That guy – the one whose hairs cascades down his back like a nymph, straddling a line between art school sexy and Bushwick eye-roll worthy; the one who waxes poetically about peace, love, understanding, the latest Gibraltar coffee ad; the one that casually quotes Descartes and whose very nonchalance about the name dropping makes him all the more intriguing – has an album out, and it is both very good and also kind of silly. That guy is BØRNS and that album is Dopamine.
Intellectually, BØRNS’, nee Garrett Borns of Grand Haven, Michigan, appeal to pathos and logos is kind of out of style in a self-proclaimed “woke” cultural landscape. You see him through the legs of someone, presumably a woman, pantsless. Come on. Rather, his nimbly psychedelic lyrics and even more flexible mixes are better suited to the aesthetic of something like Richard Linklater’s films Dazed and Confused or, his latest (a spiritual successor), Everybody Wants Some!!. Which is not to say that sonically the musician’s work fits within the context of these eras, but rather thematically and in terms of its attitude. The title track and “Emotion” feel like kind of a throwback to sensitive male souls that are into experimenting with mind altering drugs, and the state that induces is constructed as open-minded, relaxing, quasi-philosophical.
He goes for a kind of visceral quality, one that dips its toes into the intellectual reflexivity of that kind of archetype, at once proclaiming “Wanna feel that stream of dopamine […] Baby I don’t want to think about it” in “Dopamine”, but also chanting “The emotion is suddenly out of me / And I’m falling, falling into the deep end now / And what you’re looking for is suddenly out of reach”.
It is a testament to BØRNS’ talent that he’s able to create such, uh, intoxicating music with such basic songwriting. It’s not necessarily that the lyrics are bad, but the analogy6 between drugs and sex is seldom interesting, and BØRNS’ work adds little. Nor does it totally detract, but “I’m thirsty for your ecstasy” in “Holy Ghost” and “I wanna feel your sugar in my veins” would feel stale were it not for Dopamine’s compositions.
In essence, the album does what it intends to do on a very experiential level: listening to tracks like “Electric Love” and “Holy Ghost”, you feel the pulsating intensity of whatever basic ass, Guy in your MFA bollocks BØRNS is preaching. There’s a twinkle, a euphoric wave, a surge of electricity. “Past Lives” turns a lame pick up line (“So save that heart for me / Cause girl you know that you’re my destiny”) into a winsome, sweet invitation. “American Money” is a borderline sexist ode to strippers, yet there’s a weird charm about it, the kind of dumb earnestness of the track splicing through the ear drums, discarding any interesting ideas about commodification of love and sex and, as the title would suggest, America in favor of an immediacy of sensorial pleasure.
He’s a mysterious guy, dressed coolly, his stage persona imperfect. What do you do with a slashed o? What kind of person does that? You tell yourself you’d never go on a date with him because of his fuckboi leanings, but there you are, listening to his unpolished falsetto as it attempts to reach angelic heights. And you don’t care that it doesn’t; you admire the effort. You admire that the odd discordance of nuance and complexity in musical layerings and mildly sophomoric songwriting, because, hey, his VEVO After Dark music video sessions employed live string accompaniment and nods to Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut and Fassbinder’s The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant. Maybe it’s all a little endearing.
One doesn’t need to get high to overlook the shortcomings of BØRNS’ hand and writing words (he is exactly the kind of person I would sneer at while at a party) because of his sonic acumen. His voice soars as falls in synchronicity with the music and, in turn, with the emotions at play. Every song crashes like an ocean wave, drenching you in mellifluousness or eroticism or sentimentality. BØRNS is that guy who’s kinda dumb, whom you kind of resent for his artisanal cheeses, but even more so for his dreamlike music.