A couple of years ago, at the annual Rock ‘n Roll Carnival in my old Cincinnati neighborhood of Northside, I had a classic “Who is this?” moment when catching an act. Two guys on stage, one playing bass and one dosing out equal energy to both a single floor tom and his vocals. It was visceral, unique, irresistible and called ‘Ed Schrader’s Music Beat.’ I’d later find out that drummer/vocalist Ed Schrader and his cohort, Devlin Rice, weren’t completely unknown talents, least of all in their hometown of Baltimore, where alt-weekly City Paper voted them as the Best Band in 2014. In a city not starved of musical talent, somehow a less is more approach won out.

It’s then surprising to learn that Riddles, their third album and first for Carpark, had the band bringing Dan Deacon, not typically associated with Ed Schrader’s brand of minimalism, to collaborate. However, Deacon is a close friend of Schrader and Rice, and though their second album, Party Jail was generally decent, it felt like a step back after their sharp debut, Jazz Mind. A third head with Deacon’s sensibilities could’ve been a slam dunk or a disaster, but there’s no way it would be boring.

While not an outright triumph, Riddles does seem likely to ensure Ed Schrader don’t get lost in the post-punk/art rock shuffle. The calling card for the duo is songs that are either fervid ragers or slower numbers with vocals from Schrader that recall Arthur Russell or Nick Drake (including one perhaps not coincidentally called ‘Pink Moons.’) Sometimes, they’d be both at once. Opener ‘Dunces’ starts sultry but becomes unglued, courtesy of Schrader’s vocals. The stormy ‘Dizzy Devil’ has a readily identifiable source of anguish: technological overload. (“I wish we could be happy/I wish it was the 90s,” Schrader says lamentingly at first, and then desperately). Even the most explosive track, ‘Rust,’ has some horns to ease you in before morphing into Sunset Rubdown-like madness.

No track here makes better use of explosiveness or lives up to the potential of pairing Deacon with Ed Schrader’s Music Beat than the title track. The twinkling piano beautifully transitions into Schrader’s vocals, which are reminiscent of Tunde Adebimpe (a touch also present on the more subdued immediate predecessor ‘Seagull’) both leading to and in the chorus. In the verses, he often sounds jaded, but it fits perfectly with its narrative of looking back and losing that which you assumed would always be around. The deaths of Schrader’s stepdad and Devlin’s brother were reportedly was an influence on the album. Penultimate track ‘Tom’ is a striking elegy to both Schrader’s stepdad and a departed idol: David Bowie.

Despite Deacon’s presence (or perhaps deliberately because of it), there are some readily apparent moments of ‘breathing room tracks’, including but not limited to instrumental ‘Humbucker Blues.’ Piano-led closer ‘Culebra’ has a somewhat anthemic chorus but it also feels a bit like Ed Schrader’s Easy Listening. Schrader, Devlin, and Deacon handle these comparatively lighter tracks well but not with the aplomb of ones that are sonically denser (‘Rust’), emotionally denser (‘Tom’) or both (‘Riddles.’). While this is also an explicitly more cathartic album than past releases, Schrader’s words sometimes are either difficult to fully parse or don’t pack the oomph they could. These flaws aside, Riddles required Schrader and Rice to take a gamble, and it’s one that paid off.