Following the release of his EP Candy in November of last year, at age twenty Garrett Borns (BØRNS) has just released his debut album Dopamine. After several prestigious live appearances over the summer including South by Southwest, Lollapalooza and a supporting slot on tour with Charlie XCX, as well as a fair amount of radio success in the US, 2015 seems to be going well for Borns.
I first heard his name earlier this year on Taylor Swift’s Instagram. Trusting T-Swizzle’s judgment, I had a listen to his EP and, possibly with the exception of Electric Love, I loved it. I remember especially loving 10, 000 Emerald Pools, which turned out to be the opening track on the album - a good choice. The heavy drums, twinkly guitars and lifting-pop melody had me itching for summer and escape. I was really looking forward to this album; therefore I was saddened to find that initially, I was a little disappointed.
On first few listens, there just seemed to be something missing. I was finding a whole album of Borns’ high-pitched voice quite irritating; listening to more than a few songs left me wanting to scratch the walls. I was waiting for that thing to kick in that had made me instantly love 10,000 Emerald Pools. And then, late this evening, about mid-way through my fourth listen, something finally clicked. I don’t know if I was suddenly in the right frame of mind, but I heard the opening guitar-riff on ballad The Emotion, followed by the vocal release of the chorus and the song just fell together.
Borns talks of writing most of the album whilst living in a sort of tree house high on a hill, and these songs definitely have a sense of being somewhere almost otherworldly or out in space; he sings, “The stars are aligned” and “Swear to the moon, the stars, the sons, and the daughters” on Past Lives. You can almost imagine him sat up in his tree house dreamily writing these lyrics.
Holy Ghost, Dopamine and Fool blend funk-guitars with modern synth production and disco-beats, giving the album a retro feel. This was something Borns wanted to achieve, citing a lot of 70s & 80s artists as inspiration.
One of my favourite tracks is the moody, slowed down number, Clouds. The deep, steady electric guitar is where you really see shades of the 80s, but Borns’ unique voice keeps it current. The simple arrangement and production of this track makes it stand out from the rest. I have always been a fan of a simple lyric like “I forget about the shit that doesn’t matter”, however unfortunately I feel that among the rich instrumentation and production of Borns’ music, honest lyrics like these get somewhat lost, and fail to be as compelling as perhaps they were intended to be.
I’m not sure I could tell you exactly what this album is supposed to be about. I don’t get an overall sense of a story or a message. Truth be told, a lot of the songs feel a little overproduced and therefore blend together into one sparkly dark cloud of star-stuff. But maybe that’s the point - title track Dopamine asks, “Baby, can you take away my pain?” – maybe this album is just supposed to provide another world to escape into, both for the listener and for Borns himself.
There are certainly moments of magic on ‘Dopamine’, and I would recommend giving it a listen. But I think for me it’s going to be one of those records you’re either really in the mood for, or have just left on in the background.