WHEN WE FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO?: Album Review

Billie Eilish presents precocious, abstracted questions and circumstance on her deep-diving debut album

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BY: GRIFFIN NELSON, nelsongr@mnstate.edu

As 17-year-old Los Angeles-native Billie Eilish justly claims in her debut album’s lead single, “you should see me in a crown,” a beastly, bass-centric production that warns of Eilish’s imminent ascension in music’s hierarchy, we “fell for these Ocean Eyes”—a slick reference to her baptismal track that garnered her hair-trigger notoriety.

Posted on Soundcloud when she was fifteen and properly casted as a captivating, archetypal pop ballad, Eilish’s dreamy vocals amidst “Ocean Eyes” captured the ears of many; the song now holds over 250 million plays on Spotify. But she was delicately labeled just another teen pop crooner.

Two years later, she’s proven herself anything but.

The prodigious pop-star has been hustled into the spotlight, securing an international fanbase and the warranted attention (and collaboration efforts) of fellow young innovative artists Khalid, Emmit Fenn and Vince Staples.

Her daunting 2017 debut EP, “don’t smile at me,” featuring the entangling lyrics of “hostage” and rapturous grit of “bellyache,” beckoned a mass of indie pop lovers to her party while hinting at a more sinister, antithetical artistry.

She’s since regurgitated tarantulas and leaked black seepage for music videos, departing further from the norm and into the black.

Her spooky antics have not impeded commercial success, however.

Eilish’s haunted collaboration with Khalid, “lovely,” became a summer success and has over 400 million hits on Spotify. Her song, and album resident, “come out and play” was featured in an Apple television spot. Now her first full-length LP became the most pre-saved album in Apple Music history a week before its release.

And while there’s not a track that screams radio mainstay on “WHEN WE FALL ASLEEP,” the album as a collective will stain college dorm speakers and surely be named by future artists as inspiration for the innovative.

The 14-track effort runs an absorbable 42 minutes long, preluded by the bizarre sounds of Eilish removing her Invisalign braces followed by an unapologetic laugh on “!!!!!!!”. This, with the frequent unthethered sound bites littered throughout the album, plays as a careful (or careless?) representation of a 17-year-old’s inevitable immaturities, no matter how many know their name.

The album immediatley compels you to the dance floor with the starter track “bad guy,” an edgier version of the lyrically-conceited pop banger along the lines of Ariana Grande’s “7 rings.”

“All the good girls go to hell” is one of the bouncier tunes driven by splitting snares and the poisoned innocence of Eilish’s delivery.

A relentless fan of the hit television show, “The Office,” Eilish has her fans doing “the Scarn” with her groovy song “my strange addiction,” deploying bites from the episode Dunder Mifflin boss Michael Scott shows off his own passion project.

The song delineates the tantalizing toxicity of young love and, secondarily, young-found fame, questioning whether or not—despite its stimulating appeal—this is at all healthy.

The theme of substance abuse takes center stage in the gentle yet bass-heavy “xanny,” as Eilish mulls over her friends’ struggles with addiction, positing they’re “too medicated to be scared” of the ramifications of their actions. Eilish’s voice distorts parallel to the rumbling bass during the chorus, jagged and hazy as the world becomes under the dominion of prescription medication.

Spawned by the album’s lone producer FINNEAS, who is Eilish’s brother and songwriting collaborator, ingenuity shimmers track after track, severing ties with genre and era.

Perhaps his most procative work in the studio come through in “wish you were gay.”

There’s conscious naivety on the number, doused in satire and lined with an ironically sympathetic live audience. The tongue-in-cheek lyrics, “Is there a 12-step just for you?/our conversations all in blue/11 ‘Heys’” propels a cleverly crass Eilish as she searches for an explanation, other than one’s own

blemishes, of a crush’s indifference towards her.

This is the main thrust of Eilish’s sterling debut. She’s unapologetically herself from the top, not afraid to expose, and even exploit, her own human flaws. It’s a refreshing note and a departure from digital façades forged by smartphones and applications.

The further you descend down Eilish’s rabbit hole, the more entranced you become with the depths of her talent and, ultimately, her despair.

The three closing tracks stack a heavy load. Adrift from the typical chord progressions and structure that blotch pop music, the sequence would be at home on the hopelessly mad Pink Floyd’s “The Wall.”

“Listen before I go” reads like a suicide note, as Eilish bids adieu to a lost love through a tear-stained voice.

Swelling and somber vocals encompass the lonely “i love you,” and the album’s outro medley, “goodbye,” features vocal layering and harmonies akin to tracks from the Beatles’ “Abbey Road.”

On merit, it’s a fitting send-off from an album that delivers everything we’ve come to expect about Billie Eilish: the unexpected.

Maniacal and instantly memorable, Eilish refuses to share your attention and bears her soul, opening doors in the mind Eilish, and the listener, won’t be able to close for some time.

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