BØRNS’s debut studio album, Dopamine, is a sleeper album — at first listen it’s a typical indie-pop-rock record, but with increased exposure, it comes into its own. Extremely cohesive, nearly to the point of vast similarity, Dopamine plays much like an indie romance film. It doesn’t have an extravagant budget or A-list cameos, but at its core, it’s a story worth hearing — over and over again.
Opener “10,000 Emerald Pools,” as the name may suggest, feels submersive; between the prominent bass line, relaxed lyrics and underlying excitement brought through by the electric guitar and soaring vocals, it pulls you in without telling you what’s to come. It also sets the tone for the album with its sweet, romanticized lyrics “You’re all I need to breathe … all I need is you.”
“Electric Love” is the ridiculously-in-love montage within Dopamine’s love story, its shining moment coming in the pre-chorus when the instruments all but fade out behind the quiet lines “and every night my mind is running around her / Thunder’s getting louder and louder.” “American Money” builds its own value within its depth. The darkness in the first verse yearns for the assurance in its denouement “you are my lover for life.” And it’s that short journey that builds to the ecstasy of the track’s chorus. Over the next two choruses, the money only feels greener and the paradise sweeter.
Dopamine takes a few moments to experience a catharsis in slow-burning, non-descript “The Emotion.” What emotion? All of them. It’s not sadness or loneliness or emptiness or even hopefulness. It’s all of these and none of these — it’s feeling whatever there is to feel and feeling it wholly. The slight change in energy between the choruses showcases the ephemeralness of most emotions in the greater picture. But, not long after, the euphoric love returns on “Past Lives.” Celebrating the perfection of fate, a quick bassline assisted by a handful of synths the track leaves butterflies in the stomach and one line in listeners’ heads: “Our love is deeper than the oceans of water.”
Title-track “Dopamine” is clearly the orgasmic, climactic, most-intense track on the album as told by its heavy production. It’s the culmination of this musical high that is BØRNS and the story he crafts throughout the LP. It says explicitly what the other tracks failed to make as painfully obvious as it is. “I wanna feel that stream of dopamine … baby can you take away my pain.” Because isn’t that one the best of a romance? You feel ridiculously (maybe even stupidly) happy and that person somehow manages to take away the pain, whatever it may be. Even though ‘Dopamine’ was the musical climax, the physical sex of the album was saved for “Overnight Sensation.” Dominated by keys and percussion, the track wants you to know it’s about sex, but the physicality is rooted so deeply in Garrett Borns’ emotions (and the listeners’ for that matter) that it maintains its sweetness.
“The Fool” closes the album in the same way credits end a movie. It’s the “all the hard stuff looks like it’s over, let’s dance” finale. The slight ’70s grooves, light delivery and intermittent clapping doesn’t allow listeners to decide its emotion — it decides for itself.
Dopamine is one of those albums that loses much of its artistic depth if it’s never listened to in its chronological entirety. BØRNS’ sound is original and, over the album’s 40 minutes, it deviates within itself but never beyond. However, the story woven within the tracks and just the right amount of surprises throughout to keep it playing all the way through — and possibly all weekend.