Review: Moderat - 'II'

The second album from Apparat, Modeselektor and Sebastian Szary reviewed.


Moderat is a trio of German producers united by a love for Detroit techno, sharing recording equipment and separate but congruent involvement in the East Berlin techno warehouse revival after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Often dubbed a “supergroup,” Moderat is made up of Sasha Ring (Apparat), Sebastian Szary and Gernot Bronsert (Modeselektor). They are proud of the roots that shaped their collaborative darkness - an omnipresent element in every one of their songs- even when performing in the most tranquil of festival environments.

Although Moderat has commonly been referred to as a side project for the 10+ years since first meeting, its members insist it be thought of as its own entity - three musicians collaborating with one communal goal in mind - and not a vanity project between three moderately successful producers. The trio is rather firm about this distinction as a defining characteristic of the music that results from their vision.

Like brothers or hedonistically passionate individuals, they admit to disagreements, artistic differences and even frequent arguments while producing. We'd like to imagine that this no-bullshit honesty feels somewhat liberating to others thinking about diving into a creative collaboration for the first time. And if II is anything to go by, quality and beauty can certainly come from some friction.

II comes four years after the release of Moderat’s debut self-titled album, from which we can hear the same frequencies of scratchy, focal bass and curious melodic structures. The albums vary only by small, contextual quantities, but still II feels like a more confident - perhaps also a more friendly - version of Moderat's distinctive style.

Like 2009’s “Rusty Nails,” “Bad Kingdom” is a raunchy, slap-the-floor tune to start, muddling Apparat’s soft vocal chords with Modeselektor’s noisy, fast-beat percussion. It’s the most apparent collaborative piece to those familiar with all three members’ individual styles, and also possibly an indication of their aligning Radiohead influences.

“Versions” feels like a sacred moment, complete with tribal undertones and soaring reverb manipulations. It acts as a spicy amplifier to precede the album’s ten minute trance centerpiece, “Milk.” The length and sustenance of “Milk” make it the ne plus ultra of the album, minimally fit for shuffling towards endurance and building its way through restrictive clouds up to the stars. (Soundtrack it to outer space imagery and see what I mean.) Its power comes from pitch-perfect timing and strategic builds, removing celestial elements for the sporadic isolation of big bass beats, then taking you back up to space, over and over again. “Milk,” like many other tracks on the album, is highly reminiscent of Gui Boratto, Booka Shade and The Field in its supreme reward for patient listeners and deep, unassuming repetitions.

Other album highlights are “Gita” and “This Time.” “Gita” is a unique and uplifting stray on the album, alluding hip hop and R&B explorations stand out amidst a flurry of sonic elements. II’s closer, “This Time,” is a darkly lined production mounted in textural bass and echoing levels of high-pitched dreaminess. It feels as much of a closer on II as “A New Error” felt like an opener on Moderat, winding down tensions provoked earlier on the album with serenely whistling decrescendos and gradual tonal slides. Although a little too short for the grand mood it builds for us, it’s a beautiful summation of what Moderat’s visions aim to create. [B]