Nov. 5 2014 03:04 PM

Los Angeles duo crafts emotion-soaked love songs

Michael Milosh (left), Robin Hannibal

“I don’t hear this woman in me that everyone hears.”

Michael Milosh, half of the indie electro / R&B duo Rhye, doesn’t understand the worldwide fascination with his voice. It is, admittedly, a curious instrument: A breathy, edgeless exhale where syllables and phrases billow effortlessly across melodies, it operates within a contralto’s range. Unsurprisingly, his voice is constantly mistaken for that of a woman’s. Not that it bothers him at all.

“I feel incredibly blessed that people seem to like my voice as much as they do,” he tells CityBeat.

For a while, however, Milosh’s voice was almost all anyone had to go on. The Los Angeles-by-way-of-Toronto singer and his partner, Danish multi-instrumentalist and producer Robin Hannibal, made their introduction quietly in 2012, with their softly majestic single “Open.” Bucking industry standards, they released Rhye’s music without photos of themselves in the artwork. Similarly, neither of the musicians makes appearances in their music videos.

However, the band didn’t intend to create mystery for mystery’s sake. In fact, they had no grand enigmatic design at all.

“We weren’t as secretive as people thought,” Milosh says. “Our names were in the liner notes, and a simple Google search would have definitely provided more than enough images of either of us. However, I didn’t want the project to be laden with images of the artist. I mean, art’s goal—if it can have a goal—is to live on its own, above and beyond the persona of the artist. One could say art that can’t do that might not truly be art. It may, dare I say, be all image.”

Milosh (who also performs and records solo under his last name) and Hannibal (a member of indie R&B group Quadron and neo-soul group Owusu & Hannibal) met and started collaborating in 2010, when record label Plug Research—which released albums by both artists—introduced them. After Milosh spent a week at Hannibal’s Denmark studio, they emerged with three songs, and Rhye was born.

And though Rhye had originally begun as a side project, after “Open” dropped, it suddenly blossomed into a much bigger deal. A flurry of buzz built up on the Internet, and so did interest from a number of record labels. And so the duo went back to work. But for Milosh, who was living in Berlin at the time, working with Hannibal (who had since relocated to Los Angeles) also meant he’d be able to visit the new flame in his life more frequently.

“Originally, I thought it would only be an EP, but we reconvened in L.A., and a label expressed interest in turning it into a full-length,” he says. ”I have to admit, I was more interested in being able to facilitate flights back and forth to see my now-wife, Alexa [Nikolas]. The record paid for that.”

The romance became the inspiration for Rhye’s debut album, Woman, which was released in March 2013. The sensual energy contained within the record’s 10 tracks is palpable. More an aching love letter than anything else, the album smoothly glides from one string-laden R&B tune to another. With lyrics like “I’m a fool for that shake in your thighs / I’m a fool for that sound in your sighs,” he audibly works through the throes of infatuation, lust, vulnerability, uncertainty, joy, despair, longing—all the traits associated with new love.

“I wrote this entire record, and the record I released quietly on my own afterward [Jetlag], for my wife,” he says. “I would say she is my biggest fuel; she’s the one I am constantly trying to win over, time and time again.”

The fact that Woman comprises some of the most lushly arranged pop music in recent memory makes it even more moving. “Verse” smolders with floating strings to a tick-tock beat that sounds like water dripping from a faucet, while the Marvin Gaye-esque slow funk of “Last Dance” grooves with horn stabs, finger snaps and barely there chikka-chikka electric guitar.

One of the more sprightly tracks on the album, “The Fall,” pairs a playful mid-tempo drumbeat with rolling piano, orchestral flourishes and Milosh’s pleas, “Make love to me / One more time / Before you go away / Why can’t you stay?” But the undeniable MVP on the album—and its most sublimely beautiful facet—is his voice.

The entire record moves along with a sultry cohesiveness, however, and as aesthetically consistent as the music is, the singer says that they went into the recording with an open-ended agenda.

“I just let go and let flow out of me what is going to come out,” he says. ”I view the creation of music as more of a surrender to something that is out there either in my subconscious or the entire galaxy rather than something premeditated or that is created from a particular goal—especially in the commercial realm; I hate the idea of trying to create a hit by design.

“Every record seems to have its own little life force or heartbeat that takes it in its own direction,” he adds. “It’s more important to listen to that heartbeat than try to steer it.” 

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