Since the release of her 2016 debut single Ocean Eyes, Billie Eilish has been amassing a huge online following of devoted fans, mostly away from the eyes of the non-digitally-savvy. That is, until now. With the release of her debut album WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO?, skilfully produced by Eilish’s brother Finneas O’Connell, pop’s newest Wunderkind looks poised to deservedly reach a wider demographic.
Opening with a 14-second recording in which we hear Eilish removes her Invisalign from her mouth before introducing the album and laughing maniacally with her brother, the album moves into the infectiously audacious ‘bad guy’, with its menacing bass line and lyrics that initially sound quite jarring coming from someone of only seventeen (‘I’m that bad type, make-your-momma-sad type, make-your-girlfriend-mad type, might-seduce-your-dad-type’). Eilish is in her element on this track – the spoken and distinctly teenage ‘duh!’s at the end of the chorus are particularly fun – and its compelling confidence convinces listener that this is an artist deserving of their unwavering attention.
The next track, ‘xanny’, conversely presents a knack for balladry and melancholy melody, reminiscent of twentieth-century divas, but with an undoubtedly Gen Z twist. The single that attracted over a million streams in its first 24 hours, ‘you should see me in a crown’, marks a return to the cocksureness from before, wearing its sneering hip-hop influences proudly on its sleeve. ‘all the good girls go to hell’ exemplifies Eilish’s cool, bored aloofness. This is aided by her natural vocal fry, which she enhances with a vocoder. The song is also a musical highlight, hypnotically combining heavy bass and percussion with winding melodies, and is a testament to O’Connell’s stellar production.
‘wish you were gay’ is more relaxed in tone. Musically, it is one of the least original-sounding tracks, but its tongue-in-cheek depiction of trying to justify why someone you fancy just is not that into you is highly enjoyable. ‘my strange addiction’ also takes a humorous approach, interspersing clips from The Office with pounding bass and playful, dancing vocals. Eilish’s ennui is part of the appeal, but the album is at its best when we can sense the enjoyment she takes from performing.
The sparse, industrial electronica of ‘bury a friend’ is another highlight. Told from the perspective of the monster under the bed, its muffled vocals sound uncomfortably quiet and close. While the result is genuinely haunting, the monster’s existential crisis (‘I wanna end me’) lends the track a thoughtful and intriguing quality.
A couple of tracks on the album fall short of Eilish’s full potential, however. ‘8’ filters Eilish’s voice to make her sound like a child, but other than this the track is unremarkable (even allowing for a personal bias against the ukulele). Similarly, ‘i love you’ lacks the originality and momentum of the stronger songs.
These slight blips are more than made up for by the rest of the album’s bold innovation. The voices of seventeen-year-old girls are seldom taken seriously, but Eilish’s arresting delivery forces its audience to listen. This is an artist who is just discovering her full power, and there are surely even greater things to come.