Review: Billie Eilish – When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?

It wasn’t that long ago that I was commenting to someone on the possibility that Billie Eilish may truly mark the long-expected demise of “the album.” The Los Angeles-born teen became a viral pop sensation via individual tracks and experiences released to YouTube and has continued climbing in profile song-by-song, seemingly without record industry assistance.

You can buy or stream When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? on Apple Music.

Yet here we are in early 2019 with her debut album, When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? released via Interscope Records. So maybe Eilish won’t hammer the final nail into antiquated music-consumption practices (yet), but she certainly stands to be the next in line to turn pop music on its head.

Right from the start, it’s clear that Eilish is pulling at the dark, dread-filled sounds she began exploring on some of her best 2018 tracks. Indeed, “Bad Guy” and “Xanny” follow in the footsteps of hits like “You Should See Me in a Crown” and “When the Party’s Over”, which fit right in on the front half of When We All Fall Asleep.

“All the Good Girls Go to Hell” feels like the culmination of Eilish’s brooding explorations and has already been added to my next Halloween party playlist. She truly excels when leaning into her youthful agnostic indifference and tying it to fuzzy, bass-heavy production. You can practically see her smirk as she delivers the lines, “Pearly Gates look more like a picket fence / Once you get inside ‘em / Got friends but can’t invite them”.

Yet for all of the ways Eilish displays her angst and wit in the way only a teenager can, she truly shows her depth as an artist when the music dies down a little. What’s amazing is that the themes she explores so deliciously to buzz and bass sound much more thoughtful and poignant when delivered quietly.

The back half of When We All Fall Asleep feels like someone is slowly turning down the volume before closing with “Goodbye”. Here, we see past the veneer as Eilish sings lines like, “The world’s a little blurry / Or maybe it’s my eyes” on “Ilomilo” or when she digs at depression and suicidal thoughts on “Listen Before I Go”, singing, “Tell me love is endless / Don’t be so pretentious / Leave me like you do”.

Last year, “When the Party’s Over” showed us a potential roadmap to these kinds of moments, and the album reaches its high water mark with “I Love You”, a quiet, acoustic duet with her brother Finneas. The tale of a complicated relationship, it’s a reminder of how real feelings can feel, no matter your age or experience. Eilish is creating art for a younger generation of music followers, but the core concepts here are timeless.

None of this is easy to do, and it speaks to the deep talent of a 17-year-old who got started writing songs in her bedroom, just like almost every great artist. Yes, there’s filler and missteps and the general type of experimentation that makes debut albums more mystery than definition. Nevertheless, Billie Eilish has cemented herself as a bonafide pop star, even she’d have you believe she has no interest in filling that role. That’s typically how the best kinds of stories begin.

4/5

by Kiel Hauck

kiel_hauckKiel Hauck is the editor in chief at It’s All Dead. Over the past decade, he has been a contributor for multiple online and print publications and was most recently an editor at PopMatters. Kiel currently resides in Indianapolis, IN with his wife and their imaginary pet, Hand Dog. You can follow him on Twitter.

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