Moderat - II | Album Review | By Volume

I'm afraid of heaven because I can't stand the height. I'm afraid of you because I can't be left behind. St. Vincent - Regret



Features the elephant sample that would be king.

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Author: and on August 13, 2013
August 2nd, 2013

Moderat sound almost exactly like they’d be expected to on II. Formed by a trio of Berliners – Sascha Ring of Apparat and Modeselektor’s duo of Gernot Bronsert and Sebastian Szary – the group have long been affiliated, and II comes four years after their first full-length outing. Many elements are taken from their 2009 debut and stretched, contorted and moulded into the sonic ideas that hold II together, and with Apparat’s pop polish and Modeselektor’s punchy hybrid beats, it’s all too easy to assume the individual contributions. As with all supergroups however, good ideas don’t always result in good execution, and there is perhaps much more than meets the eye (or ear) when it comes to making collaborations cohesive.

II is techno with a slick IDM sheen: clipped beats pulse forth in brain dance and momentum is regulated through neuro-tick harmonics. This cerebral drive steers the record front-to-back as rhythmic play pulls the mind inwards, thoughts cycling to the beatscape, pathways stirring dance for the lonely and solipsistic. It’s an immersion that evokes distinct images of disassociation, of an individual trapped in a psych ward and lost in a virtual reality. The album cover guides this impression  – a man in orange blinded by a mask’s clasp  – as do song titles that scan as notes on a mental health evaluation (“Therapy”, “Damage Done”). “Let In The Light” imagines therapy in its self-help form, the psychiatrist opening a session with a casual “let’s talk about you.” This optimism is impressed with cascades of luminescent synths and bright pop melodies flirting with New Age promise. The office is left with a pocket of prescribed drugs and a timetable for scheduled doses. The pills are gulped down with a glass of “Milk” and it’s full throttle in a serotonin-build, the dissociative dance groove escalating to a blinding sublime. The rise takes ten minutes, but through its mind-warping course, that’s hardly noticed. II is a record filled with such striking experiences that the listener’s subconscious becomes aligned with its mechanisms, leading to moments of thrilling neurochemical release.

After an anxious, mysterious introductory interlude – the most foreboding moment of the album – Moderat dive straight into the record’s lead single. Everything about “Bad Kingdom” screams single. Taking extensive cues from “Rusty Nails” off of the first album, it boasts an infectious bassline to match bohemian beats, tamed by Apparat’s vocal narrative that chronicles eye-opening realisations. The chorus is easily memorable, and easily sung along to, while the sample of an elephant is set to become a calling card, Moderat’s own adlib. “Bad Kingdom” is certainly the most ‘pop’ piece of II, but it’s able to exist without compromising or stifling the group’s creativity with its structure. Plenty of pop seeps into other parts of the album too, such as the ballad-like “Damage Done”, before it fizzles off, and the gentle, earnest simplicity of “Let in the Light”, featuring more of Apparat’s Thom Yorke-like vulnerable, whimpering, vocals.

Some songs are held back from the pop treatment, with several completely instrumental creations appearing on II, such as the delectable – though hardly filling – “Versions”. Surprisingly, the subtle part is the percussion, which comes across as toned-down breakbeat beneath echoing samples. The track would fit perfectly on the tail-end of Apparat’s release on the DJ Kicks series. “Gita” switches the drums for gentler hip-hop beats, met with a synth that recalls the direction of Modeselektor’s Monkeytown, but for the delicate xylophone-like layer that’s as fragile as the things Apparat sings of. Strange samples are injected into each and every track, as if to provoke the listener’s mind, be it in the subtler songs or the likes of “Ilona”, hitting harder than most other tracks with its circling screeches and steady build up. Moderat opt for this bubbling-up structure on various songs, though its repetitiveness is offset by the varying areas of impact the tunes target. Fortunately the final track turns that on its head and winds down the other way in a real swan song moment, lacking vocals and the features of previous tracks. When Moderat do opt to switch things up, they do it well.

The group’s integration of pop and R&B into electronic blueprints is fascinating in that it mirrors development outside the Berlin scene. The vocal-pop laid out over chilled atmospherics evokes a similar aesthetic as that of James Blake’s work and “Gita” wouldn’t feel out of place on a Mount Kimbie record. It’s curious that ‘post-dubstep’ signals flare while listening to II, yet it seems too easy to attribute that to influence. Rather, it’s akin to a parallel movement in which pop hooks creep their way into electronic convention, an easing of stern underground mindsets. Or it can be taken as ‘post-Internet’, the viewpoint that modern music is mostly shaped by limitless access rather than geographic scenes.  Either perspective for this development in Berlin techno is enticing, and II plays to both conversations in its teasing dichotomies.

At times, Moderat feel like they have simply propped their two components’ styles on top of one another, while other times they act more fluid and give each other room to move. The ability to choose different ways to explore their collaboration has given them a sound that seems to linger in the same ballpark, yet it refrains from standing still and growing stale. This brings consistent, beautiful music, if rarely perfect. Fortunately, the versatility of the production entails an impressive experience whether the context is in the bedroom or out on the dancefloor. It’s no secret Moderat build sounds with intent to unleash them in a live setting, and every step on II seems like one in the right direction, the group trimming out the fat while simultaneously diving further into their dynamic creations. It makes II a fine sequel and an all-round excellent listen, as well as an engrossing psychic evaluation.

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