Inspired by old-school electronic music, '80s video games, cartoons and other retro fantasies, Canadian duo Volt 9000 (alias Cory Gorski & Andrew Dobbels ) blend analog post-industrial experimentation with club-worthy beats, pop melodies and moody vocals, sometimes sprinkling the concoction with vintage movie & game samples and glitchy 8-bit accents; the end product is often a nostalgic freestyle for fans of classic gaming, synth sci-fi & horror soundtracks, and '80s & '90s pop culture, and has resonated well with fans of Skinny Puppy and Front Line Assembly (both of whom have new work out this year, by the way) and other landmark industrial acts. That style served the team well on their first albums Retrogenesis and Atomica, but for their third full-length release Conopoly, which drops tomorrow from Artoffact Records, the band focus their retro-futuristic powers on a much darker theme – namely a creepy near-future dystopia with roots in today's hot-button headlines.
The influence of latter-day Skinny Puppy is evident from the digitally-treated vocals that shuffle and creep among the sweeping, glassy synth lines of "Game Of Drones" and "Pipe Dreams," which also recall the early solo work of Puppy's frontman Ogre and his early collaborations with Mark Walk, who laid down a more pop-based songwriting style that is also evident in Gorski & Dobbels's work. As with Ogre's projects, socio-political commentary is embedded in many of the lyrical themes of Conopoly, explored most creatively in tracks like "Speak and Spell," in which the title device asks the user to spell “Pleasure,” to which we hear the response “M-O-N-E-Y,” for “Earth” we get “W-A-S-T-E,” and so on.
But Volt 9000 doesn't adhere slavishly to the SP formula, and their sound explores a wide spectrum of textures and frequencies within a dark pop structure. The echoing upper synth ranges give a dark sci-fi vibe to "Tower," while "Illuminist" takes a creepier future-horror path, with instruments and vocals stuttering in tandem; in both that cut and "Echodrone," there's a distinct flavor of '80s synth legend Gary Numan, especially in the verses, which are often stripped down to just electro beats and pensive vocals. The most distinctive tracks here are "Toybox," which sports a mean hook, a tight, crispy mid-tempo beat pattern and a lullaby music-box sample, and the ghostly "House of Cards," a light and airy piece that floats a softer vocal melody over a plinking reverse-piano line. The eerie instrumental title track closes the album on an authentic proto-industrial feast of clicks, clanks and drones, calling back to the early experiments of Throbbing Gristle and Einstürzende Neubaten.
While Conopoly will no doubt have many critics drawing direct links between Volt 9000 and post-millennial Skinny Puppy and/or Ogre & Walk's side projects (and there is a clear sonic resemblance), I feel that the only real direct parallels here are in the music technology used, and not the songwriting, lyrics or delivery, which have a distinct creative voice that has not only improved with each release, but is getting steadily darker and more threatening, moving away from 8-bit nostalgia and into chilling new speculative worlds.
In addition to physical CD and download versions, which will be available tomorrow, the band is also releasing Conopoly in a sinister-looking “Toybox” limited edition (40 units, with just a couple dozen left as of this writing), which includes discs of both the new album and Retrogenesis, a thank-you letter signed by the band, a clipping of original lyric sheets from the Conopoly recording sessions, and links to two bonus tracks. Drop by StormingtheBase.com for details.