Amid the explosion of Chinese underground rock music over the past two decades, the trio Re-TROS gained international attention via a 2005 EP and a 2009 album, as well as a host of live appearances. Their newest album, the dramatic Before the Applause, is their first in eight years, and it’s the kind of thrilling listen that doesn’t so much ask for as compel attention.
The closest reference point might be turn-of-the-millennium Trans Am at their most glossy—soundtracks for ’80s car chases at 200 mph, or synthwave’s repurposing of that same slick aesthetic. The nervous, screaming intensity of a song like “Hailing Drums” sounds like something that could have emerged alongside Perturbator and Carpenter Brut. The electronically-distorted chanting of guitarist/synth player Hua Dong and Huang Jin’s bravura performance on drums add to the harrowing impact. Bassist/synth player Liu Min offers a series of striking vocal turns on marauding songs like the brawling “At Mosp Here” and the frenetic “Red Rum Aviv.” (Look at that last title in the mirror.)
Re-TROS have their own distinct sound and style, though, twisting and pushing songs into a variety of shapes. Playfully murky melodies crop up throughout, often in songs that are otherwise amphetamine-driven, while the slinky sleaze of “Pigs In the River” suggests the kind of walk down a dark city alley which may not end well. The clapping/vocal-only combination of “8+2+ 8 I” is a slippery, compelling groove that leads into the full band build and release of “8+2+8 II,” and the concluding “Sounds for Celebration” is just that, outright beautiful exultance. Here’s hoping there won’t be such a long period until their next offering.