Mark Stephens, Prog Positivity. USA 2010.
The Great Prophecy of a Small Man
In some respects, Modest Midget could be considered "anti-prog". After all, their songs aren't particularly long. And their melodies are infectiously hummable, even to the point of insipidly lodging themselves "stuck" in my head for hours, days, even weeks without end! (Don't say I didn't warn you!) Perhaps most "telling" of all, however, is the fact that my wife and son do not immediately place their hands over their ears and evacuate the premises whenever I play their new album "The Great Prophecy of a Small Man". One thing is for certain, MAGMA, this band is not!
On the other hand, even the most casual of listens reveals that the underlying accompanying chords often have far more in common with jazz music than with standard pop or rock. Whenever I self-righteously anticipated a plebian direction in which a seemingly simply melody line most surely would move, a sudden reconstructionist twist or turn curved away from predictable terrain, amazingly enough only to arrive back home under the most pleasant of tonal circumstances! Beneath careful economy lurked a depth of thoughtfulness coupled with a penchant for musical schizophrenia that was only surpassed by punctuating moments of brilliantly inspired eccentricity! Such eclectic and synergistic popular music simply must be deserving of the best that the term "progressive" has to offer.
And while it is admittedly impressive any time a progressive band pens memorable and captivating melodies, the true genius of Modest Midget is not that they write such compellingly clever and quirky tunes. Nor is that they somehow manage to imbue these tenaciously catchy melodies with rich vocal harmonies and arrangements (reminiscent of XTC's greater works). No. Their true stroke of genius is that they have achieved these distinctions while simultaneously introducing bold harmonic tonalities into the mix (in the tradition of Gentle Giant) to create some of the most intelligent and cogent progressive pop music I've heard in a long long time.
Although Idiosyncratic, tuneful compositions and lush vocal harmonies take center stage, the artful guitar work of Lonny Ziblat looms ubiquitously near throughout the album, supplementing and expanding the palate most tastefully. There are moments when his guitar lines achieve a subtle angularity approaching the sublime. Other times they create tuneful statements of exposition. And right when you think you have his "approach" figured out, he hits you with moments of sheer exuberance, choosing to revel in joyful repetition of simple chords constructed from a standard blues pentatonic scale. Such is the variety to be discovered on this album.
Ziblat grew up in Israel in the 1970's, which no doubt accounts for the hint of middle eastern flair you may notice as you listen to the album. His Masters Level studies of classical composition and workshops in conducting, composing and jazz explain the high quality construction of the tunes. But only an unnaturally strong musical GIFTEDNESS can truly account for the delightfully playful, richly varied, yet somehow surprisingly accessible music of Modest Midget.
My friends... Allow me to introduce you to the brave face of the Future of Progressive Pop. For I have seen this face. And it is the face of a midget! Modest Midget! ;-)
Mark Stephens, ProgPositivty (http://www.progpositivity.com/), USA April 2010