Inspiration often springs from tribulation. For Riddles, the latest from Ed Schrader’s Music Beat, the Baltimore duo leaned into the lemons life recently gave them. Collaborating with Dan Deacon over two years, Schrader and Devlin Rice cooked up a series of cathartic pop songs, pulsing with coiled energy and slow-boiling rage. A triptych of upheavals fueled the process: the death of Schrader’s abusive stepfather, the death of Rice’s brother after a long struggle with illness, and, for Deacon, the end of a long-term relationship. The musicians found common ground in the logical therapy of songwriting.
With Deacon as a producer and full-fledged collaborator, the group barreled into the work, balancing bass-driven snarl with lush ornamentation. The title track wouldn’t be out of place on a Simple Minds record, with a soaring chorus and sparkling piano; “Dizzy Devil” folds the skittering rhythms of Deacon’s work into a wall of wailing saxophone. The pummeling verses of “Rust” follow the distorted path of Wire, but there’s an Easter egg in the chorus’s Frippertronic guitar meanderings, too. Just quickly as that shift occurs, the song ends; this a no-nonsense album.
Much like their neighbors and tourmates Future Islands, Schrader and Rice don’t flinch in the presence of dramatic flourishes. There are plenty of Big ’80s moments, like the swirling of a chorus pedal, but the songs take bold left turns just as easily as they step toward nostalgia.