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


3.5
great

Review

by SowingSeason STAFF
March 30th, 2019 | 426 replies


Release Date: 2019 | Tracklist

Review Summary: A volatile launching pad.

When We Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go is splattered with the kind of imagery you might expect from an artist like Marilyn Manson. The cover art references Eilish’s frequent night terrors and lucid dreams, while her music videos feature things like back-stabbing needles, grimy black tears, and blood-smeared faces. The lead single, titled “Bury a Friend”, casually alludes to Billie selling her soul while making references to her own death. This isn’t Manson though, and this isn’t the kind of hard line rock that one typically associates with such dark symbolism. It’s a seventeen year old overnight pop sensation, bucking the trend of glimmery poptimism in favor of trap beats, edgy humor, and unnerving whispers. Eilish takes aim at an entire genre and extends a middle finger, and that’s precisely what’s been missing from it.

Anyone who has been around for more than a decade knows that musical trends are constantly in flux; the whole goth movement both commenced and began to wane in the 1980s, as subgenres like shock rock, goth metal, and horror punk continued in the 90s as more of an underground movement. Aside from a handful of high profile artists, these styles never really had much mainstream appeal – mainly because the very notion is counterproductive to what the genre represents. Now, in an era of pop where artists such as Ariana Grande, Taylor Swift, and Carly Rae Jepsen are considered icons, it’s arguable that there’s never been a bigger vacuum in the space of dark mainstream music. Whereas these women smile at the camera, Eilish rolls her eyes. It’s a gratifying fix of antisocial and sarcastic behavior; anti-pop in a cultural sense, while very much adopting its traits in a more literal, or musical, sense. It’s as if she was planted in the genre by a group of rogue goth-rockers with the intention of bringing down the empire from within.

Therein lies Eilish’s primary appeal. She’s everything that the Swifts and Sheerans of the world aren’t, and she’s brash about it. Don’t think for a second that When We Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go would have garnered nearly as much pre-release attention if she was another beautiful blonde songstress with an acoustic guitar. It’s her persona – not necessarily her music alone – that has launched her into viral levels of adolescent fame, and it’s the same formula that will likely catalyze a dark pop movement from other black sheep aspiring for stardom.

When We Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go does everything it can to push this shady, unwholesome image to the limit. ‘bad guy’ feels like a vibrant dance number, but undermines its pop sensibility with lyrics like “Own me, I'll let you play the role / I'll be your animal” – before breaking down into a trap beat where she sings “I'm that make your mama sad type...might seduce your dad type.” Listeners will find that the lyrics across the entire album try a little too hard to be edgy, aspiring for shock value at the expense of the song’s flow. At times they can become downright cringe worthy, like the regrettable “Don't give me a Xanny, now or ever”, but her quirkiness also occasionally pays off – like when she references The Scarn (a satirical dance number from the sitcom The Office) on ‘my strange addiction’ – an exhale from the at-times overbearingly gloomy façade. The album features a mix of unconventional ideas – some are clever, and others make you want to put your head in your hands. This is something that we maybe should have anticipated from a seventeen year old who rose to prominence in a matter of a couple years, but the upside is that good or bad, she’s tried more new things on this album than some of the biggest pop stars have in their entire careers.

The record’s highlights seem to come not when Eilish crafts a huge chorus or a memorable lyric, but rather when the beat dictates the flow of the song. It’s debatable as to whether that’s a good sign for Billie long-term or not, but it’s certainly in line with the idea that she isn’t cut from the same cloth as these other prize-winning pop artists. ‘bury a friend’, ‘you should see me in a crown’, and ‘ilomilo’ all have forceful and/or complex beats, and almost like a hip-hop artist, Billie seems to thrive when she can get into a rhythm. She has more conviction in a single verse from ‘bury a friend’ (“It's probably somethin' that shouldn't be said out loud / Honestly, I thought that I would be dead by now”) than she does in the entirety of ‘xanny’, or a more cutesy number like ‘8.’ The frenetic synths that buzz throughout ‘you should see me in a crown’ act as a percussive presence, and again Eilish relishes the moment, sounding more confident than ever in her delivery of a memorable line like, “You should see me in a crown / I'm gonna run this nothing town.” It’s clear that Billie flourishes in atmospheres that play to her strength – which is more dictating than actual singing – so things like murky, reverb-drenched percussion and offbeat rhythms provide her with the most freedom to drive home that addicting quirkiness with poise.

She also achieves a surprising amount of success in her bare-bones tracks – we’re talking the hymnal-like ‘when the party’s over’, where she puts her mesmerizing whispers and hums to excellent use – as well as the acoustic finger-picked vulnerability of ‘i love you.’ Eilish uses space, pause, and silence to her advantage ridiculously well in the former, each verse feeling like a levee breaking as emotion and melody pour in from the walls Billie pits up against them. This is sort of the flip side to her dominant persona – these still frame moments when she allows herself to be heard not as the cynical teenage pop star, but rather as Billie the seventeen year old girl who’s going through all the same things you are. On ‘I love you’ she recalls “The smile that you gave me even when you felt like dying”, and laments on the connected outro ‘goodbye’: “Don't you know I'm no good for you?” There’s enough in Eilish’s short game – these simple, stunning ballads – to complement her long drive; those blistering beats with goth-inspired imagery.

The problem with Eilish’s debut is that she doesn’t play to all of those strengths nearly enough. When We Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go is, quite frankly, all over the place. Too often does she settle for that “night terror” vibe without any actual lyrical backbone to support the acerbic tone. Other times, she confoundingly does the exact opposite, locating a dark mind space and then surrounding it with less-than-threatening music from the mill of average pop. It’s a bit maddening at times, seeing Eilish on the cusp of fulfilling her vision – even with all the tools at her disposal – only to write something as punchless as ‘all the good girls go to hell’, or as thematically deconstructive as the sprightly, bouncy ‘8.’ Hopefully as Eilish hones her craft she’ll be able to weed out the songs that don’t logically fit, and on an album coming in at an already bloated fourteen tracks, it makes you wonder how Billie and her production team didn’t find a way to better curate the tracklist. These issues are forgivable on a debut, maybe, but it’s not something Eilish can continue to do if she ever wants to write a cohesive concept album – which When We Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go was supposed to be...and is not.

This album is something of an anomaly. It’s difficult to recall the last time an artist exploded into the mainstream spotlight so quickly, yet whose reception was also starkly divided. There’s undoubtedly parents out there who won’t want their daughters listening to Eilish, which invariably means she’s doing something right. She’s defying the pop status quo, challenging the idea that fame and fortune is rooted in mild manners and always smiling for the tabloids. Time will tell if Billie is just another moody teenager – whose fickle whims will carry her in a totally different direction years from now – or if she’s on to something much bigger. When We Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go is a volatile launching pad. This is anything but a safe debut, which could make Eilish a star In her own right – in the realm of dark pop – or alternatively could see her collapse under the weight of her enormous aspirations. It’ll be a wild ride either way, with plenty of dissention along the way. Are you ready?




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user ratings (251)
Chart.
2.9
good
other reviews of this album
nomiddlename (3)
A dark debut that has a handful of good tracks, but could still be more adventurous....

Willow (1)
We go to musical hell...



Comments:Add a Comment 
SowingSeason
Moderator
March 29th 2019


30254 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

I'm anticipating a lovely, civil back-and-forth on the pros and cons of this record from a musical and cultural perspective. I'm sure I won't be disappointed!

Digging: Glen Hansard - This Wild Willing

Trebor.
Staff Reviewer
March 29th 2019


56534 Comments


I'll start

more like Billie Madison am I right

Digging: Venom Prison - Samsara

Source
March 29th 2019


10290 Comments


Billie Eyelash

Digging: Last Crack - Burning Time

klap
Staff Reviewer
March 29th 2019


12092 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

didn't mention Lorde once in this review, respek

Digging: Weyes Blood - Titanic Rising

Lord(e)Po)))ts
March 29th 2019


42601 Comments

Album Rating: 1.0 | Sound Off

I don't see anything in common between this wigglette and lorde

Digging: Cvd - Elsewhere Nowhere

Lord(e)Po)))ts
March 29th 2019


42601 Comments

Album Rating: 1.0 | Sound Off

Are people making sardonic comparisons just because they are (were) both young?

Divaman
March 29th 2019


3471 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

Ordered the CD today. Should have it by next week.

Digging: Kakkmaddafakka - Diplomacy

Lucman
March 29th 2019


2331 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0 | Sound Off

Alrighty jamming this now.

Digging: Glen Hansard - This Wild Willing

Lucman
March 29th 2019


2331 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0 | Sound Off

I'm not diggin these effects on xanny at all.

SowingSeason
Moderator
March 29th 2019


30254 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

I never once thought of Lorde either - I think klap was referencing the similarity of their ascension to stardom at age 17.



And I wasn't the biggest fan of xanny at first (I even criticized it in my review just now), but I can feel it growing. It's best if you tune out the lyrics. The effects take some getting used to but then they get their hooks in your brain.

WeepinnWillow
March 29th 2019


405 Comments

Album Rating: 1.0

i find it more concerning that a 17 year old is singing about xanax

Digging: Get Scared - The Dead Days

SowingSeason
Moderator
March 29th 2019


30254 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

I mean at 17 she's basically an adult so I'm not sure why that's shocking

Other than the fact that she goes out of her way to achieve shock value

Since you're concerned I guess she succeeded?

Kompys2000
March 29th 2019


2527 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5 | Sound Off

Glad I'm not the only one seeing the Marilyn Manson connection, obviously the music is very different but it seems like she's occupying a similar cultural space.

Digging: Whiskeytown - Stranger's Almanac

Lucman
March 29th 2019


2331 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0 | Sound Off

Half way through now and honestly this is not all that bad. I can see a 3.5 easy if it doesn't suddenly become a train wreck.

Lucman
March 29th 2019


2331 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0 | Sound Off

My Strange Addiction is a groove and a half.

Lucman
March 29th 2019


2331 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0 | Sound Off

I.....I think this might be one of the best pop albums of the year. Does no one hear how gorgeous these closing tracks are?

SowingSeason
Moderator
March 29th 2019


30254 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

I definitely do. I had to explain in my review how much of a departure they are from the gothic vibe of the album’s majority runtime, but they're astoundingly gorgeous.

neekafat
Contributing Reviewer
March 29th 2019


15210 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

The closers are gorgeous dude. I love crown too

Lucman
March 29th 2019


2331 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0 | Sound Off

I love this record hahaha.

neekafat
Contributing Reviewer
March 29th 2019


15210 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Can't wait to read this, glad you've taken the time to voice reason



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