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August 10, 2009 | by  | in Music |
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Vorn: Modern Classics (self-released)

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It’s immediately clear on Modern Classics—local musician Vorn Colgan’s fifth album in 10 years—that he isn’t afraid to express his kiwi roots. Weaving resonate tales of Wellington life in songs such as ‘That Night on Courtenay Place’ and ‘Upper Hutt Symphony’, Vorn’s lyrics are reflective of his surroundings but also touch on common themes of loneliness, alienation, frustration, love and freedom. While the album examines these serious concepts in depth, Vorn also makes it clear the listener should not take things too seriously, mixing wry humour with more obvious skits, such as the droll monotone that announces that one has arrived at the middle of the record, and “what a piece of work it is”, showcasing that essentially Kiwi ability of self-deprecation.

Accordingly, the overall sound reflects this up-and-down approach, switching between a range of styles, tempos and instruments, giving the album a sense of diversity that helps keep it interesting. ‘They Don’t Know You’ mixes ska/funk instrumentation before dissolving into multi-part vocal harmonies, while ‘Inflation’ mixes scratchy guitars with droning vocals and an arresting solo to create something that mixes well with the song’s subject matter of consumerism gone wrong. ‘I Wanna Rock’ bounces and rolls with a plodding intensity and is immediately followed by the straight pop and lilting synths of ‘Employee Assistance Program’, while ‘Small Worlds’ adopts a spoken word/ hip-hop vocal approach over jangly guitars and a tom-filled beat.

Despite this seemingly attractive mix, Modern Classics somehow manages to be a slightly boring listen overall, perhaps due to the over-saturation of drawn-out vocal harmonies that appear on almost every track, which gives them a samey feel that clashes with the instrumental experimentation. While Vorn’s lyrics are arguably the highlight of the album, the delivery of them is also its greatest weakness, with Colgan often pushing his voice far past its boundaries without the range to back it up. This often has grating results, that along with some gimmicky instrumental cameos, dispel the desire for many repeat listens. Modern Classics is an ambitious record that produces some entertaining moments, most notably the final three-track run of ‘Small World’, ‘Becoming Some Body’ and the fully formed closer ‘Small Things’, but tries to cover too much musical ground, and as a result much of the genre amalgamations quickly descend into novelty, which ultimately gives the album limited long-term appeal.

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