Moderat, the trio made up of Apparat’s Sascha Ring and Modeselektor’s Gernot Bronsert and Sebastien Szary, have appeared to always battle to find a balance to their sound. The more ambient leanings of Apparat have jousted with the club-ready beats of Modeselektor, as each of them fought to find their own identity within the songs.
It has been over a decade since they first collaborated, and on their third album, which is appropriately titled III, the trio have finally landed upon the culmination of their partnership. They’ve done this to such an extent that Moderat themselves have admitted that they now finally see themselves as a “band”. The results are there for everyone to hear, as they have taken a bold step away from their initial inner struggles and origins to produce an absorbing record of dark electronic soul.
Eating Hooks begins the album with rattling and flickers of noise before Ring questions, “Why must I hide in the forest of my mind?” His tender vocals cut through the sparse drums and fidgety electronic effects as it builds to its climax. Running follows, continuin the melodic pop traces that were found in the initial track. “I keep on running” Ring repeats as it morphs into a foot to the floor stomper.
That first one-two punch is then offset against the instrumental Finder, which steps away from the R&B styled vocals in favour of a propulsive beat, drenched around ethereal voices that float in the background. This is the sound of being lost deep inside your own mind, as the thread that leads you back to rational thoughts seems to have been severed. Confusion reigns as the dark grasp of the unknown develops all around the beat that reluctantly carries on regardless.
The move away from Ring’s vocals doesn’t last for long. His soulful voice is deeply affecting on Ghostmother, where his soft melodies rise above the shuffling synths. A beautiful harmony of voices (Bronsert and Szary) enter into the mix on the chorus that opens up the previously claustrophobic song into a warm and expansive soundscape.
It is then the turn of the Thom Yorke-esque Reminder, which was the first single to be taken from the album. The lyrics appear to develop around a struggle with the notion of an uncomfortable reality, “I steal from the beggar’s empty plate, give to the fair man, I dance in the halls of the newly insane, pray to the god that is vacant again.” The futility of life is often something Ring draws upon in his music, but it is done so here to devastating effect.
“It’s obvious that we like big gestures and pop. We all grew up with Depeche Mode. But going through this underground scene put a small critic in us that always tells us that something is too cheesy or obvious. Then I realized that you have to ignore your inner critic. That’s why I sing so much on this record, I thought to myself ‘let it go.’ You have to do what’s on your mind and not think about the consequences,” Ring stated in an interview.
It is this newfound pop sensibility and banishing of the “small critic” that works so well for the band. They seem intent on fashioning an album that doesn’t lose any of its emotional pull, while packing songs full of soul and melody. The guest collaborators of past albums have gone, and instead there is a strong faith placed in Ring. He doesn’t seem to mind this shift, revelling in the sense of freedom he’s been afforded vocally.
Towards the end of the album, the pop shine slightly dims. Intruder is a darkly seductive track that seems to happily enclose itself in lyrical tension, before the steady beat kicks in and the swirling atmospherics carry the song off in an entirely different direction. It all then slips away just as quickly as it arrived as Ring is left to lament, “When I sleep at night,” with no obvious signs of resolution.
Animal Trails then follows with frantic drum patterns that eventually whip up into a frenzy. The throbbing bass drives the track forward along with the heavy electronic stabs that actually makes you feel as if you’re on the tail of something big. It’s all encompassing and vaguely threatening as the anticipation of what’s up ahead sends the mind racing.
This streamlined collection of songs, which is concluded with the dreamy Ethereal, stands as a testament to the band’s willingness to experiment with their sound- to play and expand upon it. It still sounds uniquely like Moderat, but the earlier rough sketches of songs which they seemed to enjoy so much has been refined into a fine art here. The attention to detail is admirable, but it would stand for little if the songs weren’t so strong. On their third album the German trio have managed to keep the essence of their underground past and morph it into a crystalline vision full of emotional weight and huge pop sensibilities for the future.
Image: Electronic Beats