In his biggest hit, “Electric Love,” singer-songwriter Garrett Borns—BØRNS—describes a love interest as “Candy… sweet like candy in my veins.”
BØRNS’ music is like candy, too: smooth, sweet and syrupy. The Los Angeles-based artist made a name for himself with colorful, falsetto-driven pop in his debut album, Dopamine (2015). Blue Madonna (2018), his second album, consists of more songs in this signature style. BØRNS still has his silky falsetto and shining synths—and it is every bit as enjoyable and addictive as his first album, Dopamine. Even better, BØRNS’ new album has moments filled with personality and grit. BØRNS skirts into the edgy at seemingly random points, both lyrically and instrumentally, which lead to the most satisfying points of the album.
The first half of Blue Madonna is spectacular. The album starts with the strange, affected “God Save Our Young Blood,” a collaboration with popular singer Lana Del Rey. The song is at its most interesting during the chorus. Built around the name of the song, the chorus comes with a drastic key change and completely different synth sounds. The singers’ vocals seem like they are genuinely lost and pleading, fulfilling the song’s repeated refrain, “Spinning and we can’t keep still” and giving the song life that it lacks during the verse.
It is immediately noticeable that BØRNS is rocking more on Blue Madonna than usual. “Faded Heart,” is fuzzy and up-tempo. The chorus, while extremely reminiscent of his “Electric Love” from Dopamine, is BØRNS at his best: catchy and exciting while remaining relaxed. “Sweet Dreams” is similarly driving and groovy. “We Don’t Care” is even more adrenaline-driven, with a chorus that is both passionate and languid, in a way that only BØRNS seems to be able to achieve. The sitar sound feels fresh and original, something that I never would have put with BØRNS’ music in a million years, but seems right.
BØRNS has good moments with less energy as well. “Iceberg” is moody in the best way. When the clash of the distorted guitar finally rips into the song, it sounds as angst-y as the self-doubt he is describing feels. “Second Night of Summer” is quite dynamic, complete with a verse that is melodic and sweet and a chorus that is sparse and angry. When he laments that his girl is “Throwing me that shade / Like I’m not cool enough” in “Second Night of Summer,” it feels real, like something BØRNS would actually say. (And, of course, it begs the question: if BØRNS isn’t cool enough, who is?) However, other low-energy songs are not so successful.
The album droops when BØRNS resorts to pop without anything to grab you. “I Don’t Want U Back” feels like a throwaway, without any interesting hook; it is ultimately less than what BØRNS is clearly capable of making. This song is BØRNS’ version of popular singer Ed Sheeran’s “Shape of You”—fine pop, but so much less impressive and interesting than what was the artist can do.
The final track, “Bye-bye Darling,” is a reverb-soaked ballad and very un-BØRNS, with live piano and strings instead of synths and thumping bass. Still, it is genuinely emotional, and perhaps the most thoroughly developed on the album.
As a whole, Blue Madonna is as sweet, enjoyable and stylish (perhaps even more so) as anything else BØRNS has made. However, I want to see more of the moments when BØRNS distinguishes himself from the rest of pop music, whether with his swagger or actual musical choices. His songwriting ability isn’t going anywhere, so he should have the bandwidth to put even more effort into arrangement and lyrics.
Perhaps these original ideas that we are seeing hints of will mature in the near future. In any case, the niche he’s already in is a great one, and I’ve definitely acquired some new favorite walk-home-from-school songs. I highly recommend Blue Madonna and can’t wait to see where BØRNS goes from here.