BIKE FOR THREE! – More Heart Than Brains (2009)

Bike For Three! - More Heart Than Brains You gotta love the uber-distance collaboration. Jimmy Tamborello and Ben Gibbard struck gold (literally – Give Up was the second ever album from Sub Pop to sell over 500,000 copies) with The Postal Service, an album long extension of their first pairing in the Dntel song (This Is) The Dream of Evan and Chan (the two ultimately used the method by which they sent material to each other as the name of the band). More recently, Adam Wiltzie and Brian McBride (better known as Stars of the Lid) released the best album of 2007 (Stars of the Lid and Their Refinement of the Decline) while never actually being in the same room with one another (Wiltzie currently lives in Brussels, McBride in Los Angeles). Now we have Bike For Three!, a new collaboration between Joëlle Phuong Minh Lê (Belgian-based producer who performs as Greetings From Tuskan) and Rich Terfry (aka Buck 65), a man who’s consistently called hip-hop’s bluff that you can’t be powerful without being flashy. Their debut, More Heart Than Brains, is a near-perfect union of two opposing elements that converge repeatedly into something wonderful.

In one corner, there’s the nebulous electro/IDM haze provided by Minh Lê; they’re complex, lush and full-bodied, and they never seem to stay in one place (in one song, Minh Lê will channel Squarepusher, in another, Múm, then Portishead, then Panda Bear, etc.). On paper, these soundscapes hardly seem to be the ideal backdrop for hip-hop introspection, but Buck 65 (with his knack for vivid, emotionally resonant lyrics and his trademark steady, plainspoken delivery) melds seamlessly (and wholly) into the mix. He doesn’t just rest atop the sparkling electronic backdrops, he ebbs and flows with them, and Minh Lê often accents his delivery with whirring synths, or disrupts it entirely with glitchy breakdowns. Throughout the course of the album’s fifteen tracks, only once does the album wade into troublesome territory: the song MC Space (which, though unabashedly trashy, is strangely captivating; it deserves an album all its own, comprised of similarly lighter fare) doesn’t fit at all with the rest of More Heart Than Brains, and it’s more than a little jolting to hear such a drastic change-up so near the end of the album. But even then, the song doesn’t wreck the album; it merely feels out of place.

While the album’s title is a bit misleading (Minh Lê provides the brains, Buck 65 the heart, and they both play an equally integral role in the album’s success), it’s easy to forgive Bike For Three! for their sleight of hand – after all, they’re simply withholding the album’s greatest surprise from us. Such an act is commendable, and More Heart Than Brains has enough brawn and grace to pull such a trick on us and keep us smiling in spite of it.

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