Garrett Borns has been brought down to the blue blue earth.
In a word, ecstasy. That was the overall setting of BØRNS’ freshman go at the music industry. He took little to no time screaming its praises, heralding its joys, and indulging in its benefits. Dopamine was the best way to describe it, and as his smash single Electric Love insinuated, he was head over heels. But Garrett has grown up, hit a form of bitter reality, and has lived (if only barely) to tell the tale. But all such tales aren’t told without scars. Perhaps, in a melodramatic manner, this is the point to his second record, Blue Madonna.
It should be said upfront that as far as the alternative, indie, and electric-pop scene is considered, BØRNS has been one of the absolute tops in my opinion. His first album bursts at the seams with repeatable tracks and a fantastic and cohesive direction. In fact, American Honey is among my all time favorites as of late. But all that is to say, I didn’t know how to take Blue Madonna on first approach. While incredibly stylish in its production, Garrett’s new direction seemed to be that of experimental moods and sounds, rather than his prior easily approached melodies. Blue Madonna spends less time on addictive choruses, and more time on quirky infusions of psychedelic funk (on the likes of Sweet Dreams), traces of interpretive Americana rock (on We Don’t Care), and illustrious and even haunting spiritual strings on Supernatural. All this, perhaps, is jarring, especially for those who desired a carbon copy of Dopamine (which I admittedly leaned towards). When given a second (or third) go however, you might notice its fascinating (albeit eccentric) desire to come across as a dreamy and swooning heartache of sorts. The heavy 70’s and 80’s inspired synthetic sounds on both the guitars and heavy handed (perhaps to a fault) electric-bass make for a distinctive stamp on this dreary day dream. Even Garrett’s admittedly feminine falsettos are taken back a bit (as far as Radio-hits are concerned) to act as a kind of bridge to a realm of fantasy and melancholy. In short, it’s an odd one, but one that has grown on me stupendously. God Save Our Young Blood works as a fantastical kick off. Iceberg builds upon itself as one of the best toned songs on the record. Bye-bye Darling is perfectly downhearted in its farewell. Tension (Interlude) and its island themed moods is altogether fascinating, and is yet altogether frustrating that it is only said interlude. This might be a more subtle and quirky BØRNS than we are used to (which is saying something), but it’s an eclectically mature one at that. If those scare you, the old-school BØRNS can be found on the highly enjoyable single Faded Heart and perhaps my personal favorite, I Don’t Want U Back. Those will help your transition into this moody dream.
This dream though, while poetic in its demonstration, is one that seems far too real for Garrett Borns. What might take the listener off guard is that this tale of fractured spirits is one told through the lens of a man, breaking up with a woman, while on a romantic beach getaway. Yeah, it’s an odd picture. But it’s one that attempts to describe BØRNS’ once felt splendor of stardom, and how he now awkwardly feels prey to its wishes now that he seems stuck and isolated. BØRNS kicks off the album in God Save Our Young Blood by biblically describing being kicked out of Eden/paradise, symbolizing the end of a once (perceived) great thing he possessed. Throughout are metaphorical pictures of blue items (skies, oceans, berries, etc.), as well as references to his heart. All this seems to allude to a betrayal of sorts with this once affectional beloved. She seems to have left him out to dry, and only played with his heart once she had him (though, might I add, Second Night of Summer’s line, “throwing me that shade like I’m not cool enough” is pretty wickedly cool). She is illustrated as an unworthy and cheating lover (I Don’t Want U Back and Sweet Dreams), yet one who he constantly gives the benefit of the doubt to, to a fault (Man).
The album acts as a seesaw work of sorts in regards to his feelings with losing this love of the limelight. He is a man, after all, with desires and ambitions, and it is hard leaving all the in the background, even though it’s for his best. The song Tension is probably appropriately titled, due to the sense of sensual tension indicated throughout. This is where many readers here will feel inclined to jump-ship as it were. Because in his descriptions of this ex-lover, many are given in (mostly mildly) suggestive references to this lust she (the flaws of stardom) still has over him. None are more prominent than in the title track itself, which is a last description of how he still wishes he could go back to the thrill the relationship started off with. But while said references could be interpreted as…well…you know…sex. Still though, it could be argued it is more of defeating admonition, rather than lewdness. Outside of these concerns, the song God Save Our Young Blood features two D words (one of which kicks off the album), and a few songs have odd Christian symbolism that can be construed negatively. But often time, it goes on to illustrate the worst this unholy relationship has to offer. Man discusses how he’d rather not be in heaven without said lover, showing this dangerous addiction he once contained. Songs like We Don’t Care seem to tell the sick mindset that BØRNS was caught up in, no matter the consequences. And while admittedly, some of these songs might indicate more then this central theme throughout (relationships and other life perspectives), these issues still seem to be at the forefront of BØRNS’ psyche. It’s why the grappling of mortality in Faded Heart causes him to stir. It’s why Iceberg seems to be a waging war within between duty and desire. It’s why the likes of I Don’t Want U Back and Bye-bye Darling show a man who (through much struggle) overcomes an unhealthy state of being, and walks away from it with apparent pleasure.
We mightn’t know everything that Garrett Borns’ went through in his struggle with popularity and stardom, but we get the sense that it will be long lasting. Still though, he seems to have come out of it with maturity, perspective, dignity, and a fascinatingly quirky record to boot. No, I imagine that sunny sensation of being on the beach with one he once longed for will always haunt him, but I hope for his sake he made it out with his head on his shoulders. As far as his record, I’m still not entirely sold on the layout, but it has grown on me to be sure. As far as the lyrics, I’m not entirely sure all moments of sensuality were all necessary, but there is a plead behind these musings. The plead seems to be this, overcoming an unhealthy practice can leave you with a broken, conflicted, and rather blue heart, but it’s to be desired far more than any short-termed dopamine.