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Sotos - Platypus  CD (album) cover





3.85 | 33 ratings

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4 stars Chamber rock is fast becoming one of my favorite styles of progressive rock (most chamber bands can be found under the RIO/avant heading). This usually dark, often disturbing, and generally instrumental music has a unique effect on me as I listen to it. I can't describe exactly what it is I feel, but it's always there. I guess it's some combination of fear, gloom, and impending doom, given the nature of the music, but the point is that it is able to make me feel in the first place. That is one of the main things I look for in all music I listen to, and this particular style of music (as well as post-rock) has an uncanny knack for doing just that, and doing it with more power than I ever thought possible. Whether it's the dark and somber wastelands of Univers Zero, the eerily mind-probing needle of Art Zoyd, the instrumental social commentary of Henry Cow (Western Culture only), the happy, jazzy, almost mantra-like fun of Volapuk, it all is able to make me feel in unique ways. Sotos is no exception to this rule, as they too prove unique and interesting, and just as capable of making me feel as the masters of the 1970s and 1980s.

Sotos has released only two albums, their eponymous debut and this, their sophomore and final effort. Thankfully, however, even though they disbanded, several of their ex-members got together and formed the equally good (by all accounts - I haven't yet heard them) band, Zaar. Platypus is generally regarded as the better of Sotos' two albums, and I'm quite sure that the people who think that are correct. I've heard their debut (I own it), but I don't know it well enough to comment, mainly because I've been listening to this album too much to make time for the other, but from what I have heard, Platypus is much better (not that the other is bad). It consists of only two songs (though one, Malstrom, is split into seven separate tracks), but contains more substance than many albums with well over that many songs. Both of them are amazing examples of the avant-garde that show just why I love chamber music (though technically called by the moniker 'chamber rock,' this music is often far from the boundaries of rock music, making it all the more interesting). Because there are only two songs, I will try and give you a feel of what both are like.

Malstrom is quite possibly my favorite chamber song. It is a forty-minute odyssey through the depths of the dark. I have, I believe, read reviews stating that the song Staralfur (off the Sigur Ros album Agaetis Byrjun) is the song that will be playing at the gates of Heaven. If that's the case, I can only assume that Malstrom is the song that will be welcoming newcomers to Hell (though Wu would serve just as well). This song, though it is split up into seven parts, cannot be seen as multi-part. Each section flows into the next flawlessly, resulting in a great listening experience, and it really does feel like a single song. Each track does, however, serve a slightly different purpose in your voyage through the underworld, representing different climaxes of your trip.

Part 1 serves as an introduction, dark and ominous, setting the stage for what's to come, but without actually exposing you to the horrors within. It's generally soft, with haunting violin work playing the most prominent role. Part 2 rolls right out of Part 1, picking up the action right from the outset and leading you on a roller coaster ride of darkness. The violin has somehow gotten even more haunting than before, and now the drums are starting to come to the forefront as well. When it climaxes (and you'll know it when it happens), it has more energy than most other chamber music I know, and is highly engaging. Part 3 keeps up that energy, moving into almost hard rock territory for a short time, but without losing the dark chamber mindset. Guitar and drums play the lead role here, but they are no less potent than the violin (string instruments tend to play a large role in chamber music). With Part 4, we are taken into even darker realms, beginning with the energy of Part 3 before descending even further into the depths (in a good way) into pure avant-garde strangeness. This part will probably be the hardest for most listeners, but it's just as good as the rest of it. Part 5 sees string instruments return to prominence as the dark nature of the music picks up. This is the longest section of the song, and, at times, the most normal, but still quite twisted at heart. Part 6 features some of the greatest string instrument work I know, simply pounding with unbridled energy. This is probably the climax of your journey, before your trip through the underworld ends. This song puts the 'rock' back in chamber 'rock,' but, even while it rocks, it never fails to hold true to the rest of the song (similar to Part 3, only better). And, finally, Part 7 concludes our journey, serving as an outro (much as Part 1 served as an intro), leading us calmly out of Hell's gates, having just had the experience of our lives.

Had the album ended there, it would have earned a five star rating from me, no questions asked. The final track, however, while still great, suffers from many of the problems I superficially found on their debut album (in just my first listen, when I had not fully digested it), most prominent of which is a lack of focus. It, like Malstrom, goes through a variety of moods (all of them dark and somber), and should serve as an excellent chamber music piece, but somewhere along the line it fails. The ideas are not connected well enough, and thus, while all the ideas are good, they don't quite gel together. I certainly cannot fault the band for lacking inspiration, just for failing to live up to their potential (which they did in Malstrom). And yet, despite all I've said, I still love the song and can listen to it without getting bored at all. The ideas they have are absolutely top-notch, and when they do connect them, this song is perfect. When they don't, it suffers, as you would expect, but it still manages to hold itself up on its own two legs (or twenty-seven minutes, one of the two) quite well. In fact, the lack of focus problem is really only evident for the first six minutes or so, after which this is a - I hesitate to call it smooth - fully engaging ride, just as Malstrom was.

If you like dark and ominous music, this album is for you, as the song Malstrom is better than anything Art Zoyd or Univers Zero ever did. Even Wu is worth owning, as it is better than much of the music I see these days, even if it isn't perfect. This album is essential for all fans of RIO/avant-prog, and even if you don't like the genre, this album could very well teach you to appreciate it (at the very least). One of the greatest albums I know, one you can't go wrong with. When I give a four star rating, it does not just mean that I like an album (that gets an album three stars), but, rather, it means that this album belongs in every progressive music collection. For me, four stars means that an album is a masterpiece at least on some level. While this would seem like my four star ratings should all be five stars, I reserve that rating for albums that truly are perfect in every sense of the word, which, for reasons I explained earlier, I cannot quite say about this album. Keep in mind, however, that this four star rating you see from me would, for many reviewers, translate to five stars. This is a band you must check out (along with, I would assume, their follow-up group, Zaar) if you like progressive music (which, given the fact that you're on this site reading this review, I assume you do). Well worth whatever it costs.

Pnoom! | 4/5 |


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