Moderat is no stranger to the world of electronic music, having already released an eponymous debut album in 2009 to broad appeal. Made up of members from Apparat and Modeselektor, both established acts in the Berlin music scene, such a stellar lineup sometimes confuses expectations as too much association is made to prior acts. With ‘II’, Moderat carve deeper into the subtle hues that inform the brash minimalism and introspection synonymous with their sound, further cementing the trio of Sascha Ring, Gernot Bronsert and Sebastian Szary as a unique entity.
It’s questionable whether sophomore-album syndrome exerts its force in quite the same way anymore, and even if it does, Moderat seem to have navigated well away from most of its pitfalls. The 4 years since the first album is a long time in the world of music. We can easily witness the rise and fall of entire movements and trends within even half that time, and Berlin itself exerts its own positive pressure as a cultural capital. To emerge with a new piece of work that is as forward looking as it maintains continuity with what was great before is exactly what Moderat have accomplished with much success and resonance.
Throughout the sum total of the new album, one gets the sense that a path of refinement rather than reinvention was taken. The trio deepened in their ability to transmute the creative tensions rife in their process into moments that transcend boundaries. The swiftly transforming synth beds convey a sense of knowing familiarity and freshness, retaining a human warmth that is becoming more and more fleeting in modern music. After a wistful and stylistic intro piece, Moderat’s first single ‘Bad Kingdom’ sees Sascha Ring deliver his most powerful vocal performance in the album. Starting out at such an upbeat pace might have been better left for a later part in the album. But nevertheless, the song shines as one of the album’s gems with its funky minimal break-beats and epiphanic recounting of a tale of success gone wrong.
One striking thing about the songs is how listenable they are without being devoid of any sense of a narrative. The elements work together in glorious harmony and one can only wonder how painstakingly dwelled upon they were.
The interplay between the various talents of the trio is apparent, and forceful abrasiveness is implied but the line out of a calm moodiness never crossed. It terms of mood, ‘II’ is a welcome addition to the recent landscape of electronic music.
'Let In The Light' presents another laid-back journey into a wash of ambience punctuated by a hypnotic pulse. Its melody is catchy and nodding, and strangely reminiscent of ‘Crystalized’ by The XX, which one can easily sing over the tune from. Despite the generally downbeat tone of the album, there is no lack of shifts in contrast, one just has to know where to look for them. The passages fleet from pole to pole in intensity, as demonstrated in the track ‘Milk’, which makes a wonderful backdrop for any kind of involved daydreaming.
In a time when it’s anyone’s guess as to what form the next revival or sound might take, Moderat offers us a possibility that most would be able to derive much from. Sonically traversing the various eras, the trio have stitched together a record that celebrates the tension between underground credos and popular sensibilities. Knowing that no one need squint too hard to find worthwhile moments certainly proves a good thing.
01. The Mark (Interlude)
02. Bad Kingdom
04. Let in the Light
08. Clouded (Interlude)
10. Damage Done
11. This Time