By Conrad Amenta | 10 September 2013
How many times has this happened? Let me count the ways.
I reviewed Moderat’s self-titled 2009 album, and I was pretty wrong about it. That review has since, and quite understandably, been relegated to the great cache of the internet afterlife…but the album lives on. It rises, occasionally—selected by iTunes shuffle with no more justification than Apple’s divine, algorithmic prerogative. Songs like “A New Error” and “Rusty Nails,” without the context of close listening and the conveniently provided one-sheet, are rendered fully fucking awesome. I just re-read that review, and it turns out I expected a supergroup of Berlin minimalist techno artists to make something important—shooting pea-shooters at the moon for the benefit of artillery fans, let’s say—and so was disappointed when I received a totally average, but lasting, minimalist techno experience. Yup: I was pretty wrong about Moderat. Since 2009, I’d like to think that I’ve discovered a lot more value in the latter than the former.
Though I was only pretty wrong. Not completely. The album still sounds intimidated, rather than fully literate in, the history of economical IDM to which it refers. There’s still the ridiculous and hokey sub-Tricky “Slow Match,” and the general feeling that the album uses guest spots as a way to cover up its overall lack of ideas. It’s all surface-level—not even tributary. Its good ideas have only grown on me. Its bad ideas—and there are a few—should be as forgotten as my review.
So, how to approach the dully-titled II? I mean, other than the title—hoo boy, they follow up self-titled with II?—which leads us to expect the worse. But it turns out they’ve done little more than remove all of those superfluous vocal spots, expanded the running time, and resisted the need to feel these new the spaces unnecessarily. II is allowed to breathe and is, as a result, sleek, efficient, and satisfying. It’s an impeccably produced, thoroughly accessible, and totally meaningless good time.
Take first single, “Bad Kingdom,” which is both one of the best mid-tempo, melodic techno songs you’ll hear all year, and totally stupid. Its lyrics are stand-ins for meaningfulness, at once signifying everything and nothing. “This is not what you wanted / Not what you had in mind,” it goes—though one supposes this is way one might feel about a bad kingdom, as opposed to a good one. It’s just totally mind-numbing stuff, so completely disinterested in having an agenda that one almost looks past its patient construction, its beautiful sequencing, the discerning reliance on textural atmospherics, which gives it a tonal consistency and drive. “Versions” and “Ilona” were also high points for me, dropping the floor out on the bass strategically only to swell back. These, I tell myself, are songs by veterans.
The other reviews of II are right to pick out the vocals of “Bad Kingdom,” even if the insistence that there’s something Euro about them smacks me as a bit too convenient an explanation. It’s cheesy stuff, to be sure, and if you can’t stomach it you’ll be glad to know that the formula is promptly ignored from that moment on as Moderat then diligently return to yeoman, breakbeat tinkering. II then relies on the hypnotizing effects of repetition, and as such occasionally inspires the stirred up feeling that comes most often from those patient enough to foment it.
So, II studiously avoids being a challenging, or relevant, record. It defines, and then speaks directly to its niche’s interests in a way that is so competent that I’m not even going to front: I was wrong about Moderat’s staying power; I’m still listening to it today. And I can’t imagine II disappearing anytime soon either. It’s just too easy to listen to, too robotic a killer. It’s an expert turn by seasoned professions thoroughly in their own comfort zone.