. And while there are some rich, textural violins played alongside vocals, the track still overall feels rather empty and devoid of any worthwhile appeal and reason to come back to.

I admit I can see what Rhye are trying to express in this album. With a setting such as this, and with a scenario that revolves around instrumentation being treated a little more subtilely and stripped back - whether or not to appease to this supposed late-night bar or club setting - it's understandable, and rather unsurprising, to find a vast larger amount of space and breathing room between each individual layer of sound in this music. But that doesn't mean that the band (or any band) are excused from this apparent lack of developing what minimalism is created from this output in order to meet a particular atmospheric or emotional vibe. Not only do I feel Rhye show less concern for such development, and reaching precisely for these exact sweeps of atmosphere, but too their lack in instrumental variants makes out what ideas they manage to conjure, all end up reflecting the exact same idea. 3 Days succeeds however in its slightly more pompous and obtrude rhythm. Strings goofily dart in slopes as the main beat of the piece nestles gently between a dubbed bass texture and a crisp one. You've got horn and brass off-shoots here and there, and with it, there's definitely more a colourful nature of the piece, even if the overall tones still suit the album's familiarly-same nightly shades. When rhythm (and the divergence of this component a little more) takes precedence, it can lead to some interesting moments on this album. The track One Of Those Summer Days opens with a slightly mellower strum of warm guitars that lead right through the entirety of the track. But in-between start and finish, we get some soft piano keys, breezy saxophone passages and Milosh's vocals that - while still treasuring that male-female balance of expression - don't necessarily come off blissfully disjointed. Rather, Milosh himself plays well to meet this dreamy, somewhat memory-inducing flicker of imagery the music often feels as if it's trying to generate.

In terms of visuals and imagining through the music what it is the duo are trying to project, vocals play a significant role in maybe not illustrating the setting, but certainly alluding to that eery late-night ambiance where perhaps there's less physical beings involved, and it's more an inanimate surrounding with only a few minor people present. Tracks like Major Minor Love offer such an ethereal tone - Milosh acting in more layered current and means of texturizing the piece as opposed to simply offering lyrics to fill the obvious space left. While there are some inclusions of piano and synthesizers present, it's Milosh's vocals - in their laced harmony and tracking accompaniment in the backdrops - that personally work more to the track's favor in crafting an atmosphere. But that doesn't mean instruments don't get their own fair chance to shine. And when Rhye pull off a feat of both atmosphere and rhythm, they do with quite the charming sweep of energy. Hunger's groove-focused disco vibe allows the album to open itself out to the listener. No longer is it claustrophobic or isolated in how recluse it is; the upbeat passage of drums and bobbing bass add a hearty, laced swing to the music's progression - its atmosphere sweeping between bright, billowed lighting and darkly, warming nestling. It's this broader offering of surroundings that allows the listener conviction andproof that the energy and well-sought discovery for such has, at the very least, offered some condolence for our patience with this record. And while the title track ends offering less a diversity and shift in perspective, there's still enough of a connection between how the diverging pass of synths - both the arpeggio-like climb of notes as well as the billowed spread of bass noise - to generate what is a rather murky, but still sought intrigue about the track's intended vibes.

There have been many an act in the past - and even more presently making their way up into the late-night vibes of music - that strive for this eye-of-the-needle acuteness in downtempo electronics. And while this field is aided greatly by its swatch of organic instrumentation and lavish influences from jazz and blues music, there comes a point when an album-length compilation of this material needs to either take some risks or simply spread itself out, so that it isn't left dangling in the same old setting - doomed inevitably to be associated by many a contentious evening listen-along and be ignored for its choice of sound and/or reasons for such decisions. Rhye are, as is clear, attempting to please both crowds on their debut, and while the safety-risk ratio is moderately balanced on Woman, when the duo go for the same style, it shows. The rewarding parts are equally clear to see, but amidst all the familiar patterns of foggy layering and easy-going rhythms, what variance and development there is, becomes increasingly at risk at being lost amidst the stale and the seen-before. What Rhye have going for them is their knack for treating instrumentation with a need-be sense of respect when atmosphere and rhythm take priority over musical palette. But even when you switch back to focusing on the music, and all you point to is minimalism and repetition in vocal tone to save you, you risk - regardless of how far the latter atmospheres conjure - losing what intrigue these better tracks manage to appeal listeners to. And in a genre such as this, repetition will leave you paying the ultimate price: placement in the passive noise of social hospitality.


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Discovery: Rhye - Woman
Rhye - Woman
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