Apparat and Modeselektor's third album as Moderat absorbs a dark spectrum of postminimal electronic music—James Blake, Burial, The xx, Four Tet—and reflects it into spare, crystal-clear electronic soul.
What, exactly, traumatized Moderat so badly during their first recording sessions that they named their 2003 EP the German equivalent of "At the Cost of Health," and then took six years to follow it with a debut full-length? Though never really explained beyond allusions to fatigue and conflict, it has become such a part of the Berlin trio's lore that you'd expect a Pet Sounds-like work of self-immolating vision, not a modest EP of quietly propulsive bass music. But thirteen years later, at the end of a trilogy where tracks have almost begrudgingly given way to songs, Moderat's emotional expenditures have become more evident. III dissolves the group's diverse techno origins in crystal-clear electronic soul music that stands on a song-by-song, not moment-by-moment, basis.
It's actually not hard to believe that Moderat initially clashed; it was never the most natural fit. They were three musicians at the forefront of a developing minimal techno and performance scene, jamming together by linking their laptops with software they wrote, as it wasn't readily commercially available yet. Gernot Bronsert and Sebastian Szary strung up heavy metals at high bpms as Modeselektor, muddling jungle, breakbeat, and glitch-hop. Sascha Ring, meanwhile, made fluttering, sculpted ambient pop as Apparat. Their merger could feel tentative or slanted on the first two parts of the Moderat trilogy, which were prone to instrumental tangents and guest vocalists. But it's apparent from III’s air of ease and consistency of style that they've finally gelled around one vision.
The album absorbs a dark spectrum of postminimal electronic music—the rococo bass and deep contrasts of James Blake, the windy knock and moan of Burial, the sultry lightness of The xx, the granular whir of Four Tet—and reflects it back. It reminds me most of Jamie Woon's underrated Mirrorwriting, from the committed vocal performances down to the new age incense wafting through the spare, softly thundering arrangements. Though it's Moderat's strongest record, III isn't quite all killer. The very Field-like "Finder" bounces its vocal loop into the pocket, but it doesn't show off the songcraft found on songs like "Reminder," which might have sprung from a solo album by Thom Yorke. The three best songs allow the vocal performances to lengthen, open up, and gather weight. The best of them is "Eating Hooks," where low wobbles and glittering trills are strung together in a hypnotic equilibrium. It's closely followed by "Intruder," a sincere big-whoa anthem, and "Ghostmother" that could pass for The Antlers if they were ex-ravers.
The last couple of tracks are instrumentals that seem superfluous—on closer "Ethereal," III has run out of songs as well as titles. But the highlights make it a must-hear for sensitive electronic-soul lovers waiting in vain for Rhye to return. It's also a resounding realization of what Moderat is and can be: a band you can relate to, not just a beat you can bob to. Here’s to their health.