Teen pop sensation Billie Eilish has been making major waves in the music industry for the last three years. Catapulted to fame off of her multi-platinum hit “Ocean Eyes,” Eilish ascended to stardom with only a few loose tracks to her name. Since releasing her E.P. “dont smile at me” in 2017, fans have been left anticipating a full length record from the California-based singer. With “When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?” Eilish is shouldering high expectations, those of her loyal fanbase as well as those of listeners who, exposed to the nonstop media buzz, are delving deeply into her music for the first time. Concise, catchy, and well-produced, “When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?” is a tightly packaged collection of pop songs with an occasionally dark and sinister bend. The album is a strong opening statement from the teenage sensation, and a benchmark for what effective songwriting and a strong vocal performance can deliver in the 2019 pop landscape.
Eilish begins the record on a tear, as the five-track stretch between “bad guy” and “wish you were gay” delivers back-to-back tunes which are infectious without being generic or derivative. The album’s opener “bad guy” features Billie’s moody vocals over a shuffle beat and a hypnotic bassline. Produced by her brother Finneas O’Connell, the track features a solid groove that makes it pleasantly danceable. Towards the end, the track pauses in silence before heavily distorted bass and rattling high hats burst in for a final 30 seconds which add a grim flavor to an otherwise playful track. Also known under the moniker FINNEAS, O’Connell’s production and songwriting deserve a great deal of credit not just for “bad guy,” but for the success of the album as a whole.
This is especially evident on “you should see me in a crown,” as the droning synths mesh with dentist’s drills, creating a chaotic and noisy chorus that mesh unexpectedly well. In the last third of the song, heavily manipulated vocals color an instrumental break that is heavy and industrial, adding to the sonic diversity of the record without seeming like a gimmick. The following track, “all the good girls go to hell,” continues with the sinister motif, as some villainous organ chords pop in throughout while Billie delivers an earworm hook where she playfully declares that, “All the good girls go to Hell/ ‘Cause even God herself has enemies.” Another whimsical moment on the record is the track “my strange addiction,” where a number of samples from the U.S. version of “The Office” are sprinkled throughout.
Despite moments of levity, “When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?” delivers a number of serious and even disturbing songs. “Bury a friend” features a number of eerie screeches and a ominous lyrics as Eilish sings from the perspective of a monster hiding under her own bed. “Xanny” is less outlandish, as Eilish reflects on a group of her friends who seem too strung out and intoxicated to engage with their surroundings in a meaningful way. “Xanny” tows the line between preaching and melancholic contemplation quite well, saying “Please don’t try to kiss me on the sidewalk/ On your cigarette break/ I can’t afford to love someone/ Who isn’t dying by mistake in Silver Lake.” Even more heartbreaking is the track “listen before i go,” where Eilish sings about commiting suicide. A simple yet poignant piano ballad, “listen before i go” draws its strength more from Billie’s vocal delivery than from the lyrics themselves. With each repetition of the word “sorry” Eilish conveys a mixture of melancholy and resignation. Eventually, her vocals fall away with a final “sorry” and quiet sirens close out the song.
“When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?” is an album which traverses a number of sounds and topics without feeling unfocused. In fact, the eerie and sinister elements of bombastic cuts like “you should see me in a crown” complement the quieter moments of the album. Lyrically, there are some sharp moments on the album and while Eilish doesn’t pen the most profound narratives from start to finish, her emotive and powerful vocals more than make up for any shortcomings. The individual tracks are very strong, but the sequencing in the album’s last half leaves something to be desired. While no individual moment on the record is particularly bad, I found it disappointing that the last three tracks were all relatively quiet and lowkey. For an album that started off at a gallop, it’s a shame that the project’s closing moments couldn’t be a bit more gripping.
Many prospective listeners might be turned off by Billie’s presence in the media or her occasionally militant (and young) fanbase. While it might be hard for some listeners to look past the noise, the music speaks for itself. This is a solid pop album with effective songwriting, excellent production from Billie’s brother, and a number of strong song topics and vocal performances from Billie herself. At just seventeen, Billie Eilish is in the process of being catapulted into superstardom. With so much potential and music ahead of her, even skeptics should anticipate what Billie Eilish will do next.
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