As the third collaborative album between Berlin’s Apparat (aka Sascha Ring) and Modeselektor (the duo of Gernot Bronsert and Sebastian Szary), III, is an offering that lingers closer to pop sensibility; despite Moderat being made up of two of the most progressive acts in underground electronic music.
As with their previous LPs, the trio combine the robust and glitchy production of Modeselektor with Apparat’s more subdued sound. Yet, it’s not entirely the same. With the deep emotion of tracks such as ‘Reminder,’ (which recognises the world for its flaws and the choice to act differently to light the way to something better), together with their sophisticated driving beats and exorbitant soundscapes, they’re able to create a refined body of work. This, I feel, is something that Moderat have slowly been working towards. Even when you compare their debut LP and it’s ardent and feverous tracks like ‘Nasty Silence,’ ‘Rusty Nails’ and ‘Seamonkey,’ to ‘Ilona’ and ‘Gita’ from their second LP, you can hear the refinement in their sound, which today, has had them produce III; an album that is more consistent and connected. They seem to have moved past this divide between Modeselektor-inspired versus Apparat-inspired tracks, and into a space that is allowing them to offer more sonically jelled material.
Their opening track ‘Eating Hooks,’ is a slow warping beginning to the record. With twinkling synths, the whistle of a humming bird, and a dubby-bass, the track breathes with the soft growling of the rolling ambient pads. Apparat’s vocals cut through the instrumentation posing the question; “Why must I hide in the forest of my mind?” Lyrically, III has required Moderat to devote careful attention in order to illustrate their messages in this record. Moving into ‘Running;’ the track laden with soul-filled lyrics that takes its cues from electro-pop artists, Moderat introduces us to their pop proclivity. Ring’s swooning vocals combined with the confusion of buzzing and hymn-like chords, makes for a multi-dimensional track. Ending as it started, Moderat let the hollowing chords ring out before concluding with an abrupt thud. They’re are not known for their subtle approach to sound design, and thus, their first and final sounds are always palpable.
The further you delve into the record, the more you can hear Modeselektor’s hip-hop inspired sound. With a hip-hop beat juxtaposed with expressive lyrics, ‘Ghostmother’ follows a charming and warm melody. A harmonic breakdown near the track’s end acts as a pleasant rearrangement with soft hymns bringing ‘Ghostmother’ to its end. Much like in ‘The Fool,’ Moderat showcase their adroitness in creating powerful beginnings with dub-like bass lines, and throbbing rhythms, and then moving into more emotive territory, where Ring’s haunting lyrics guides listeners through their reflective narratives. Qualities such as these, show that they’re collaboration has grown from the “laptop boy-band,” as Ring puts it, to a supergroup.
Centred around the software the Ring wrote himself, their tracks have the ability to manipulate their listeners. His melancholy vocals in ‘The Intruder’ are layered with dynamic synths and drums, building up to a dramatic instrumental climax. Moderat aren’t about creating those massive drops – instead, they’re more concerned with exploring the emotive effects of big sound and intricate arrangements. This comes to light through Szary’s commentary on Moderat’s approach for the record; “imagine yourself sitting in the cinema and watching a movie with an incredible soundtrack.” This can be said for all of Moderat’s output in general, but III in particular, through its pairing of emotional pull with sensual imagery, creating dynamic sound and depth with lyrics.
The trio leave behind the erraticism of tracks like ‘Bad Kingdom,’ to deliver a neatly packaged and well-ordered selection. The closest they come is ‘Animal Trails’ – but even then the chords seem perfectly controlled. Even still, ‘Animal Trails’ is a perfect example of Moderat’s orchestral diversity and how they’ve come to work so well together. With an intriguing pallet of digital sounds, Moderat poses the ability to create tension through light and shade. ‘Ethereal’ is another one of those moments. With the pitter-patter of drums and godly-hymns, Moderat finish III with a delicately arranged piece that is reminiscent of the last track on II, but with an extra airiness to it. With II’s inclusion of the beautiful ten-minute slow-burner ‘Milk,’ I was slightly disappointed to see no lengthy repeats on this record. Nonetheless, they’ve managed to make the shorter tracks like ‘Ethereal’ as memorable in half the duration.
III is a development away from the brazen experimental sounds of Modeselektor and the finicky nature of Apparat, and into a new sonic sphere together. Nonetheless, this development is a positive one; now more akin to a band rather than a collaboration, Moderat have been able to blur the boundaries of postminimal electronic music and round out their trilogy nicely.
III is out now via Monkeytown.