Review: Billie Eilish's "WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO?"
by Lauren Arzbaecher
Pop music has gained an ominous new frontrunner: Billie Eilish. She has become a standout artist, created videos with frightening yet fascinating visuals, garnered millions of followers across several platforms, and has an upcoming tour boasting gigs at famous venues from Coachella to Radio City Music Hall. She is only seventeen.
This past week, Eilish released her first full-length album “WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO?” The album contains fourteen tracks, including two that were released in 2018 as singles.
An audio recording of a laughing Eilish stating “I have taken out my invisalign and this is the album” opens the album, with the devil-may-care attitude that makes her so alluring on full display. She isn’t afraid to go against the grain of mainstream music and push against what defines music as a medium. Spoken audio appears elsewhere in the album, from Eilish herself or her collaborators, the track “my strange addiction” even includes dialogue pulled from the “Threat Level Midnight” episode of “The Office.”
Using synthesized sounds and partly distorted vocals, Eilish’s dark brand of hip-hop seeps out all over the album. The fast-paced opener “bad guy” is catchy with its quick cadence and sharp transition to a sinister ending fueled by a trap beat. Minor keys with weighty bass underneath are the young artist’s bread and butter.
Eilish criticizes the party culture of her peers in “xanny,” a soft melodic piece with a jolt of electronic bass and drums. This song feels like a natural next step for the artist, honing her hushed vocal style while imaginatively weaving in hip-hop elements. The lyrics stay true to Eilish’s rebellion from the norms of pop music, questioning the appeal of consistently being intoxicated, a mindset often normalized in younger crowds. The message hits home with one of the most cutting lines of the album: “I can’t afford to love someone / who isn’t dying by mistake in Silver Lake.”
The meat of the album is a mix of hip-hop and slower ballads bolstered by “you should see me in a crown” and “when the party’s over,” the two hits which were released as singles last year. While there are shining moments, like the vibrant “wish you were gay” or the hypnotising lyrics of “bury a friend” which the album takes its name from, jumping between these two sides of Eilish becomes kind of jarring, fitting to her unruly aesthetic style.
The later songs of the album adopt a slower, dreamier tone. A eulogy in song, “listen before I go” strips away Eilish’s hip-hop embellishments to feature only piano and aching vocals. Vulnerability is showcased in the lyrics and tone, yet the vocals edge toward mumbling at points. “i love you” and “goodbye” nod back to the ethereal style of Eilish’s earlier work but don’t quite achieve the same emotional punch. Blending together in their simplicity, the closing pieces of the album become more of a letdown from the excitement of the earlier tracks than a touching conclusion.
Combining varied styles of songs into one collection certainly showcases her many talents, but “WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO?” feels slightly disjointed as a result. Eilish has a distinctive voice and plenty of time to experiment with her sound, a journey that is sure to unearth the musical depths of her deviant spirit.
Read more about Billie Eilish and her performance at the IMU last year here.
You can also listen to Eilish’s music on our Spotify album, “.COM”—including both her previous music as well as her pieces from “WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO?”