An obsession begins

Long before Moderat’s debut LP, I first encountered Gernot Bronsert and Sebastian Szary when I read a review of Hello Mom!, the Berlin duo’s first LP as Modeselektor. As a big electronica fan and lover of bass-heavy techno, I was quickly converted to their glitchy, spacious sound. ‘Vote Or Die’ is a personal favourite, but ‘The Rapanthem’ (featuring little/no rap bizarrely but instead the voice of Christopher Eccleston) and the closing psychedelia-drenched ‘I Love You’ are also fantastic.

Shortly after I got into Hello Mom!, Modeselektor followed up with Happy Birthday! – an epic, more musically diverse effort ranging from playful French rap to desolate, industrial soundscapes. Radiohead’s Thom Yorke even decided to show up for a stint on guest vocals, having apparently been a big fan of the debut LP. The two guys I was sharing an office with at the time were subjected to play-throughs on a daily basis – ‘2000007’ being the most memorable.

Two years later, the guys teamed up with long-time friend Sascha Ring (AKA Apparat) to create their debut collaborative LP ‘Moderat’. They had tried working together a few years previously, but to disastrous effect by all accounts. The resulting EP titled ‘Auf Kosten Der Gesundheit’ (at the expense of health) says it all really.

 

Album artwork for 'Moderat'.
Album artwork for ‘Moderat’

 

‘Moderat’

Thankfully, there was no sign of disharmony on this occasion; at least in a musical sense anyway. I think everyone has songs or albums that transport them right back to a particular period in their lives. When I put ‘Moderat’ on, it is 2009 once again. ‘A New Error’ is one of my favourite pieces of electronic music (possibly music) ever created. With its relentless rhythm and uplifting feel, it’s a great example of building textured electronic music to a crescendo, layer by layer. ‘Les Grandes Marches’ and ‘No. 22’ are other personal highlights. Seeing this album performed live at Electric Picnic the same year was kind of a big deal for me.

 

Album artwork for 'II'.
Album artwork for ‘II’

 

‘II’

Soon after separate LP releases from both Modeselektor and Apparat (for another post really), 2013’s ‘II’ saw Moderat become a little more ‘pop’ orientated, with Sascha Ring assuming a bigger hand in vocal duties which resulted in more tracks being ‘song-like’ in structure. Vocal experimentation was also proudly on display, with Ring’s falsetto notes dropped by an octave on more than one occasion to give them a more sinister, Burial-esque edge. ‘Versions’, ‘Let In The Light’ and ‘Milk’ are great, but the highlight is undoubtedly the colossal ‘Therapy’.

 

The cover artwork for Moderat's 'III'.
The typically curious artwork for ‘III’

 

And now ‘III’

I still wonder how the inevitable musical disagreements in the studio must have been dealt with. Modeselektor’s more hardcore, rhythm-led appetite had two people to argue its case, outnumbering Sascha Ring (Apparat) who would have been left to defend his more astral, melodic corner all by himself. On the evidence of this record, Ring certainly knows how to fight a good fight.

It all kicks off with ‘Eating Hooks’, a downtempo, contemplative track with some nicely frenetic synth fills. True to form, the trio build things up to a controlled fever pitch as it moves towards closing.

Next comes ‘Running’ – as soon as I heard the opening patchy keys, I knew this would be a personal favourite. If ‘III’ starts off on a downtempo note, this gets things right back on a more thumping track. “So I keep on running” indeed – superb.

‘Finder’ is plods along nicely, similar in composition to ‘A New Error’. As we’ve come to expect from all things Moderat, it builds into a rumbling cacophony towards the end. Good bass response is essential for proper enjoyment of this music.

‘Ghostmother’ is another vocally-led number with fantastic, slightly disjointed percussion from the Modeselektor camp (Bronsert and Szary also feature on backing vocals apparently), complementing Apparat’s unique sense of melody and lyrical style.

We then run into the first single ‘Reminder’, picking up the pace yet again with that sinister vocal mutation first heard on ‘II’ for the chorus. An epic, powerful example of Moderat turned right up to 11.

‘The Fool’ sees another emotive vocal from Ring complemented by a nicely fizzing synth chorus. There is a level of consistency on this record that we perhaps hadn’t seen on the previous two efforts.

‘Intruder’ is a pounding, tribal-sounding anthem. The track name is a very appropriate one, as the relentless beats combine to give a sense that this music is literally battering the door down in order to get in.

Fans of the more stripped-back, emotive sound may not love the next one – ‘Animal Trails’ is pure, destructive, industrial mayhem. This to me is what Moderat sounds like its three members are having a fight in the studio!

‘Ethereal’ is a great show-stopper. Powerfully cinematic, the vocal performance embodies the track title perfectly and seems to contain the rumbling background noise. You can almost imagine the Modeselektor duo struggling to break out into full-blown techno, while Ring holds them at bay under a watchful eye.

The bonus track ‘Fondle’ trundles on for a while, apparently without any particular direction and with a muted sequencer seemingly existing in a separate time signature all of its own. But then you’re hit with that epic synth after almost two minutes. A great finishing note for those who went for the ‘Deluxe’ release.

It only got released today, so my opinion of this album is only partially formed – but already it’s lived up to my expectations. Moderat seem to have got their collaborative process down to a fine art with this compact nine-track effort (ten if you include ‘Fondle’). The press announcements unveiling ‘III’ all seem to have described it as “the final part of the Moderat trilogy”. I sincerely hope that this isn’t the last we’ll see of them.