Vorn – Down For It (Powertool) CD REVIEW

UNLIKE DUNEDIN, “the Tron” (Hamilton)* isn’t known as a breeding ground for great bands, but every sprawling suburban utopia must have its day in the sun (or in Vorn’s case, a week spent under a dead hedgehog with all manner of wriggling insect larvae).
Vorn, you see, are kind of great, but in a horrible way. [*Well, sort of Hamilton, but via Tauranga and ending up in Welly].
Vorn (which appears to be the name of the guy who writes, sings, plays guitar, trumpetino, rockasaki and “electronic things”, as well as the name of his band) have been releasing albums since 1999, of which I am blissfully ignorant. This one is a truly odd hybrid of sounds and styles: in just one song the group can go all disco for a few bars, before getting into some sweet violin business. There are real instruments strumming and banging, sawing and tootling away, but also equally raw electronic bits. The singing and strumming and songs could hold their heads high, because they’re really just as melodic and instantly enjoyable – or moreso – than any manner of more mainstream bands. There’s a certain roughness to all this, but it holds together just fine, and surprisingly, it sounds as clear as a cowbell at dawn. Yes, folks, with modern technology it’s possible for a cheap-ass recording to sound great on an expensive stereo.
What’s really great about Vorn is the untethered, unmoderated creativity, together with lyrics that are funny and caustic and really don’t give a shit who they might offend. For instance, in ‘Stop Making Bedroom Albums’, the parents of a 31-year-old live-at-home son are expressing frustration that he’s still wearing the same Pavement t-shirt he bought at 17. In ‘The Family Planning Song’, the protagonist gets a hard-on for the woman a Family Planning. The ‘big hit single’ (ha!) is ‘You Don’t Have To Hate Yourself To Sleep With Me (But It Helps)’, a disco romp that cleverly plays on the sad fact that many young women end up with horrid guys because of low self-esteems. Vorn’s lyrics are frequently funny and scabrous and touching at the same time, which really is something.
I like this album, and can’t help thinking it deserves a wider audience than it will get in a pop culture environment where “alternative” is just fine, as long as it sounds just like all the bands being raved about on Pitchfork. In other words, Vorn sounds out of step with all that, which makes it even better, in my book.
I’ll finish off with a few lines from the group’s quite brilliant press release:
“Let’s not kid ourselves: this album is not going to win any New Zealand Music Awards. New Zealand On Air will not fall over itself to fund a bunch of austerity-measure-defying videos. Mainstream radio will treat this album in much the same way that 17th Century England treated the bubonic plague. But truly great albums have time on their side. When The Naked & Famous are both fully clothed and utterly obscure, when the only place you can find an Opshop record is in an op shop, people who love music will be talking about this record.”
Yes indeed. GARY STEEL

Music = 3.5/5
Sound = 3.5/5

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