MODERAT – III (Monkeytown): It’d be easy enough to accuse the third (and apparently final chapter of a trilogy I didn’t know was one in the first place) collaboration between Modeselektor’s Gernot Bronsert and Sebastian Szary and Apparat (Sascha Ring) of sounding too much like their previous efforts, and easier still to say III as a standalone album sounds similar internally. But that would ignore the growth the artists have made on their own and as a trio, the way Modeselektor and Apparat continuously reconcile their polar opposite solo approaches—Modeselektor’s beat- and bass-centric party starters and Apparat’s lush, cerebral soundscapes transmuted into a rhythm-oriented orb of buzzes and snaps. It would also reduce the album’s complexity—this sounds like the elongated evolution of a groove, like trying to attack the same problem from infinite angles, over seven tracks rather than the same song repeated six times with slight variations. As a result, it’s easily Moderat’s most focused effort, sonically consistent from start to finish.
That consistency, it should be noted, is incredibly dark. The music itself can only be described as the sensation of creeping dread—if the feeling of something ominous hovering above the horizon could be turned into a film score, this would be it. The one element that lightens the mood are Apparat’s vocals, appropriately emotive without being overwrought (especially remarkable since he’s made his name as a laptronica maestro, not a vocalist), featured more heavily and more often on this outing than before. He sounds somewhere between SBTRKT’s vocalist of choice Sampha and a subdued (or sedated) Justin Timberlake, tackling a particular phrase on each track (“When I sleep at night” on “Intruder,” or “Burning bridges light my way” on “Reminder”) like he can’t get it right. As such, the group finally properly utilizes his voice as not just a pretty vessel for delivering innocuous phrases, but as another instrument to be layered into the mix. It’s not an event of an album, but Moderat are welcome to create more albums—whether they sound exactly like this or not. B PLUS (***)