album review

Børns, sunny side down

Few musicians seem as tailor-made for the Coachella crowd as Børns.

With his endearingly retro wardrobe, pre-Raphaelite locks, and perceptible air of suavity, the Michigan-bred singer-songwriter looks every bit the part of a California-desert crooner; and his best songs, from glammed-up mega-hit “Electric Love” to the cooing “10,000 Emerald Pools,” possess a consonant boho-chic energy. All dreamily sunlit synths and hypnotic wordplay buoyed skyward on the strength of the singer’s airy falsetto, they’re the kind of ear candy favored by summer fest junkies, and leave little doubt as to why he titled his 2015 debut “Dopamine.”

On his second full-length “Blue Madonna,” released Friday, the singer occasionally chases those same highs but more often concerns himself with the comedown, what happens after the drugs wear off and the sun comes up.


It’s an understandable progression for an artist who, shot from anonymity to fame primarily on the chart success of one song, went back into the studio faced with avoiding a sophomore slump. The album’s title alone (shared by one of the disc’s slower-burning numbers) suggests a more serious, even troubled Børns, still entranced by the kinds of pure, innocent beauty he coveted on “Dopamine” but increasingly saddened by the knowledge they won’t last. Nor will he.

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Consequently, the songs on “Blue Madonna” retain Børns’s seductive side and knack for big hooks but flow with a more pronounced sense of melancholy; the disc’s overriding fascination is not with sensory hedonism but rather a version of mono no aware, roughly translatable from the Japanese as “the beautiful sadness of things.”

The opening single, euphoric prayer “God Save Our Young Blood,” sets this tone early on, painting a romantic portrait of two summer lovers looking to the heavens in hopes divine providence can prevent their passions from fading. Given Børns’s newfound interest in mortal impermanence, it’s so fitting as to be almost amusing that he enlists reigning sad-girl chanteuse Lana Del Rey for the track, her exceedingly pretty vocals floating alongside his without overtaking them.

Børns has improved technically as a singer since his last record, and he’s smart not to cede the spotlight to Del Rey, instead using the album to twist his peculiar brand of romantic retrofuturism into inventive new shapes. Grooving disco prowl “We Don’t Care” was inspired by Roy Orbison’s guitar-equipped swagger; “Supernatural” brandishes a theremin and spins B0rns’s ethereal vocals into a haunting echo chamber. Best of all might be the so-restless-it’s-electric single “Faded Heart,” a song that sounds of-a-piece with six or so distinct musical eras but at once entirely like its own creation.

Isaac Feldberg can be reached by e-mail at, or on Twitter at @isaacfeldberg.