By: Derek Jung
Michigan native Garrett Borns, better known these days by his stage name BØRNS, burst onto the scene this year with the smash hit single "Electric Love". After appearing in commercials, TV shows, and even declared an instant classic by T. Swift, fans all around the world eagerly anticipated the debut full length release to follow one of the biggest songs of the summer. Well, Dopamine finally arrived this past week, and what we got was a hit and miss collection of songs that, while showing off Borns' vocal range, fail to continue the magic of the lead single.
With a wide vocal range, Borns has a lot to work with in the raw talent department. My biggest concern going into the album was songwriting, and from what I heard, it sounds like my concerns were well placed. While it's hard to follow a lead single like "Electric Love", no other song on the album even comes close to its catchiness and repeatability. Lyrically, some of the songs are almost eyerollably cliche; on "Past Lives" Borns swoons that "our love is deeper than oceans of water".
"American Money" could have been a cut from Lorde's Pure Heroine and "Dopamine" sounds like a Passion Pit chorus, and honestly I think both of them could have done it better. Musically, the album has a lot of potential, and there's no doubt that there are some great ideas here, but I felt like many of them were either poorly executed or fell flat because they failed to keep my attention.
I can imagine Borns being a very energetic, entertaining frontman live. His songs hint at the charisma of a lifelong performer (as a teenager, he performed in restaurants as a magician), which I imagine would translate well to the live stage, but the album mostly fails to capture and translate that magic to recorded form. There are some bright spots. "The Emotion" is an upliftingly catchy track with a killer vocal line in the chorus and "10,000 Emerald Pools", is a slow churning opener with a pleasant chorus and another good vocal performance by Borns.
That being said, at times this album comes off as a mediocre Maroon 5 impression. There's so much more to an album than its singles, and BØRNS just doesn't deliver the meat. Instead, while we all enjoyed the initial shock of "Electric Love" this summer, we are feeling the crash now.
My Number: 4/10
By: The Busted Amp Staff
DEREK: It didn’t take long for the Scottish trio to rise to the top of their game. Before their debut album, The Bones of What You Believe, was even released, leading singles “The Mother We Share” and “Recover” were already on repeat on alternative radio stations. The release of the full album only accelerated their meteoric rise to fame. Many early fans of the band during this period, myself included, watched each member grow into their own as performers. Lead singer Lauren Mayberry garnered headlines for her outspoken but completely justified reaction to misogynistic online comments about her, and since then she has really come into her own as the confident and entertaining head of the band. Keyboardist and part time vocalist Iain Cook also started sporting some impressive dance moves on tour (see below). This confidence really carried over into their sophomore album, Every Open Eye.
The basic formula for the band hasn't really changed; these are synth-heavy, dance beat driven indie pop songs. But that's a good thing. This is exactly what propelled them into the spotlight with their debut during the second half of 2013. Mayberry's vocals are as strong as ever and she's throwing verbal punches throughout the course of the album. The experiences of their whirlwind debut have left their marks and Lauren's exudes confidence on her forceful line "And I believe nothing that I'm told" halfway through the second track "Leave a Trace".
There's an urgency to the first 5 songs on Every Open Eye that swallows you whole and keeps you hooked. Whether it's the opening synths on "Never Ending Circles", the thundering chorus on "Keep You On My Side", or the massive build up and drop on "Clearest Blue", every song from the first third of the album is hook after danceable hook. This is the section of the album that will be played on repeat, folks.
Iain finds his own sweet spot as vocalist on "High Enough to Carry You Over", a funky, light-hearted break from the heavier synths of the previous songs. Unlike some detractors of Iain's singing, which admittedly can be weak at times, I think it's important to recognize that Chvrches has always emphasized that they are a band and I appreciate them giving Iain the lead for a few songs on each album. That being said, I consider "Follow You" to be a pretty big swing and a miss at something resembling, part of it sounding like a poorly done Disclosure rip off.
Overall, Chvrches delivered as solid of a sophomore release as anyone could have reasonably expected from them. They stuck with what worked on their debut and the evolution in their sound reflected positive growth. No sophomore slump here people.
My Number: 8/10
JOSEPH: I love this album. This has been one of my most anticipated albums of the year without a doubt. Their debut album The Bones of What You Believe is one of my favorite albums of the decade so far, but I figured that a band with a debut as good as theirs couldn't possibly follow it up with something better. For me, the expectations were incredibly high, and I can say with complete confidence that CHVRCHES not only met them, they exceeded them. Every Open Eye is an extremely rare instance where a sophomore album exceeds a debut.
So how did CHVRCHES do this? To me, this album as a whole feels like a continued development of their trademarked indie synth-pop sound. While there were a few misses on their debut as they figured out what worked for them and what didn't, there is no such misstep here. Every song is pulsating with intensity, complete with wonderful instrumentation and the undeniably talented voice of Lauren Mayberry. Nowhere is the combination more prevalent than in the song "Clearest Blue." While this song is without a doubt the dancy-est song on the album, this song should be listened to by every DJ on the planet who's obsessed with their "drop" and doing it multiple times a song, because this is how you do it. I'm seeing the band live on October 27, and I cannot wait to hear this song and see how intensely the crowd and band jams out to it.
But it doesn't end there. The song "Playing Dead" is another favorite of mine off this album. This song is the quintessential example of how Mayberry's voice flawlessly meshes with this synth instrumentation. You may have noticed by now that I don't talk about lyrics all that much. That's because I've never placed that much emphasis on them. I know I am in a very small minority that places more emphasis on instrumentation than lyrics, but I think that bodes well here because I leave the lyrics to Derek. But one of the reasons I love CHVRCHES as much as I do is because of Lauren Mayberry's voice. There are very few bands that utilize their lead singer's voice as an instrumental piece of the band as much as this band does, and on their sophomore album the band has realized the full potential of Mayberry's voice and used it flawlessly.
I really didn't think this band could follow up their debut. Even after hearing the initial singles, I figured the deep cuts would be lacking. But boy was I wrong. Every Open Eyes is a masterpiece within the genre of indie synth-pop, and it's definitely worth a listen whether you like this genre or not. I don't think I've ever said an album is a "must-listen" on this blog before. After all I want to hand this recommendation out very sparingly given the sheer amount of music that gets released weekly. But this is a must-listen album. Do yourself a favor: find a couch, some coffee, and sit down and enjoy this wonderful piece of music.
My Number: 9/10
Final Verdict: 8.5/10
Who are we?
Derek Jung and Joseph Kathmann -- Just two ordinary guys that love talking about music. You can read more about us here.