Sound Bites

Album review: LA-based Rhye intrigue with songs, anonymity

This story was first published in The Straits Times on March 21, 2013

Gender is very much a talking point these days.

On the career front, feminists are braying over two women leaders: Facebook's chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg's call that women should "lean into" (rather than turn away from) success, and Yahoo's chief Marissa Mayer's summon to staff to stop working from home and return to the office.

While things aren't so fractious in the musical arena, the sexual revolution is also turning - albeit in quieter ways.

Take this week's mysterious band Rhye. When the Los Angeles-based duo started posting their intriguing songs

Their debut album, slyly titled Woman, features the sinewy neck of a woman, clearly tempting Dracula for a luscious bite.

The voice, sultry and unflappable, wraps itself around such enigmatic lyrics as these from 3 Days: "I'm famished/So I'll eat your minerals/Like a rabid beast at a foolish feast."

The music, Sade by way of The xx, is minimalist seduction, updating the potentially cheesy 1980s smooth-jazz pop for a frazzled Internet generation.

As it turns out, the Sade doppelganger is a man - whose countertenor is even more androgynous (but less arch) than Rufus Wainwright's.

The singer is Toronto producer Mike Milosh, who has paired up with Robin Hannibal of Danish electro-soul collective Quadron for this gently mind-twisting sojourn through the night.

Aptly too, they prefer to be photographed in silhouette. Anonymity, in this case, affords room for imagination.

"I'm a fool for that shake in your thighs/I'm a fool for that sound in your sighs," he caresses these sensual words in the sterling first track Open, as if, ahem, he's just next to you.

It's easy then to lose oneself in such luxurious nocturne, not least the subtle braiding of horns and strings seamlessly woven together with Milosh's voice.

Such is their svelte alignment of sound and intent.

The Fall, a plea for human contact, is buoyed on dexterous piano and steady bass, while Hunger, an anti-ballad, is as almost uptempo as I Love Your Smile, the 1991 pop doozie by Shanice.

That's Rhye's majestic achievement: They make it all sound so effortless.


ST 20130321 KCSOUND21LOW 3575847m

Indie rock

The Invisible Way

Low

Sub Pop/Love Da Music

****

The Slow Movement advocates a move towards slowing down life’s pace – and no one should be surprised if Minnesotan trio Low, fronted by the incomparable couple Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker, are lobbyists for it in this increasingly frenetic world. Produced warmly by Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy, their 10th studio album The Invisible Way is a glorious masterclass in the art of taking a breather and ponder. As a result, you soak yourself in reverb that lingers, like portent or some missive from outer space. On Holy Ghost, Parker enunciates each syllable as if it’s the last word she’ll ever mouth, over gentle strums and piano stabs: “I feel the hands/but I don’t see anyone.” You feel a chill, then look over your shoulder.


ST 20130321 KCSOUND21MONKEY 3575848m

Indie rock/Electronica

Monkey Minds Inthe Devil’s Time

Steve Mason

Double Six

****

Cult folktronica/rock band The Beta Band may be defunct but its head honcho Steve Mason, thankfully, is still ridiculously restless. Monkey Minds In The Devil’s Time – the title is a Buddhist term for an easily distracted mind – is the Scotsman at his angriest and most passionate. It’s a protest album that feels utterly personal: Whether skewering Tony Blair’s war polemics in Fight Them Back or taking stock of the 2011 London riots in More Money, More Fire, his vision is singular. This could have tipped over into self-mockery, but in the nimble hands of Mason, this is a Technicolor trip that takes risks. The music changes gears in a blink: Sampling the vroom of Formula One cars or diving into spacey-bluesy rock or just blowing his harmonica, the guy never loses control. A winner.


ST 20130321 KCSOUND21PUSH 3575849m

Indie rock

Push The Sky Away

Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds

Hostess/Bad Seed/Warner

****

At 55, the croakylovely Nick Cave is shaping up nicely as successor to Johnny Cash as rock’s premier messiah. Push The Sky Away, the Bad Seeds’ 15th album, has the reliable fire and brimstone, but it has a new careworn wisdom to lend it some frisson. Age has everything to do with it. “You grow old and you grow cold,” he intones in Water’s Edge, over multi-instrumentalist Warren Ellis’s watery basslines and serpentine strings, as he sniffs the pheromones while local boys gallivant with city girls on the beach. But nothing compares to Cave’s pleading, wheezing and cooing in Higgs Boson Blues, a fecund epic name checking Miley Cyrus’ TV show Hannah Montana, a mummified cat and Amazonian pink dolphins. It’s a vocal sleight of hand done so deftly, you would be floored.


ST 20130321 KCSOUND21BAD 3575851m

Indie pop/Rock

Bad Blood

Bastille

Virgin

***

Bastille is a South London quartetwhich started off as asolo project of Dan Smith, and you can certainly hear its origin.Their chart-topping debut Bad Blood sounds like the thoughts of a shy 25-year-old writ large on a stadium’sstage – with pretty Coldplay-esque piano melodies welded to fluttering dance beats. It’s not earth-shattering stuff, squarely in the middle-brow field occupied by The Script, Snow Patrol and David Gray, but it’s catchy enough. Appropriating the airless falsetto of a Chris Martin as well as bits of fashionable sonics like Afrobeat chords, songs such as Flaws and Pompeii are worthy perk-me-ups to prove that you are not alone, even if you are sobbing inside.

kaichai@sph.com.sg