A small amount of red wine in a large, clean glass. Warm socks, no holes. Attractive man in fairisle knitwear. Meditation cushion. Images such as these come to mind when listening to Home, the new album from the Canadian musician Michael Milosh, better known as Rhye. Rhye’s 2013 debut Woman (created when Rhye was still a duo — Milosh and then-writing partner Robin Hannibal) was a similarly soft, sensuous listening experience. It was strings and falsetto over lo-fi, mid-tempo beats; intimate lyrics (“Oh, I’m famished / So I’ll eat your minerals”); comfort, nostalgia. The accompanying music video of Woman‘s lead single “Open” was full of crackling bonfires and kissing (in a sad way).
Home, then, still evokes crackling bonfires and kissing, but definitely in a happy way. Milosh, having spent much of his life since Woman touring around Europe and North America, last year found a more permanent base in Topanga, a famously bohemian neighbourhood in the countryside just northwest of LA. Milosh lives in his new hillside, ocean-proximate house with his partner of five years, Geneviève Medow-Jenkins, founder of “a music and wellness experience destination” (12 to 24 hour-long ambient music events with a focus on stimulating the senses) called Secular Sabbath. Listening to Milosh’s transcendent vocals, I find myself wondering if I would feel this content if only I moved to a clifftop creative retreat on the Pacific coast.
Strings are a prominent feature in Rhye’s work (he is the son of a professional violinist, and a cellist himself), and they shine through on Home. Where Milosh’s sand-through-fingers falsetto blurs, they are sharply focused. On “Come in Closer”, Milosh has left in the ambient sounds of rainstorms that were picked up as he recorded other elements of the song: this is musical hygge. Strings, staccato and pleasingly analogue, cut through the cosiness.
Elsewhere on the album, distant percussion keeps things moving. Milosh finds his groove in “Black Rain” and “Sweetest Revenge”, where snappier drums kick in and the strings go disco, while jazzy harmonies come into their own. Though the ambient texture remains, these tracks echo Tom Misch and early Disclosure.
Rhye’s lyrics are close-up and intimate. As well as a focus on the home (“Oh we all just hide inside”, he sings on “Need A Lover”, a pandemic-appropriate line that can’t go unclocked), there’s plenty of romance – on “Helpless” he’s “writing a million love songs”. He feels “so good inside”, “so free”, but there’s always vulnerability. “Safeword” is more uptempo than most tracks on the album with a gentle-yet-purposeful sway, but the song still tails out at the end in pianissimo: “Be careful with me”.
As he did in earlier work, Milosh lingers on certain notes and words for poignance: “The way / That it falls / The way / That it calls me”, he sings on “Helpless”, hesitating on “way” each time, and recalling the melody of 2013 hit “Three Days”. With touches like this he holds on to melancholy even when the general mood is optimistic. Later, on “Fire”, a pensive feel is introduced by gentle piano and layering vocal harmonies, a nod to the choral tracks sung by the Danish National Girls Choir that frame the album like credits on a movie.
Home is an account of finding stillness and contentment in the California rain. By the end of the album you find yourself in almost a meditative state (that “music and wellness experience”, perhaps – or maybe just lightly, aurally stoned). This album is more than just evocative background music: it’s a delicately spun, you-sized cocoon.
[See also: Making Ma Rainey]