Though the outfits Apparat (Sascha Ring) and Modeselektor (Gernot Bronsert and Sebastian Szary) are both practically household names in German techno by now, the two groups actually collaborated on a lone EP as Moderat before the bulk of their recorded careers got underway. With the full intention of transforming their cooperative into a career path, the four painstakingly intricate glitch-hop tracks were dubbed Auf Kosten Der Gesundheit, or “At the Expense of One’s Health”, in honor of the exhaustion endured during their creation. Perhaps traumatized by the event, the three split and were not heard from again until now, seven years down the road.
They didn’t necessarily avoid each other in the years to come; they’ve swapped remixes here and there, and Apparat helped Modeselektor and Paul St. Hilaire produce “Let Your Love Grow”, the best song from 2007’s Happy Birthday!. But a chance meeting at a public pool found them challenging each other back into the studio together. Their long-awaited return sounds less labored than their previous outing, but it is still the work of some of the most studious boys in the studio. It bears little resemblance to the abstract techno of their debut EP, but that doesn’t mean it’s not still the thoughtful fusion of the vast bilateral output by the Moderat members, following that rare early release on Bpitch Control (minus perhaps Modeselektor’s predilection for shtick). It may have been recorded with a bunch of 1970s analogue synths, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t sound like a computer record from 2009.
Modeselektor’s kitchen-sink diversity is very much present, as is Apparat’s stately sophisticated electropop. But in a rare twist of fate, the styles actually seem to flow together, perhaps even better than on Modeselektor’s compilation-style albums. This is likely due to the smooth transitions that glide many of the tracks into one another. “Slow Match” is a reserved patch of atmospheric underwater dancehall (not unlike the kind found on the Pinch album of the same name) with chop-suey vocals by the Basic Channel standby Paul St. Hilaire that were recorded years before Bronsert and Szary rekindled things with Ring. The funereal strings of “Slow Match” bleed into the Kranky-ish harmonized drones of “3 Minutes Of”, which promises to be three minutes of said ambience, but actually splits at the two-minute mark to form the prologue for “Nasty Silence”, a persistent little tune that keeps the echolocation of the former track and slaps it atop a Martyn-esque shuffle beat.
The dubstep influence is definitely felt here, but none of the tunes ever really sound like dubstep proper. There’s no wonky insectoid riffs or brown-note piercing bass drops, just the intimation of subterranean riddim. Ring’s two vocal performances in particular take on the air of David Gahan with Burial as his beat architect. The opening rhythm of “Rusty Nails” has the same feel of transit and memory that Untrue wore so effortlessly, but the vocals wail out in gloom. Electro-house embers and ghostly shadows combine to manifest a presence whose trajectory is pointed vertically upwards, though its lyrics are underground. “Down’s the only way out”, Ring says, “because hell’s above”.
The other Ring-fronted outing , “Out of Sight”, is slightly softer and evokes less of a chill-down-the-spine desolation than a kind of placidly defeated state of grace, alternating between warm buzzes and pulsating strands of rogue looping. This being the final track, the terminal spot, Ring is not even looking for a way out anymore. “We will all be forsaken”, he says with quite certain doom at one point. And later, “There’s no peace for a vicious happy ending / Out of sight”, signifying that the title of the cut is less about a state of grooviness than a state beyond hope, implicitly prefiguring dubstep’s apocalyptic roots in fire-and-brimstone dread-lock music. Pessimistic? Sure. But its elegant instrumentation makes it beautifully so.
On the polar opposite side of the album is “A New Error”, which has a bit of a melancholy mood about it as well, though its momentum is more of a march than a swagger. The machine beat is very simple and drum-machine-derived, centering attention away from the rhythm tracks for the first and last time on the album. The synths contain the slightly detuned erroring of the song’s namesake. The anthemic buzz bass recalls The Human League’s “The Dignity of Labour”: noble, proudly dated, and poised for world domination.
Unmentioned thus far is just how unbelievably listenable all this lithium-dosed eclecticism is. “Porc #1” and “Porc #2”, with its New Order chord progressions, might even attract the indie dance squad to the table. Moderat is a wonderful second take on a pairing that only now, after years of self-development through the Modeselektor and Apparat brands, seems a coupling destined for greatness.