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Courtesy of Polydor Records
The cover of L.A.-based Canadian/Danish duo Rhye’s new album “Woman.”
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★★★★✩

Woman

Rhye

Polydor / Republic Records / Innovative Leisure

Released March 5, 2013

We might not want to admit it, but there is certainly a gender bias when it comes to music tastes. It is quite rare to hear someone label music as “too manly”, but it is not so uncommon to hear it called “too girly” in one way or another. For example, the singer might be too showy, the video’s choreography might be too bombastic, the song might be too cheesy, or it might just have “too much pop” to handle.

In the last several decades, many artists have confronted these opinions by switching gender roles, creating on-stage alter-egos and changing the lyrical and instrumental content of their music to the point where gender labels don’t make sense anymore. From Grace Jones and David Bowie’s androgyny and flamboyancy, to Freddie Mercury’s eccentric performances and Michael Jackson’s philanthropic lyrics, new qualities have been introduced into popular culture, which serve to show that music exists not to classify people, but entertain and unite them.

In the last couple of years, musical groups such as Planningtorock, The Knife and Fever Ray started using vocal distortions to amplify a feeling of gender fluctuation. This year, a new Danish-Canadian duo, Rhye, released their debut album Woman, which builds on these concepts and incorporates some innovative features.

Rhye is a collaboration between Danish Robin Braun (a.k.a. Robin Hannibal) and Canadian Mike Milosh (a.k.a. Milosh). Both of them were already established in the music industry before making this album. Milosh had already released three solo albums, and Hannibal was involved in various music projects — his best-known collaboration is probably Quadron with Coco O. Hannibal and Milosh originally met up to work on a remix, but the one-time collaboration flourished into an entire stage persona and a full album.

Woman is a 10-track album that is only about 35 minutes long, but is an intriguing and entertaining collection. The album name itself is somewhat of an oxymoron, since both people in the duo are male. The gender game does not stop there — once the album opens with the first two tracks, “Open” and “The Fall,” the most notable features that envelop listeners’ ears are the softness and vulnerability of Milosh’s voice. These add a distinct touch of sensuality to the album and create a very playful and soothing atmosphere. The catchy melodies complement his voice but they never overshadow it — in fact, they never become particularly loud. Instead, the music flows subtly from one song to another, with different instruments coming and leaving like in some sort of child’s game.

However, this does not mean the arrangements lack quality. Some songs, such as “The Fall” and “Last Dance”, have such exquisite instrumental parts that it’s almost impossible not to smile and swing along. Other tracks, like “Hunger”, take a step further by combining brass instruments with light disco beats, which makes for phenomenal sing- and hum-along jams. The lyrics are not groundbreaking, but the gender-ambiguous emotionality expressed in lines such as “Tell me lies and lullabies, but don’t tell me to change” and “Don’t call me love unless you mean it” certainly gives listeners a spoken expression of the album’s sensibility.

The only downside to this album is that it loses some of its liveliness towards the end, but the shortness of the songs successfully compensates for this.

Woman does a good job of escaping the chains of gender labeling, but it is not a jaw-dropping or revolutionary album – which is fine because it doesn’t try to be. The music on this album comes naturally, gives you enough to hear but always leaves you wanting for more. So, if you are looking for an easy, yet rich and entertaining, listening experience, then this gem might well be the right album to lighten up the first days of spring for you.

Highlight tracks: “The Fall”, “Last Dance”, “3 Days”, and “Hunger”. Check out the music video for “The Fall” at http://youtu.be/F6yfFWvoygY. If you like The xx or Quadron, you might like this!