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Album Of The Week

Voyaging Further Outwards: Re-TROS' Before The Applause
Patrick Clarke , September 14th, 2017 07:22

They were mid-00s 'China-rock', now Re-TROS are about-to-be-massive global postpunk acid-house industrial outliers. Patrick Clarke loves it.

Rebuilding The Rights Of Statues, better known as Re-TROS, were forerunners of the so-called China-rock explosion of the mid-2000s, where a raft of groups inspired by western post-punk rose to prominence. Theirs was one of the scene’s most listenable, well-crafted sounds, and they were good for a clip or two to embed into music blogs before the internet’s attentions shifted away as the scene faded. The trio are still based in Beijing, and still signed to China’s most significant independent label, Modern Sky, but this time around the talk surrounding Re-TROS is of “going global” - their own stated aim. In the eight years since their first LP, Watch Out! Climate Has Changed, Fat Mum Rises…, they've been exploring the most intense reaches of acid house, industrial and post-punk and honing their craft for this powerhouse follow-up, a record to survive and rise on its brilliance alone.

Previously the group’s sound was anchored on imitation. There was little to distinguish their brand of post-punk from the many other modern imitators of Bauhaus, Joy Division, The Cure et al doing the rounds both at home and abroad. That record is a good one, laden with gloomy descents and jagged, jabbing riffs, but aside from the added interest garnered by their background, they were simply quite a good participant of the post-punk revival and not much else; they even had a song called ‘Bela Lugosi’s Back’.

On their new record, however, Re-TROS have metamorphosed into something altogether more assured. Before The Applause is an LP so unmercifully intense that it holds up free from any packaged narrative. They’re still great absorbers of influence - the spectre of Nick Cave’s ‘Red Right Hand’ hangs over ‘Pigs In The River’, and there’s a distinct twist of Einstürzende Neubauten on 'The Last Dance'’s looming thud – but rather than just presenting a decent imitation, as they did on their last record, here they absorb their forebears into a melting pot of their own devising. Re-TROS have become outliers, rather than copyists.

‘At Mos Phere’ is the best articulation of their expanded abilities, a monster of a song that incorporates the most welcome of the group’s newfound dalliances – a fascination with the ceaseless pump of electronica. All the best moments on Before The Applause are anchored thus, looped around a spine of walloping industrial rave as the band maze seamlessly from one temper to the next. On ‘At Mos Phere’ the trio lay down that essential pump and let it settle in, sounding akin to Factory Floor at their best, and then slather on a sweep of space-rock atmospherics, voyaging further and further outwards before reeling it right back in from escape velocity towards the bare bones of the beat. From there they throw themselves from severe robotic vocals to blissful acid house piano, through blasts of more modern, James Murphy-ish groove.

‘Hailing Drums’ is the album’s other pinnacle, a rabid opener to the album proper after the brief, ambient palate cleanser ‘Hum’. It’s a more manic side to the band’s newfound sense of power and purpose, with the central anchor this time a lunatic whirl of potent, vigorous synths that loops relentlessly with no rest in sight, ramping up the jitters with a brusque, snarling vocal from Hua Dong along the way. By the time the band sweep breathlessly into the harder, tenser opening blasts of ‘Red Rum Aviv’ there’s barely any air left to breathe, but the group fly ever forwards with an extra kick of squalid, severe guitar as Liu Min takes over vocals with a startling howl.

They finally relent from the consuming claustrophobia with a bout of sparse handclapping for the two-part ‘8 + 2 + 8’, directly inspired, it would seem, by Steve Reich’s Clapping Music. The first section is entirely without instruments, with deep rounds of chanting and whispering woven around a shamanic clapped rhythm, while the second section throws a thick blast of electronica underneath. This raises another significant new string to Re-TROS’ bow. Where before they would capture a spark or two of their post-punk heroes’ creepiness, on Before The Applause they can be genuinely forbidding. It’s notable that once the beats return for ‘8 + 2 + 8’’s second section, they lose a little something - the eerie claps and chants on their own cast something of an unsettling spell.

Re-TROS’ newfound penchant for the nightmarish reaches its zenith on ‘Pigs In The River’. The track was inspired by the events of March 2013, where 13,000 unfortunate pigs were found floating down the Huangpu River in Shanghai. They’d been dumped by local farmers after an outbreak of disease – a possible connection to bird flu was never proved – but after their corpses started polluting the city’s water supply it became a symbolic issue around which the Chinese state’s treatment of its citizens, and the environment, was challenged. “The pigs in the river are ashamed of you,” growls a looming Hua Dong over an evil, lolloping instrumental, expressing the understated but mounting horror that must greet such a sight.

Before The Applause, then, is an album of many faces. Re-TROS hop from one genre to the next, always with the devotion to do each of their influences justice – as they did in the past with post-punk – but this time with an added bite of something that is entirely their own. This is a remarkable album, and easily good enough to send them global.