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Billie Eilish’s WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO? Review

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Billie Eilish’s WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO? Review

Jackson Wyatt, Digital Editor-in-Chief

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Despite a few mediocre cuts, WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO? is a well-crafted and unique introduction to the all-encompassing Eilish.

 

Billie Eilish has her hand around the pop world’s juvenile throat. Just ask any teen or twenty-something about rising stars and wait for her name to appear. When exploring her brand of music and personality, her popularity with the current generation makes sense. Eilish has a sultry, multi-genre voice that is largely missing in the current pop field, the focused aesthetic of an indie starlet, the swagger and fashion of a rapper and an omnivorous taste that corners the short attention span of today’s streaming era.

Her debut album WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO? refuses to stay in one box, bouncing from pop to trap, EDM to R&B and piano ballad to folk in its relatively tight 14-track, 42-minute run-time. The project’s biggest miracle is that it sticks this creative landing, synthesizing all of the contrasting sounds into one wiry, cohesive body. Eilish has made an album perfect for today’s teenagers: genre-ambiguous, darkly confident and delicately handcrafted.

To see these attributes work in harmony, look no further than the full-length opener to WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP…, the insidiously groovy ‘bad guy.’ A subterranean beat thunders against the track’s walls, crowd-surfing Eilish’s silky vocals as she sings about bloody noses, bruised knees and seducing fathers. Her cockiness almost borders on being try-hard, but ‘bad guy’ is so rhythmically hypnotic that you will find yourself utterly drawn in by the time the beat changes to a darker, bassier thump. With the last repetition, she will convince that she is, in fact, the bad guy.

The following ‘xanny’ is a miracle of technicality (as is a majority of the album). Besides Eilish’s all-encompassing personality, WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP…’s biggest strength is the flawless production. It feels so gargantuan and expensive that it will likely come as a shock that all of it was handled by Eilish’s brother, Finneas O’Connell, and recorded in their childhood-bedroom-turned-studio. His production is so subtly forward-thinking and hard-hitting that it will leave you wondering what the Max Martins and Chainsmokers of the pop field are even doing. He single-handedly composes WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP…’s dark atmosphere though rumbling bass and nebulous synths, building a gothic castle of black LEGO blocks around his sister’s crooning.

O’Connell’s attention to detail is also key to the album’s success. Eilish may always be center stage, but his incorporation of fascinating vocal layering and other production techniques are a colorful ensemble. Vocals travel around like 8-D audio among angelic humming and what sounds like background noises from a diner on ‘xanny.’ Vocals malfunction for five seconds into a Bon-Iver-esque freak-out on ‘when the party’s over.’ Samples of dental drills and Easy-Bake Ovens (yes, really) cut through Eilish’s vocals on ‘bury a friend.’ WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP… feels like one of the first headphone-indebted pop albums, reserved and precise enough to be compared to the current YouTube obsession with ASMR.

The album is at its strongest when half-embracing and half-subverting the immediacy of pop music with its own glossy, pitch-black tones. The compelling ‘bad guy,’ hypnotic ‘xanny’ and explosive, Lorde-meets-EDM ‘you should see me in a crown’ placed back-to-back-to-back at the album’s front is a wise and head-rattling decision. The cheerfully depressed ‘wish you were gay’ may be based off of an awkward and questionable sentiment, but the chorus feels equally heartfelt and anthemic. ‘ilomilo’ is fascinatingly fragile and muted, underscoring Eilish’s yearning vocals with Tetris-meets-Minecraft synths and auto-panned vocals. ‘bury a friend’ is the album’s pinnacle, brilliantly showcasing both Eilish and O’Connell’s abilities through smoky, darkened vocals, a strutting drum beat, horror-movie squeals and the excellent utilization of pauses to build an immense space.

Eilish and O’Connell never falter in their executions, but some spots of the album drag more than others. ‘8’ feels almost too cutesy for its own good, using helium vocals and ukulele strums to make it a perfectly agreeable but largely forgettable cut. ‘goodbye’ is commendable for its incorporation of the 14 track’s selective lyrics into one piece, but it feels slightly anti-climactic as a conclusion. When combined with its two previous tracks (‘listen before i go’ and ‘i love you’), the album’s finale feels more like a whimper than a roar. The two ballads are respectable in their vulnerability and provide a nice cool-off, but they feel small and too formless compared to the lean and addictive tracks they are placed alongside. A far better ballad is ‘when the party’s over,’ an emotionally destructive and instantly captivating track that is so faintly electronic that you have to squint to see its miniscule details.

Despite some slight missteps, WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP… is still a smooth and compelling listen. The brother-and-sister duo has made an album worthy of its cultural hype, both crowd-pleasing and well-crafted for general and more selective audiences. Eilish may have her hand around our cultural throats, but one thing feels sure: we are in good hands.

Rating: 7.8/10

 

(All sources from featured artists’ Genius and Spotify pages)

About the Writer
Jackson Wyatt, Digital Editor-in-Chief

"Writing has always been my biggest passion, and while I'm most comfortable writing fiction, East Highlights helps me fine-tune a lot of my skills."

1 Comment

One Response to “Billie Eilish’s WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO? Review”

  1. Connor on April 17th, 2019 10:49 am

    I like how even on a review, you still write so eloquently and poised. Bravo Jackson! #literally15feetawayfromyou

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