Coming up with a handful of names of Chinese acts who’ve broken onto the Western music scene is hard enough. Coming up with a band as gloriously varied as this, be they from China or anywhere else, and you’ll be really struggling.
The third album by Beijing trio Re-TROS (or Rebuilding the Rights of Statues to give them their full name) is an extraordinary listen, one that screams in your face demanding you pay attention but can also offer a hug or a dreamy lullaby just as effectively.
It's predominantly a post punk LP, but you’re just as likely to hear the strains of Factory Floor and ESG here alongside staples such as Wire and Joy Division. Instead of throwing things at a wall to see what sticks, this is a record which smashes everything to pieces and then throws it. And somehow, it sticks brilliantly.
"Red Rum Aviv" uses rave riffs, trashy glam drums, xylophone loops, scathing post punk guitar slashes, freakbeat vocals, a hollering lead and late 60’s psych keyboard work executed with a kind of nervous energy. Each instrument clashes as if it’s they’re about to run out of studio time and really need to nail this tune as the money has run out. It’s like The B-52's being spiked with amphetamines.
"8 + 2 + 8 I" is an exercise in computer trickery and minimalism with little more than sampled handclaps, weird whispered speech and an indecipherable one line repeated over and over. It's followed by "part II", which takes the same components and adds marching death drums, electro synth squelches, hard hitting techno rhythms and moody as hell electronic malfunctions looped over and over for 10 minutes, showing a clear understanding of the structure of a great techno track but performed as if they were a doom-core metal band. The wide eyed enthusiasm of blending as many genres as possible together in one track makes for invigorating listening.
More conventional operations occur only fleetingly. "Pigs in the River" is such a blatant rip on "Red Right Hand" by Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, but with such sleazy Lux Interior-esque crooning that you visualise the opening credits to Peaky Blinders before the track breaks down into harsh white noise, surf twang guitars and discordant vocal harmonising. It’s an exercise in noise, almost referencing Cave’s previous band, The Birthday Party.
In other parts of the album, Re-TROS casually fuse together vocodered vocal weirdness and Martin Gore-esque downward key changes with tribal techno and dirgy punk funk ("At Mosp Here") and hypnotic whirling Wurlitzers with desolate Captain Beefheart oddness ("The Last Dance"). The final track "Sounds For Celebration", after all the madness that proceeds it, is an exhausted, beatless piece of Brian Eno-esque ambient pop that shows they have a deft touch for atmospherics, that is when the mood takes them.
Before the Applause is a shattering listen, a confrontational record which violently switches genre with each song but somehow works marvellously. It's hands down the craziest album you will hear this year.