Album Review | Moderat | II + DJ Mix


Moderat
II

bass \ bãs \ adj tech•no \tek-nõ\ n + pop \päp\n

"This is not what you wanted / not what you had in mind" Sascha Ring, a.k.a. Apparat, sings on "Bad Kingdom," the lead track and single to II, the sophomore record from Moderat, Ring's collaborative project with Modeselektor's Gernot Bronsert and Sebastian Szary. Lush, affecting, and powerful, the song is a statement about a life of privilege gone awry, but heard in passing, Ring's lyrics could be mistaken for a statement about the record itself, the follow-up to the trio's 2009 self-titled debut. Any time spent following Ring, Bronsert, and Szary's joint studio output reveals the folly of such an interpretation, as II is exactly what we had in mind, and very likely just what fans wanted.

A natural evolution of this German electronic supergroup of sorts, the record sees a more cohesive marriage between Ring's impassioned and deeply melodic songwriting style and the Modeselektor boys' knack for potent and accessible bass-influenced techno. It picks up where stand outs like "Out of Sight" and "Rusty Nails" left off, but does so in a way that feels more fluid and consistent this time around. 

Tracks that center on Ring as a vocalist, like "Gita," wear his influence plainly, but aren't the worse for it. Since stepping up to the microphone more prominently on 2011's The Devil's Walk, he's only become more confident as a frontman. And it's not like Bronsert and Szary don't assert their presence. With understated wisps of bass funk, brushed 2-step drumming, and a rich tapestry of chattering vocal snippets and atmospheric bleeps, "Gita" shows Moderat's members thriving together in harmony.

"Let in the Light" does similarly, this time with the power roles reversed. Taking Ring's vocals,  splitting them out into pitched up and pitched down counterparts, and stitching them back together over a warped soul beat, Bronsert and Szary's rebellious studio trickery churns out another of II's true high points. Elsewhere, on the ballad "Damage Done" the trio does get slightly carried away, flying a little too close to '90s Phil Collins territory for comfort. Still, the melancholy minimalism on display adds to the overall flow, signaling the final stretch of the album and setting up the complex warmth of the closing track. "This Time" plays at what makes Moderat so enticing: its ability to breathe so much life and emotional weight into music so often characterized by its mechanistic soullessness. 

While the album's lyrically driven tracks tend to draw the most attention, it's the instrumental works that sink in the deepest. According to recent interviews, "Therapy" is the result of a particularly grueling studio session, and it shows. Moderat's signature industrial percussion reverberates like drumsticks rapping on oil drums and hollow bass ricocheting out from a barren concrete expanse. Nondescript vocal murmurs and slinky, distorted synths fill in all this blank space before a mid-track interlude strips everything away in anticipation of a resurgent finish. More epic in its composition, "Milk" extends for more than 10 minutes, finding this prominent threesome comfortably in the zone, meditating on buoyant, stuttering chords that ebb and flow over a post-UK garage beat. The track comes to life slowly, fueled by a chorus of celestial cooing and the glacial progression of its melodic themes. "Milk" may be the least ornate cut on the record, and the one that strays furthest from the pop structure that is otherwise favored. And yet, it goes the furthest to reveal Moderat's sweet spot at the cross roads of Berlin techno, UK bass, and a pop sound that defies traditional borders.

Joshua P. Ferguson


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