Review Summary: More masterful beats from the electronic supergroup.
Moderat is a portmanteau, both in name and personnel, of Berlin-based electronic acts Modeselektor and Apparat. As its title suggests, II is the supergroup's second album together, following their eponymous 2009 debut. Like its predecessor, II sees the two outfits marrying their distinct styles together – Modeselektor's glitchy, stereo-shredding breakbeats with Apparat's airier, more pensive style of techno. However, the creative symbiosis between the groups has matured significantly. It is still obvious in a Moderat song which party is responsible for each sound, but these sounds sit alongside one another more comfortably than before.
Besides the triumvirate of Gernot Bronsert and Sebastian Szary (Modeselektor) and Sascha Ring (Apparat), II features a number of guest vocalists. Incidentally, the strongest tracks on the album are the ones without vocals. Whereas Modeselektor's finest tracks all feature guest singers – “Dancingbox” with Parisian rappers TTC, “Evil Twin” with basscadet Otto von Schirach, “This” with Radiohead's Thom Yorke – Moderat simply push them too far to the fore, stifling the rest of the song. “Bad Kingdom” is the most frustrating example, its mouthwatering bassline relegated to the background the moment the singer arrives.
Free from such distractions, the instrumentals allow Moderat's songcrafting abilities to shine. And I mean really, really shine. At its best, II is as good as anything in the two groups' separate or shared discographies. “Versions” is an absolute treat, Apparat's skylines of synth accented by Modeselektor's gloomy, Burial-like percussion. Equally fantastic is “Milk”, a 10-minute epic of textural and hypnotic house. Built around a slowly-evolving bass pulse, it exudes the same sense of precision and restraint that made Jon Hopkin's recent album Immunity such a classic. It is arguably the best track here, despite (or perhaps because of) the fact it barely resembles Modeselektor or Apparat.
Though not quite perfect, II is the sound of two electronic giants working together to wondrous effect. Both halves of Moderat compliment the other, Modeselektor's brawn enriching Apparat's ethereality and vice versa. If not for the overemphasized vocals on a handful of its tracks, II would have been impeccable. But we'll forgive it that. II will both delight existing fans of Modeselektor and Apparat, and serve as a worthy initiation for newcomers. You should check it out either way.