Modest Midget - Crysis

12 songs
48:34 minutes
***** *****


The name may be confusing, but rest assured, Modest Midget are not some spin-off of Modest Mouse. Unlike the Nineties alternative rock of the latter, Modest Midget are far more progressive sounding. The band is the brainchild of true cosmopolite Lonny Ziblat who was born in Argentina, grew up in Israel where he started his musical studies that he later continued in the Netherlands. Ziblat is not also a man from many continents but also someone who doesn’t know any musical frontiers. While Modest Midget is his creative output for his rock ideas, he has also already written film scores, classical compositions and music for many more formats (TV, cabaret,...). And this shows of course on this tremendous second album Crysis.

Even though most of the music has been written by master Ziblat himself, he has a core rhythm section (bass and drums) with strong roots in the jazz and fusion genres. So when I insinuated before that Modest Midget are playing progressive rock, that is only true in the largest possible sense. They never sound like on the genre’s pioneers, but instead are progressive by doing their very own thing on an incredibly high level.

The two minute intro The Grand Gate Opening wouldn’t make you expect the craziness that is to follow. On this rather sedate piece consisting mostly of synth programming, one may get an impression of Ziblat the film composer. The madness truly starts with the second track A Centurion’s Itchy Belly, possibly another intro as it is also an instrumental piece. The song is four and half minutes long, starts actually like a rather typical prog rock song, but soon the vivid piano joins in, followed by a scary synth line, followed by a short guitar lead, and there we are not even yet one minute into the song. But it is only then where the fun really starts. The piece adopts some kind of polka rhythm that create a backbone for cartoonish melodies that perhaps shadow the artist’s Hebrew background, but could also work fantastically well for vintage cartoon shows. This is good natured music full of twists and turns that makes every day a happy day.

The first vocal track Rocky Valleys Of Dawn is also a pre-release single, and sounds a bit as if The Police had mated with the Cardiacs. This song is incredibly catchy and comes with prime guitar riffs, not overly distorted but played with a lot of drive. Praise The Day is a short ballad, less kinetic than what preceded, but again Modest Midget are showing that they are just adept at quieter music. There is acoustic guitar and piano, the vocals are lethargic, and yes, there is a whole portion of pathos, but in a good way. The string section that ends the song adds even more melancholy. Now That We’re Here displays another apparently huge influence on the composer. The Beatles have left their traces here, but maybe I even discerned a little Yes (keyboard melodies) and Gentle Giant (vocal harmonies), and of course there are once again slapstick moments of fast melodic interludes that remind me of the Cardiacs. The jazzy Periscope Down instantly recalled memories of good, old Donald Fagen, founder of Steely Dan. But that’s possibly the incredibly warm electric piano talking to me.

The second half of the album starts with a cover version of Roy Orbison’s Pretty Woman, and usually I would be bored by yet another take at this classic. Modest Midget manage though to turn this saccharine ballad into a madcap two-tone ska track, and succeed! More strangeness follows with the short instrumental Flight Of The Cockroach, a fast synth driven piece that underlines once again the occasionally cartoonish nature of the music. The last four tracks let go of the playful nature. Secret Lies is a soul ballad that shows some parallels to Faith No More, and again there is a ton of gravitas underlying the material. Gone Is comes across more like a summery Brit pop ballad with Beatlesque guitar lines and fuzzily warm keyboards. It is this close too cheesy, but doesn’t transcend that border and stays in welcome territory. The album’s title track Crisis (Awake Of The Sheep) is also its magnum opus. For this seven minute track, the band hired a bunch of guest musicians (oboe and a bunch of saxophones and recorders). Like before we get heart warming prog pop/rock of the highest order, and especially the oboe makes for a spine chilling touch. The album’s concluding track Birth shows the band at its most accessible, a bit like mid-period B-52's when it comes to the vibe. Possibly not the band’s strongest moment, but still a valid point to prove that they can really pull off anything they want.

Crysis may not be the kind of progressive rock that has been instilled in our minds over the last forty-five years. Instead it is progressive music in its truest sense that it is looking for new adventures to explore. The technical skills plus the inquisitive nature of the musicians who explore everything from the hilarious to the utterly melancholic make sure that there is not a single second of boredom to be found on this incredible album. It is musicians like Lonny Ziblat who convince me that I am still doing the right thing writing about music. I would probably never have discovered this precious gem by myself, and hope that this review is able to convince some of you that there is still music around that makes the whole idea of listening a wonderful pleasure. I happily give Crysis the maximum rating.

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