The history of Moderat is long and inexplicably spotty, featuring stretches of empty time between generally well-received, often highly-acclaimed pieces of work. The German trio comprised of Gernot Bronsert and Sebastian Szary from the Modeskeletor group, and Sascha Ring, aka Apparat, have cited creative differences as the reason for their extended break between their initial releases, though the evidence of this conflict takes a peculiar form. Rather than becoming disjointed, the music is so smooth and harmonious that its joie de vivre is very nearly killed.
III succeeds the widely-praised II after three years, and continues the path of smooth grooves that Moderat have been on since their inception. Blending a kind of light soul sound with Euro techno, the group utilizes an array of diverse synthesizer voices that evoke alternately Eastern or Western tones, but always feel distinctly European. On “The Fool,” somber melodies combine with minimalist Japanese string plucking and far-off bird cries for one of the album’s moodier moments. The nearly-drunken slurred vocals and complex percussion lines of “Reminder” make it sound almost like a Radiohead track, but the baroque opulence of its multi-layered chorus section produces an altogether different style. Unfortunately, aside from these two interesting cuts, there isn’t much remarkable about this album.
While it’s technically solid, sometimes catchy, and consistently stylish, III lacks a sense of excitement. It’s a collection of pretty good songs that doesn’t seem to have any passion in it, as though the artists are just going through the motions at this point. After the elegantly low-key opener “Eating Hooks,” there are a handful of songs that feel like filler, a few bright spots, and an instrumental closer. It often feels like background music, a generic brand of techno-soul that’s purposely inoffensive enough to blend in anywhere without ever making much of a wave.
If this is a group dealing with differences in creative vision, they’ve managed to come together and deaden all of their voices into an album that doesn’t really have any vision at all. Moderat is not an untalented group, and III is not bad music — it’s just disappointingly bland. This is a collaboration that seems like it may be better off not happening.