Album Review: Billie Eilish – WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO?

By Marvin Dotiyal, Features Editor
[Darkroom/Interscope; 2019]
Rating: 7.5/10

Key tracks: “xanny”, “you should see me in a crown”, “listen before i go”

When Finneas O’Connell first wrote “Ocean Eyes” for his band The Slightlys, the future of the song was beyond the scope of his expectations. It was when his younger sister breathed life into the song with her ethereal voice and her eccentric sentimentality, which would later complete the entity known as Billie Eilish. And now, after releasing a debut EP don’t smile at me and a few standalone singles, Eilish is breathing life into the current pop scene with her dark ventures in WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO?

Read more: Album Review: Ariana Grande – thank u, next

WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO? is hauntingly mesmerizing – a nuanced pop record that illustrates existential angst, bitter romance and scarring adolescent despair through a comfortably disorienting atmosphere. From dance floor favorites to late night melancholy blues, the record bridges the gap between her delicate, saccharine emotions and her dark, nightmarish character.

Accommodating various genres in the pop spectrum and injecting it with a dark tint, she trademarks her brand of pop in this album. The ominous tonalities of her voice are intimately mixed in “bad guy”, which complements the creeping bass line and the psychotic ambiance – similarly executed in “bury a friend” with a nodding beat. “All the good girls go to hell” and “my strange addiction” is greatly influenced by early 2000s hip-hop, while “when the party’s over” nails the whole “sad girl” Lana Del Rey aesthetic.

Despite her intimidating-yet-alluring attitude, Eilish doesn’t make out to be as twisted as she seems to be. She calls out modern drug culture in “xanny”, in which she puts a modern spin on a jazz tune with gurgling bass distortions and modulated vocals that linger in the stereo space. The bass also plays a major role in “you should see me in a crown”, an eerie trap-influenced banger that greets you with a toothy grin to Eilish’s underworld. Soaking her vulnerability with tongue-in-cheek, “wish you were gay” unravels a bittersweet case of unrequited love when Eilish was “madly in love with a boy,” wishing he was gay, so it wasn’t her fault that he wasn’t attracted to her. The melodic hook is quite reminiscent of don’t smile at me, as it was written during that time.

The last three tracks on the album are arguably the best songs on the record; they are tied in concept, forming a message when the titles are combined. With a melodramatic, loungey piano in “listen before you go”, the fragility in her voice adds a palpable touch of catharsis as she conflicts over suicide and love. Eilish ends the album gracefully as she croons over layers of rich harmony in “goodbye”, also summing all the lyrics from this record to give a final recap.

Though this is still a pop record, it’s everything pop music is not. If Billie Eilish is labeled as an industry plant, then she is an industry flower that deserves to bloom for freshening the air of pop music. The brother-sister duo works like clockwork, and there’s no doubt that this is a tremendous milestone for Eilish as a 17-year-old pop prodigy. WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO? is not a perfect record, but it is one that stands out for its compelling creativity that intrigues modern pop music and for its bold trajectory that’s sufficient in artistry.

Listen here:

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