Bike For Three! is the well-lucked and mysterious cross-continental duo of Canadian indie-rap legend Richard Terfry (Buck 65) and budding Belgian electronicist Joëlle Phuong Minh Lê (Greetings From Tuskan). Shrouded in strange magic, anchored by the heavy stuff of life, and lifted by a mutual magnetism still uncharted, their music is a bright/stunning combination of downtempo textures, smart pop, and exposed lyrical bones.
Over 15 years, Richard has carved out a corner of hip-hop history by unraveling ornate and dust-caked yarns, often over beat-addled soundscapes, as on his seminal “Language Arts” album series (Anticon released part three, Man Overboard, in ’01), and unadorned as well (he recently became host of CBC’s “Radio 2 Drive” show). For his last record, 2007’s Situation (released on Sage Francis’ Strange Famous label), the man crafted an entire song-cycle around the narrative minutiae of 1957—Rich’s love for a good story is famous. Considering, he couldn’t have found a better partner for his latest work.
Joëlle was raised in Brussels by her Vietnamese mother, a painter and a chef, and remembers fondly the piquant scents she’d chase around mom’s restaurant. She was infatuated with the piano at her primary school, and took lessons when she wasn’t painting or tinkering with music boxes. She learned cello too, pursued photography (she’s now a successful digital video artist), and studied music theory in college, where she discovered that art-making brought back her childhood memories in vivid detail. She has magic secrets—and perhaps a touch of clairvoyance—that she put to work in creating 2006’s striking Greetings From Tuskan LP debut, Lullabies For The Warriors. To this day, there are details that even Rich doesn’t understand about Joëlle’s immaculate productions. Naturally, that’s another detail that he loves.
Bike For Three!’s constituent parts have never met in person, and they might not ever. She found him, and their story unfurls in real time along with their songs. Joëlle sends Rich music; Rich writes to the moods and movements that she’s designed; Joëlle nurtures each piece into an animate whole. Bf3! actually finds Buck 65 eschewing traditional narrative forms in favor of an intimate stream of consciousness (offset by tight rhyme cadence) that mines the craggier depths of romance both requited and out-of-reach, real and imagined (which perfectly befits Bf3!’s working relationship). The things Rich wouldn’t speak of in conversation thus become part of the conversation happening on record.
More Heart Than Brains, Bf3!’s album debut, is Buck 65’s first record to feature all electronic production. Of course, Joëlle has a few acoustic tricks up her sleeve—those music boxes from her youth, for instance—and an approach that seats her comfortably amongst such mercurial beat auteurs as Boom Bip, Modeselektor, Michna, and labelmate Alias. That Rich returns to Anticon a nearly decade later to release his most personal album yet is both an honor and the logical continuation of the label’s own story (Sage Francis did the same with Personal Journals in ’02). As for Bike For Three!, consider this Chapter One.