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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

When two musicians known as Rhye began posting their songs on the Internet last year, there was a clamor to figure out the identity of the woman singing so seductively.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "VERSE")

MICHAEL MILOSH: (Singing) Oh, my song says it all till you hear it in the verse.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

It turns out that woman is a man singing contralto. Rhye, that's spelled R-H-Y-E, just released their debut album. It's called "Woman." And our critic Will Hermes thinks they used the androgynous voice to great effect.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "OPEN")

MILOSH: (Singing) I'm a fool for that shake in your thighs. I'm a fool for that sound in your sighs.

WILL HERMES, BYLINE: There's a long tradition of female impersonators in pop, from English music hall star George Robey to RuPaul. Then there are male singers whose vocal register and delivery simply conjure the feminine. The jazz singer Jimmy Scott is one marvelous example. The avant-garde pop singer Antony is another. And now, we can add to that list Rhye's Mike Milosh.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "OPEN")

MILOSH: (Singing) I want to make this plain. Oh, I know your faded, mm, but stay, don't close your eyes. I want to make this plain. Oh, I know your faded, mm, but stay, don't close your eyes. Oh, stay open. Oh, stay open.

HERMES: Rhye are clearly playing with notions of sexual identity, and they've made a concerted effort to keep their own identities mysterious. Their love songs are gender-neutral, and you'd be hard pressed to find a photo of the group that doesn't cast them in shadows. In the Internet era, that's an artistic statement in itself.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE FALL")

MILOSH: (Singing) Ooh, make love to me one more time before you go away. Why can't you stay?

HERMES: But ultimately, the swooning beauty of Rhye's music makes the gender question irrelevant, which may be the point of the group's dodge. They use the sometimes cheesy trappings of easy-listening pop, music generally designed to tranquilize, to its more provocative ends. What's the difference between male and female passion? If love is a drug, what are its side effects? Rhye make chill-out music, but it never quite lets your mind switch off.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LAST DANCE")

MILOSH: (Singing) Last dance. Tell me lies and fall apart. But don't tell me to change, no. Ooh-ah-ooh, ooh-ah-ooh, don't give me that face.

CORNISH: Rhye's new album is called "Woman." You can hear an interview with the members of the group at nprmusic.org. Our critic Will Hermes is author of the book "Love Goes to Buildings on Fire."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LAST DANCE")

MILOSH: (Singing) Ooh-ah-ooh, ooh-ah-ooh. Ooh.

CORNISH: You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

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