After a shaky start, Moderat follow through with some of their best songs to date on their latest album.
From its inception, Moderat has faced a challenge that almost every other artist doesn’t have to worry about: blending two artists’ different styles. The band, a joint project between Modeselektor and Aparat, makes particularly unique music in the electronic world, combining the dance hall, club-ready beats of Modeselektor’s Sebastian Szary and Gernot Bronsert with the ambient soundscapes of Aparat’s Sascha Ring. While they’ve done a pretty decent job in mixing these styles on their last albums, I and II, it hasn’t been all sunshine and rainbows. When Modeselektor and Aparat first shook hands in the studio, the sessions went so terribly that what was supposed to be their debut album turned into an EP. Going into their newest album, therefore, the question wasn’t whether Moderat would take a different approach to their music, but whether they could master the electro-fusion that they created.
Since III is Moderat’s shortest album to date, there’s little room to mess up, but the first three songs show the band doing just that. The opener, “Eating Hooks” has an ethereal, empty beat punctuated by low sub bass and wonky electronic effects, making this an instrumental that could have fit nicely on Earl Sweatshirt’s last album, I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside. Over this dark production, though, is some reverb-soaked singing that saps any enjoyment that one could have gotten from the song. The next two tracks, “Running” and “Finder”, aren’t much better, with slow build-ups in the instrumentals that finish with an unsatisfying climax. Granted, this first third of the album is not terrible, but it isn’t the band’s best work by a long shot.
Luckily, those three songs are the only lackluster moments on the entire album. “Ghostmother”, the next song in the track list, features shuffling synths with soft vocal melodies echoing in the background. It’s the most beautiful instrumentation on III, as melancholic as it is eccentric. However, what really make “Ghostmother” one of the best songs on the album are the amazing vocals. Unlike “Eating Hooks”, the singing is devoid of most effects, providing a nice organic quality on a beat that’s already the perfect amalgamation of Modeselektor’s loud sound and Aparat’s more understated melodies. “Reminder” follows up with similarly excellent R&B style vocals. This time, however, it’s the instrumentation that steals the show, with a great, simple acoustic percussion intro that builds the foundation for some throbbing electronic bass notes underneath. When the chorus comes in, a flood of vibrant electronic synths wash over everything except the vocals, forming a nice contrast to the simple instrumentation on the verses. “Reminder” does live up to its name in a sense, since the song is a reminder of all the amazing qualities that Moderat (at their best) bring to the electronic genre.
Modeselektor and Aparat follow up this success with “The Fool”, yet another track that reflects their differing approaches to electronic music. With some more excellent vocals and nice swelling builds placed throughout, “The Fool” has some of the most refined and sophisticated drops ever. They don’t smash into the listener, but instead are the delicate fall after a soft rise. “Intruder” and “Animal Trails” are also great experimental songs, with a stellar glitch-ridden electronic breakdown on the former and booming, industrial-sounding percussive rhythms on the latter. Even “Ethereal”, by far the quietest song on III, is a great closer, with its warped synth swells, gorgeous vocal harmonies, and odd sound effects forming a monstrous wall of noise that stumbles away into the darkness. And, although I don’t know if this was planned, the end of the closing track links up perfectly with the opening track. The musical Frankenstein that Moderat birthed in “Eating Hooks” dies in “Ethereal” only to be reborn when the album restarts.
III is yet another planet in the expanding musical universe of Moderat. Is it better than its predecessors? No, it isn’t, but what this album lacks in overall improvement it makes up for with excellent performances and some of the group’s best work thus far. Regardless of how one feels about III, though, one fact remains: Moderat is making music that’s inspired by all forms of electronic music, putting them in a category all their own. As long as they continue to experiment with their unique sound and style (like they do all over this album), there’s no doubt that Moderat will continue to add to their musical universe and remain one of the most forward-thinking acts in electronic music today.