Album Review: Moderat – MORE D4TA

[Monkeytown; 2022]

Mastering the art of timing while teaching us patience as only Berliners can, the Moderat trio return from a six-year hiatus with their fourth album, MORE D4TA – and it was worth the wait. Apparat (a.k.a. Sascha Ring) and Modeselektor (a.k.a. Gernot Bronsert and Sebastian Szary) are a quintessential tripartite: composed or divided in three; they can execute in agreement in corresponding parts or copies; they are threefold, a unit where all three are at once artist, producer, and mixing engineer.

A gallery of tracks bottled in the interim, it is no surprise MORE D4TA was lyrically inspired by the van Eycks, Vermeers, and Botticellis seen by Ring during his trips with his infant daughter to Berlin’s Gemäldegalerie Museum. The first track of MORE D4TA, “Fast Land”, sets the tone with a distinctively wobbly synth lead and sparse drumbeat, building layers of warped sonic experiments and unsteady sounds. Filters open, parts drift, the synth lines float among their tonic pitches like electrons around a nucleus. 

Crunching warbles follow on “Easy Prey”, with its bopping beat of electronic toms and, by comparison, a rather simple and nonthreatening synth pad. The group has long been connected to Radiohead; they count Thom Yorke as one of their fans, and reciprocal influences wind through the pitch-shifted vocals of the hook. Beginning with finger-tapped toms anticipating the endless stacks of loops, “Drum Glow” embodies a bush-beat of drum loops and field recordings. It is night, fireside, a panoply of animal senses. 

The album settles into a more straight-ahead techno groove with “Neon Rats”, where rainforest wails and tribal calls mingle with the ubiquitous pitched-down vocal cries. This song is all about the constant rhythm and build of the main synth stabs that would be right at home in an Underworld anthem. The breakdown illustrates the dichotomy of MORE D4TA – beautiful, atmospheric moments counterposed and commingled with dark, pulsing, energetic elements.

“Soft Edit” is, by definition, a checking and correction process, where problematic data is be accepted by a computer system. This is their response to information overload – the intoxication that defined the last few years – an interlude of vocoded and mangled vocals over a bed of synthetic organ in an intergalactic church.

“Numb Bell” is a reset, taking us back to the meat of what makes Moderat tick; thumping kick drums, brash percussive samples, pulsating bass and compounding plaits of synthetic waves. We wind down, drifting off the edge of the world in their soothing spooky soundscape only to melt into “Undo Redo”, which has that Depeche Mode “Master Servant” framework of identifying subject matter knowledge and pedagogical content. 

We find immediate solace in the echoing reverb and purring vocal of “Doom Hype”. The relatively simple sonic elements are secondary to the vocals here. We reminisce about “People Are People” and “Dark and Long”; chants of “regret and forget” spell the impending end as the song culminates with “it’s where I landed and never left / where I was sent and never rest.”

“More Love” opens with an overdriven, distorted, Bayonne-sounding vocal met with a Kate Bush synth. The song moves effortlessly between the epic and the introspective, taking us to the peak of the album while balancing against some of its most pretty and subtle moments. The strong offbeats, in round, give us the sway to bring life “into dead trees”. Standing alone as we may have while raving but now aged, their “Orpheus” muse in falsetto.

Our experience with MORE D4TA comes to a close with “Copy Copy”. Sascha Ring’s eerie falsetto drifts over a bed of disparate sonic pieces that all seem to speak to what is at the heart of Moderat – oblique, oscillating synths, endlessly interesting and evocative sound design, ever changing moods and sonic landscapes and heavily manipulated vocals. 

The record is a well-curated exhibition in modular display cases. It preserves the trio’s history while serving us a matured Moderat. MORE D4TA is their cathartic work of loneliness and intoxication, indulging in a museum of sounds.