Modest Midget

Multi-Polar, 2014

REVIEW BY: Benjamin Ray


Here's a genre that nobody has thought of yet: progressive gypsy punk rock.

Well, I take that back. Modest Midget has thought of it. It's the only way to describe this melting pot of an album, the Dutch trio's sophomore effort. I say trio because they lost keyboard player Tristan Hupe early in the recording process; he appears on two songs only. As on the debut, a handful of guest stars on piano, oboe, violin, sax, flute and bassoon flesh out the basic prog-rock sound.

But what a sound! The influences of Zappa, the Beatles, Genesis, Yes and Gentle Giant are the most prevalent, but the band's fusion jazz training – as well as the classical training of the guest stars – seeps through, giving each song a distinct personality and yet a strange coherence. Crysis careens from fusion jazz of "Periscope Down" to ska on the (misguided) cover of "(Oh) Pretty Woman" to "Now That We're Here," which could have come straight off The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway. "Flight Of The Cockroach" and "A Centurion's Itchy Belly" are goofy, cheeky, distinctly European instrumental numbers in which jazz and ELP influences are mixed and "Praise the Day" has perhaps the strongest George Harrison feel; the fact that Modest Midget chooses George as their Beatle of choice should tell you a lot about this band's state of mind.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

"Secret Lies" is a highlight, a straight-up blues-rock number with a dramatic buildup in the bridge that gives way to the slow burn of Lonny Ziblat's solo. Ziblat is the singer, songwriter, guitarist and architect behind the whole project, but it never feels like a vanity project for him, and his influence is far from overweening the way it could have been. On the contrary, this is almost a vanity project for Modest Midget in that the band attempts pretty much every style one can imagine, then attempts to tie it together with a loose concept about those pivotal moments in life when we are in crisis, change, upheaval.

"Gone Is" exemplifies this best, with simple, honest lyrics examining a breakup of sorts ("As the floor beneath you starts to shake and split in two / Gone are all the hopes you followed / Shattered with the dreams you've built and shared / Vaporized with words that left your mouth and you two heard"). The music is inappropriately upbeat during the breaks but returns to a more melancholy rendering beneath the vocals, almost as if the narrator already has one eye on the future.

"Crisis (Awake of the Sheep)" overcomes its oddball title the moment the band locks into the groove, which gives way to frequent solos from a variety of instruments, each one telling part of the anti-religion story ("We felt that God stood aloof / Who else, we asked, could show the truth? ... Blind sheep will follow any dog with fleas / We roamed your temples almost every day / We swallowed every word your preachers say...Long live the lies that you spread"). The closing "Birth" repeats similar themes to lesser effect, but ties the album together lyrically by inviting all of those in crisis to move forward, start fresh, be reborn.

This is accessible progressive rock that actually belongs under the word progressive, simply because its melding of disparate styles into a unifying whole, held together by a simple and relatable concept, is a strong facet of this maligned genre. One probably needs an appreciation for prog-rock and the slightly weird to really get Crysis, and they will be rewarded with an album that is difficult to categorize but easy to enjoy.

Rating: B-

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