We had no idea what to expect at all from Beijing-based Re-TROS, which comprises couple Hua Dong (vocals and guitar), and Liu Min (vocals and bass), along with drummer Huang Jin. We were ready for anything and everything, and had been promised an excursion into Eno-esque electronica – so, with their album 1 hour and 3 minutes long, we sat back and readied our senses for a sonic onslaught.
Opening with the brief but sonically pleasing ‘Hum’, which felt as if it should be on the soundtrack for ‘Bladerunner 2049’, or one of the Star Wars films – definitely suitable for a sci-fi dystopian film – it quickly launched into the drums and electronica ‘Hailing Drums’, which was a stark contrast to the first track at 9 and a quarter minutes long. You can see why Depeche Mode chose the band to support them, the synth rhythms are to die for, an aural attack which is at once disturbing and pleasing, especially when the vocals come in, about 2 and a half minutes into the track.
‘Red Rum Aviv’ continues with the Fugazi-influenced drums, the frantic pace and vocals, sounding a bit like Bjork meets Devo in part. Two thirds of the way through the track and we’re feeling like it’s another soundtrack song, this time for James Bond or some other fast and furious film. Maybe the next ‘Fast and Furious’ even. You can feel the speed building up and it’s an almost welcome relief when it ends with a sudden burst of NOTHING.
Tracks 4 and 5 are effectively two sides of the same, ‘8+2+8 I’ and ‘8+2+8 II’ opens with clapping and monotonous intonations, chanting, with a second voice, and then a third, providing the harmonies. The clapping is somewhat distracting, we weren’t able to concentrate on the vocals, and it became a bit hard to cope with about halfway through the first track…but in terms of art, it’s exceptional. The second track kept the clapping, but they were pushed to the back somewhat, with electronic instrumentation and the ever-present drum machine taking the forefront. The vocals and clapping return about 2 minutes in, but more softly – it’s still not possible to concentrate on the lyrics however, as now we’ve a wall of noise. Both parts made up 15 minutes of the album, and it was actually a relief to move on to the next song.
‘Pigs In The River’ starts off making us think of a David Lynch film, none in particular, maybe Mulholland Drive. Then the lyrics break in briefly at about 3 quarters of the way through, as a sort of bridge, before dropping back to the Lynch-esque sonic wave. It’s possibly our favourite track on the album.
‘At Mosp Here’ is a Krautrock influenced piece, and at over 12 minutes long would be an incredible track to put on in the club, it’s trippy, hypnotic electronica, and fades out pleasingly.
‘The Last Dance, W.’ re-introduces the clapping, at a much slower pace than ‘8+2+8’, which we were somewhat grateful for. Dong’s vocals are almost resigned-sounding; a weary, drawly, lazy voiceover which worked really well with the swirling, carnival-like instrumentation, which drops gently away, quite a way from the end of the track.
‘Sounds For Celebration’ rounds up the album and the dual vocals of Dong and Min make for a very beautiful partnership – hers light, airy, and melodically gorgeous; his almost spoken monotone, which is nonetheless stunning.
‘Before The Applause’ is out now on Modern Sky, and has been produced by Hector Castillo, known for his work with David Bowie, Lou Reed, Bjork, and Phillip Glass. Don’t be put off by the length of the album: instead, clear your timetable for an hour or so, sit back, and let it wash over you.
You can find out more about Re-TROS online on Twitter, Facebook, and Modern Sky’s website. Catch them live on tour with Depeche Mode, with tickets and further information available here.