Together as Moderat, Modeselektor (a.k.a. Gernot Bronsert and Sebastian "Charlie" Szary) and Apparat (a.k.a. Sascha Ring) are a modern-day electronic-music supergroup, one with a legion of loyal fans and a deserved reputation for quality productions. As such, the trio's sophomore album was likely to be a success no matter what exact form it ended up taking. With II though, Moderat does anything but rest on its laurels, delivering an LP that is not only as rewarding as the group's first album, but also the best record either Modeselektor or Apparat have put their efforts towards in recent years.
There are a lot of similarities in approach between Moderat—the group's self-titled debut LP—and II. On its new record, the trio is still very much interested in crafting emotive electronic music with a streak of pop appeal, but those aims have been updated with a more rich and contemporary aesthetic. Long-winded, side-chained chords and shuffling, rough-around-the-edges beats here replace the more tech-minded backbone of Moderat's first album. But perhaps the most striking difference between the two records comes from the evolution in Apparat's vocal abilities, which shine on II, making the album's handful of vocal efforts some of its most memorable moments. True, Ring's singing was not simply a background player before, but from its first appearance on "Bad Kingdom"—II's first single and second track—Ring sounds incredibly confident and rightfully out in front of the production, hitting a few notes in the higher registers while never losing his robust delivery or buttery tone. Even when Ring's vocals are generously manipulated, as they are on the sneakily summer-tinged "Let in the Light," or when piled to form layered chords on the kaleidoscoping "Gita," the melodies his voice draw are pleasant to follow; catchy, but not overly ornate, they fit within the context of each track with a natural ease.
Though often driven by club-ready rhythms and sturdy low end, the record's instrumental efforts are decidedly somber affairs, ones marked by the consistent presence of dense chords and an airy atmosphere. On songs like the 10-minute "Milk" and closing "This Time," Apparat's production style seems to be the driving force, with both songs fixated on the sorts of swirling, breathy textures and sparse melodic touches Ring has made his calling card over the years. Album standout "Versions" comes with more of a Modeselektor stamp, bringing a slightly darker twist to the album's pop-flecked production scope, while later on, the slow-crawling "Therapy" similarly falls into Modeselektor territory with its slightly lopsided beat and gliding lead synth work. In the end, one of the album's many strengths proves to be this ability of the trio to create a spectrum within which all their different ideas can exist. From vocal-led electronic pop to elongated efforts into heavenly techno, II is a varied, yet completely congruent musical statement.
While Moderat's sophomore LP may offer some of the partnership's best tracks to date—the R&B-leaning "Let in the Light," the patient "Milk," and the intriguingly unique "Gita" among them—it will be difficult for its impact to match that of the outfit's debut album, simply because the project is no longer a novelty. But for those who missed Moderat's arrival in 2009, II is just as good of a place to start to fall in love with the far too irregular collaborative efforts of these electronic powerhouses. And, even better, for those who have followed the trio from the start, II may actually prove itself to be the group's most accomplished record, and one Moderat fans will come back to more often down the line.