What is pop music? When does the underground risk straying too close to the pop formula? When is it acceptable to do so? These are all questions that Moderat’s new album, aptly entitled ‘III’, poses. Moderat, the longstanding collaborative effort between Sascha ‘Apparat’ Ring, and Gernot Bronsert and Sebastien Szary (who produce and play together as Modeselektor), have posed similar questions on previous albums, but never before have they answered them in such a compelling manner.
Previous album ‘II’ walked the risky line between embracing a pop sensibility and the sound of underground dance. The trio pulled it off: ‘II’ was a master class in exorbitant joy, deep emotion and sophisticated, driving beats. ‘II’ was 2013s finest example of paradigm shifting electronic music. It was an album that cemented Moderat as a genuine project as opposed to a rag-tag techno super group.
‘III’ perfects this balancing act. Its tracks are concise, neatly packaged and well ordered. Each track clocks in at around five minutes. Unlike its predecessor, there are no epic, ten-minute-plus techno workouts like ‘II’’s ‘Milk’. But this is not a sign of Moderat slowing down or adopting a conservative style. Out of order comes chaos and this is especially true for Moderat, whose musical formula has always relied on the inherent tension between Apparat’s more experimental, emotive style and Modeselektor’s dancefloor-focused, vagabond-esque approach to production. Within this somewhat strict pop-structure, Moderat deliver a master class in chaotic, visceral composition.
Despite the trio’s love of audio hiss and analogue roughness, ‘III’ maintains a cleanness of sound made possible only through the finest musical decision-making – a process that has taken three albums and an EP to refine. ‘III’ is a concise masterpiece; a culmination of a working process that has taken almost ten years to perfect. On previous albums it was possible to identify musical aspects as having been placed there by Apparat or Modeselektor. No longer is this the case. The trio seems to have moved past this musical divide into a new soundscape where each the elements of each song add up to more than the sum of their parts. An (albeit small) issue with ‘III’’s predecessor was the way in which Ring’s vocals were used. Often they were swamped with overdubs; sometimes they were pitch shifted awkwardly. Sometimes this gave the impression that Moderat was sometimes in fact Modeselektor featuring Apparat. Gone is this distinction. Each song on ‘III’ sounds like the collaborative product of a single musical unit.
Apart from the very first few seconds of album opener, ‘Eating Hooks’, the album is devoid of extended ambient pieces. Gone are the tracks that sound like Moderat ‘doing techno’ or ‘doing ambient’ or even ‘doing a ballad’. Rather, each track on ‘III’ sounds like Moderat ‘doing Moderat’. ‘Running’ finds emotion in machines and marries it to the raw feel of Apparat’s voice, ‘Finder’s rhythmic shuffle grows and grows until it engulfs the listener entirely and ‘The Fool’ takes the swung feel of dubstep and injects it with a sense of unsettling paranoia. Tracks like ‘Animal Trails’ and Intruder make it clear than Moderat can fit the epic feel of a ten-minute track like ‘Milk’ into less than five minutes. On ‘III’, less is more.
On first hearing, the album seems a little too clean cut, a little too sanitised. But compared with the rougher, longer musical sketches of ‘II’, the general completeness of ‘III’ gives it a more rounded feel. Yet this succinctness is no bad thing. ‘III’ takes the rawness of its predecessor and builds on it. The effect of this is that ‘III’ has more depth than ‘II’ and in the process reaches new emotional heights. The rich subtlety of its sound design demands repeated plays. Each time the album reveals something new. ‘III’ is an album that worms its way into your day-to-day life. It’s an album that grows each time you listen to it. It’s an album than sounds different, and feels different, with each subsequent play. ‘III’ is a triumph that takes pop and redefines it, and may come to be seen as a watershed moment for the group as they hit full stride.
Words: Alex Green
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