Rhye is well-versed in the erotic language of restraint. The R&B project first emerged six years ago as something of a sonic enigma, its members’ identities purposefully obscured as its series of sumptuously produced music videos set the Internet abuzz, each one elevated by sighing, sensuous vocals so delicate that listeners initially assumed — incorrectly, it would turn out — they belonged to a woman.
This mystique was part of the appeal; Rhye’s first singles were crafted as if behind a veil, their crooning come-ons drawing their seductive power from how much they withheld. Inevitably, details about the group surfaced — namely, that Rhye was (at that time) a collaboration between Danish producer Robin Hannibal and Canadian singer Mike Milosh, the latter the owner of that heart-rending countertenor — but their 2013 debut, “Woman,” retained an air of mystery all the same, its best songs keeping Milosh’s voice in the background, hovering elusively around soft piano keys and romantic strings without ever engulfing them.
Putting the album out sent Rhye’s stock soaring, but it also precipitated a creative change of pace. Hannibal soon departed the project, leaving Milosh to craft a live show, complete with a rhythm section, strings, brass, and a Hammond B-3 organ, that could translate the intimacy of “Woman” for the stage. On the followup, “Blood,” the consequences of that evolution are readily apparent; though Milosh remains focused on exploring the full range of his vocal instrument, he infuses the album’s 11 tracks with a sultry, often carnal warmth and raw energy that Rhye’s debut eschewed in favor of hushed, slickly produced ambience.
On fog-up-the-windows “Taste,” Milosh pairs his falsetto with a hip-thrusting bassline, lending the lyrics — “One more time for my taste/ Drink this wine from your sweet, from your case” — a hungry, amorous charge. “Phoenix” doubles down on grooves as Milosh moans through bedroom-banter buildup, only to eventually cede the floor to a swirl of strutting funk guitar. And “Count to Five” exhibits a breezy confidence that complements its subtle disco aesthetic, and serves it especially well during an unexpected stab of strings.
For all its declarations of desire, Rhye remains as adept at depicting desolation; opener “Waste” is an achingly beautiful graveside eulogy, and “Please” jerks tears with its plaintive, piercing chorus. The album delivers its expected share of love songs, too; while “Stay Safe” is a tad too sentimental for its own good, “Song for You” packs an emotional wallop. “Blood” soars highest, however, in its final moments. Album capper “Sinful,” the lovingly executed guitar chords of which evoke (of all things) an Ennio Morricone score, is a high-water mark for Rhye, Milosh and his army of instruments swirling as one in an arrangement that’s altogether indelible.Isaac Feldberg can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter at @isaacfeldberg.