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

I originally wrote this review at least a year ago, but it’s still important to talk about the controversy surrounding this album. It’s easy to understand why some people were aghast at it; a 17-year-old woman singing about suicide is worrying, to say the least. Of course, the same people who call her work inappropriate for a young person to write will openly bully her. It’s a microcosm of how we treat youth: we tell young people they aren’t as capable as older people, so we prevent them from showing their capabilities, but we do nothing to protect them because that would imply a respect for them. Unconscionably, we have determined that young women should be exploited for profit by Disney or traumatized in child beauty pageants.

Anyway, the album is fantastic. The vocal layering most famously used on “bad guy” is something I want to hear more of in modern music, but it’s rare that it’s so well done; the song is deceptively complex, packing a raw punch into every chord Billie sings. (Make sure you listen to this album with high quality audio!) “bury a friend” is another obvious highlight for its completely off-the-wall compositional practices and its fantastically vibrant vocal harmonies. My favorite song on the album is “xanny”, which moves between major-key singing over almost inaudible chords (I-V-vi-iv, wow) and a zig-zagging melody over beautifully grating synths playing a line cliche in the relative minor (ooh, i-VIIaug-IIIb-IV); the melody perfectly fits Eilish’s lilting vocals and the little piano flourishes add a playful element to a heavy song. She shifts between 80s-styled rock ballads, modern pop, and industrial pounding with ease, always controlling the focus of the listener. There’s palpable class all over this album, from the seventh chords on “listen before i go” to the way the synth roars perfectly mirror the vocals on “you should see me in a crown” to the deliberately plotted arpeggiated riffs of “i love you”. Eilish’s lyrics turn from satirical on “wish you were gay” and “all the good girls go to hell” to pleading on “i love you” and “when the party’s over”, and they always make you think. I’ve really got to applaud the use of silence throughout the album, and especially on “when the party’s over”; it’s thought-provoking to try to reckon with the empty sections, and I’m definitely going to take this as an example going forward. Billie Eilish (and her brother) have done incredible work in making this album, and I’m looking forward to what they create in the future.

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