- Do you like pop music? Are you open to experiencing transcendent moments as part of a huge crowd? Can you admire the songcraft that triggers such communion? These are crucial questions in the case of Moderat's II, an album that maintains an exquisite tension between bruising club music and pure pop, and that is unapologetic in its attempts to deliver big crossover moments. Its potential anthems, such as "Damage Done" and "Bad Kingdom," hark back to the refined and emotionally fraught pop/soul of George Michael or Terence Trent D'Arby, while seeking, if only notionally, to take on stadium-conquerors like Coldplay or U2.
Great pop music is, by definition, calculated and formulaic. It trades on a certain sentimentality. The distinction between good or bad pop, however, is whether it works through that process with intelligence and style or resorts to cheap manipulation. Moderat are firmly in the first camp for two reasons. Firstly, they're too smart and have too much self-respect to go for the cheap hook. Their elegant melodies go in unexpected directions, and their tracks are full of destabilising details. Secondly, there is no sense here of Moderat lightening up, dumbing down or compromising in order to cross over. "Bad Kingdom," for instance, struts in on a sparse, rattling breakbeat worthy of Shed, overlaid with a thick pulse of bass. Even in its catchiest moments, II seems to grow organically and without contradiction from the grimy churn of techno and bass music that underpins it. This is pop music that resonates with an honest integrity.
At its best, II takes avant-garde ideas and elements of functional club music and uses them in a way that's as profound as it is populist. The biggest earworm here, and also the album's most poignant moment, is "Let In The Light," a swinging, almost-R&B ballad, but one built around cold Berlin electronics. "This Time," meanwhile, is a grand swell of swarming bass, trance and delicate ambient electronica, which tugs at the heart strings without resorting to cliché. It sounds like the unique product it is: Apparat's introspection and minimalism, combined with Modeselektor's toughness and brashness.
You could say that II is, stylistically, a rehash of Moderat's debut, and in some ways it is. The throbbing 10-minute ambient techno centrepiece, "Milk," is a near cousin of "A New Error," just as "Bad Kingdom" and "Gita" pivot around the same components (cyclical breakbeats, abdominal bass, keening rave synths) used on "Rusty Nails." However, where Moderat sounded at times tentative and disjointed, II is in every regard a better and more well-rounded record. If there were no third Moderat album, this would stand as a definitive statement.
01. The Mark (Interlude)
02. Bad Kingdom
04. Let in the Light
08. Clouded (Interlude)
10. Damage Done
11. This Time