“WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO?” is both chilling and melodic, dominant yet vulnerable and overall the perfect embodiment of 17-year-old dark pop/alternative singer, Billie Eilish.
Eilish rose to the public sphere in August 2017 with her breakout EP “dont smile at me.” The juxtaposition of her soothing voice with dark undertones and bass-heavy production — composed by her older brother, Finneas O’Connell — is undeniably captivating. Eilish quickly gained attention and admiration from fans and artists alike. Foo Fighters frontman Dave Grohl compared the popularity surrounding Eilish to that of Nirvana in 1991.
The 14-track album begins with the intro “!!!!!!!.” Listeners can hear slurping noises and Eilish saying, “I have taken out my Invisalign and this is the album,” followed by breakout laughter between her and, assumably, O’Connell.
Eilish wastes no time getting into it. If fans have been eagerly awaiting the longcoming album, she makes it evident from the beginning that she’s here to deliver. The first song, “bad guy,” introduces a powerful motif that’s carried throughout the first half of the album. With lyrics like “I do what I want when I’m wanting to,” and “I’m that bad type / make your mama sad type / make your girlfriend mad type / might seduce your dad type,” Eilish separates her young age from the album. When she sings, “I’m a bad guy,” the production almost makes it sound like a growl. After two and a half minutes — when it seems like the song is over — O’Connell delivers a menacing bass that sends the listener’s jaw to the floor.
In “xanny,” Eilish sings of her lack of interest in recreational Xanax use. The song begins with her saying, “What is it about them / I must be missing something / They just keep doing nothing.” The production features faint background conversation and what sounds like silverware clanking against dishes. All sounds go silent before Eilish belts out the chorus, “I’m in the secondhand smoke / Still just drinking canned Coke / I don’t need a Xanny to feel better.” O’Connell layers this with bass and drums.
“All the good girls go to hell” introduces a motif centered on death. Eilish sings, “Peter’s on vacation / an open invitation,” which is a reference to Saint Peter, who’s said to guard the gates of heaven. The song continues with “Pearly gates look more like a picket fence once you get inside ‘em,” suggesting that heaven, to her, is nothing but a perfect illusion. The contrast of the upbeat rhythm with the repetitive line, “My Lucifer is lonely” is delivered in an unsettling way.
In “8,” O’Connell utilizes voice mixing techniques and production elements to make Eilish’s voice sound child-like for parts of the song. This innocence is carried throughout the refrain: “Da-da-da-da-da-da (Hmm).” Eilish sings of a love that fizzled out with lyrics such as “I never really know how to please you / You’re lookin’ at me like I’m see-through,” and “I did the best I could / Not thinkin’ you would have left me gladly.”
Fans of the TV show “The Office” are in for a surprise when listening to “my strange addiction.” O’Connell incorporates segments from season 7, episode 15: “Threat Level Midnight,” throughout the song. In the episode, Michael Scott’s character leads members of the office in a dance routine called “The Scarn.” The intro to “my strange addiction” pulls from this, reading, “There’s a whole crowd of people out there who need to learn how to do The Scarn.” Eilish sings about an impractical love interest: “Bad bad news / One of us is gonna lose / I’m the powder, you’re the fuse / Let’s make some friction.” It’s catchy, sensual, rhythmic and alluring.
“ilomilo” continues the death motif and illustrates an unambiguous sense of longing with the lyrics “I don’t want to be lonely / So tell me you’ll come home / Even if it’s just alive.” It’s rumored that this song — and the majority of the album — are in reference to XXTENTACION’s sudden death last June. “ilomilo” laces piano chimes with pulsating noises to sound like clockwork and a heartbeat. Eilish references an earlier song, “bury a friend,” which was released as a single in January, with the lyric, “The friends I’ve had to bury / They keep me up at night.”
The last three songs of the album deliver pure heartbreak and grief, capturing listeners in an emotional whirlwind. In the first verse of “listen before i go,” Eilish sings, “Take me to the rooftop / I wanna see the world when I stop breathing, turnin’ blue.” The song essentially is an impending suicide attempt. Referencing XXTENTTACION’s death, one of the lyrics reads: “That’s what a year-long heartache does to you.” Listeners can feel their chest caving and heart sinking with every repeating chorus of, “Sorry there’s no way out but down.”
In “i love you,” Eilish shines in her effortless delivery of vocal range. An acoustic guitar ballad begins the song as she chimes in with “It’s not true / Tell me I’ve been lied to.” The song illustrates the struggles and complications that come with a failing relationship. Eilish harmonizes with a male voice in the chorus, her octaves getting progressively higher until all is released with the line, “I love you.”
The final song of the album, “goodbye,” begins with “Please, please / Don’t leave me be” for 35 seconds of the two-minute long song. The vocals — ominous already — take an even darker turn when Eilish begins to string together lyrics from each of the previous songs, revealing a culmination of, “It’s not true / Take me to the rooftop / Told you not to worry / What do you want from me? / Don’t ask questions / Wait a minute / Don’t you know I’m no good for you? / Baby, I don’t feel so good / And all the good girls go to Hell / Bite my tongue, bide my time / What is it about them? / I’m the bad guy.”
“WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO?” sends its listeners through a full range of emotions. Eilish’s depth and transparency are what make the album beautifully haunting. What starts out as a conquest for power quickly transforms into vulnerability. As the rhythm slows down and the album nears its end, it’s almost as if Eilish tries to send us to sleep with a sinister lullaby.
Contact Jamie Graeff at email@example.com. For more on the culture, arts and lifestyle of the JMU and Harrisonburg communities, follow the culture desk on Twitter @Breeze_Culture.