Nostalgia has developed a bit of a bad reputation. In an age where “back in my day” is the quintessential phrase of older generations expressing their distaste for the current state of the world, nostalgia has become a way to ignore the values of the present in exchange for memories of the past. Just because it’s taken on a negative connotation, however, doesn’t mean that we don’t all still long for better days. Garrett Borns captures these feelings of sentimentality in their truest sense on his debut album Dopamine, creating an album full of love and loss and moving forward.
I first fell in love with BØRNS earlier this year, after hearing bits and pieces of his Candy EP and being blown away by the retro sound and the surprisingly deep lyrics. The EP contains only four songs, that I nevertheless listened to on repeat for a solid month while waiting for his full-length album. Alternately dreamily romantic and danceable, his gorgeous falsetto and Beach Boys-esque harmonies are back in full force on Dopamine. The album contains three songs from his EP: the opener “10,000 Emerald Pools”, his first major hit “Past Lives”, and “Electric Love”, the song which Taylor Swift claimed was “an instant classic“. The album alternates old and new songs, sandwiching the slow and heavy “Dug My Heart” between the first two EP tracks. It’s a song about lost love, but it retains a thread of hopefulness that lets the listener know that ultimately, everything will be okay.
After the beachy pop of “Electric Love”, Borns transitions into a song that’s melodically, if not lyrically, quite different from the rest of the album. “American Money” sounds as if it would be at home on a Portugal. The Man release – it’s still very polished, but it has an intriguing thread of indie rock that breaks up the electro perfection. The album switches tempo yet again with the album’s only official single “The Emotion”. I thought this track was kind of boring when I heard it released as a single, but in the context of the album, it provides the perfect opportunity for Borns to showcase his beautiful voice, nestled among the more heavily-layered melodies of surrounding tracks. “Holy Ghost” is the song most in line with the overall sound of the EP – even though it doesn’t provide much new material, it’s a solid track, with a fun beat and some cute plays on words.
The last third of the album is where Borns really explores some new material. The dreamy “Clouds” feeds into the lush grooves of the title track “Dopamine”. In an interview with the artist a few weeks ago, he explained that he named the album after the neurotransmitter because “it bathes the pleasure centers … when you are longing for something or just the fantasy of something”. The album’s recurring themes of fantasy and nostalgia come out in full force on the lyrics of the penultimate track “Overnight Sensation”. It’s a love song that refuses to see the flaws in the object of its affections, a habit we all occasionally fall into that, in this case, created a beautiful song. The album’s last track is the incredibly danceable “Fool”, which casts a spotlight on his strong falsetto and is definitely one of the release’s strongest tracks.
Overall, this album far exceeded my expectations. All the tracks explore similar themes, both lyrically and in the general vibe of the release, but the album never makes the transition from “cohesive” to “monotonous”. It’s an excellent debut that leaves the listener wanting more, and with an album this strong, Borns is sure to be back soon.