Billie Eilish – When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?
Art Pop | Electropop
In recent of years there have been plenty of artists that have offered up a darker take on pop and have been hailed as a vanguard for a new era. That’s something I’d welcome with open arms were it true, but without fail not one of them has lived up to the hype, even in the face of (often undeserved) critical acclaim. I was fully ready to write Billie Eilish off as the worst of the bunch. The most hyped new artist I’ve ever witnessed, with no way to possibly live up to those expectations. That was before I fell down the rabbit hole and discovered that there’s something fresh and exciting here after all.
Even before the first song begins you get some indication that Billie stands out from the crowd, thanks to the album starting with some studio banter between her and her brother. It gives a glimpse into her character, that she doesn’t take herself too seriously, and hints at an admirably DIY approach by pop standards. It then dives straight into ‘bad guy’, kicking off the record with one of its most wickedly potent earworms. Rivalled only by ‘bury a friend’, whose sinister nursery rhyme-like chorus pulls you ever deeper into this brilliantly bizarre highlight. Though these tracks capture the dark and deranged approach to pop that Billie is perhaps best known for, I’m pleasantly surprised by the abundance of gorgeous piano ballads. Her vocals and the stripped back arrangements on ‘when the party’s over’ and ‘listen before i go’ are nothing short of angelic.
That’s not to say Asleep isn’t also a deeply flawed release, and with Billie being as much of a visual artist as a musical one, she of course lacks other mediums to fall back on for support. Being experimental naturally means that some experiments need to fail in order for others to succeed. ‘xanny’ is held back by over-the-top use of vocal effects, while ‘my strange addiction’ feels like it contains more samples of The Office than actual music. And as someone who fervently detests the ukulele, ‘8’ really drags the record down, and just needs to be jettisoned into the heart of the sun.
Truth be told though, “flawed” is the natural state for the vast majority of debut albums, even those by seasoned musicians and world-class producers. What most debuts don’t do however is push the boundaries and build a unique style to this degree… and this is a teenager we’re talking about! There are still plenty of pitfalls left to come; but assuming she can avoid the second album curse, the pressures of fame, and the weight of expectation, then this may indeed be the start of something special.