[Loma Vista; 2021]

Home, the fourth album from Michael Milosh’s lowkey smooth pop outfit Rhye, begins like a prayer. As “Intro” slowly comes to life, we’re met with a full wordless chorus of serene voices, all in perfect harmony. The recording is full and crisp; the spit on the singers’ lips is audible in between notes. It’s not too unlike something Julianna Barwick might deploy on one of her records, and it’s a stunning way to rope us in immediately.

Following this, however, we are immediately brought back to Rhye’s terra firma, with “Come in Closer”. A simple keyboard line plinks by, a steady 4/4 beat kicks in, Milosh’s voice unfurls overhead, the lithe instrument it’s always been. Some lovely strings enter the scene, some highly-mixed clips; the bass bends underneath, rubbery and supple. By now, Rhye is a well-oiled machine, and this song is evidence of that: each moving piece is in its right place, not a hair out of line. It syncs up perfectly, slowly adding layers of keys and backing vocals over the course of three-and-a-half minutes, and then it goes, as inconspicuously as it entered.

That’s sort of the thing, though: Rhye’s music, while bountiful with beauty, texture, sensuality, and grace, is also pretty nondescript much of the time. If not for Milosh’s velvety coo of a voice (remember back when the mysterious first-ever Rhye single dropped and people were convinced it was Sade?) the songs here would mostly fade into the background – and they almost do anyway. They’re perfectly pleasant, and the album is as inoffensive as they come, but the tunes largely evaporate the moment they’re over, like a sumptuous drop on a hot sidewalk.

That isn’t to say Home is without its great moments – far from it. “Beautiful” has a big groove and heavy beat, instantly causing your head to bob. Every now and then, a whizzing synth burbles up like it’s being beamed in from some other track, and then it zips away. The strings here are quite lovely, too, as Milosh sings, “Beautiful woman, oh babe / Spend your life with me.” It’s rare that we get songs in this vein that aren’t lovesick, but Milosh wrote and recorded this album in a moment of goodness in his life, and the songs reflect that. 

“Safeword” has a nearly conga-adjacent beat percolating under its sensual ruminations, and “Hold You Down” has a super funky groove and a bright, brash electric guitar (or perhaps a synth?) that cuts through parts of the song like lightning, alongside more of that beautiful choir. “Sweetest Revenge”, with its submerged synth groove and snappy hi-hats, feels even closer to the quiet storm stylings of Sade than he usually gets. “Need a Lover” finds Milosh singing over spare acoustic guitar – a surprising change of pace from a highly synthetic musical outfit. It’s a bit of a melancholy tune, but it has a truly crystalline beauty to it, a fragility that Milosh has a real knack for. 

His voice might be the selling point, but it can also be a bit of an Achilles’ heel. Home is the longest Rhye album, and Milosh has a certain way of singing that doesn’t change very much from track to track. Your mileage on this album may vary based on how you feel about his very specific way of singing. It’s a little gentle, full of tenderness, and capable of truly stunning, moving beauty, but so much of the album floats by, blending into a slightly-too-homogenous whole. It ends up causing much of the striking detail to melt away — aside from “Intro” and “Outro”, it feels that you could listen to the album’s songs in any order. It’s also mixed in a way that puts the percussiveness at the forefront, to the point where so many of the hi-hats and snares end up being grating.

Rhye has always specialized in making the kind of dance music that operates at a cool temperature, feeling sexy and sensuous without going full dancefloor. It’s true especially on Woman, the very good debut Milosh made (before Robin Hannibal left the band). Milosh does it again here, and makes room for some nice textural and instrumental details, but as Home closes with another heavenly choir piece, it accidentally suggests something about Rhye: maybe it’s time to try some new tricks.