Review Summary: A dark debut that has a handful of good tracks, but could still be more adventurous.
“Why aren’t you scared of me? Why do you care for me?” Twelve words that can be used to describe Billie Eilish and her debut album, WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO? in a nutshell. Her music is freaky. Her words are introspective. Her voice is delicate.
And yet, her first full-length record begins with… studio chatter? "!!!!!!!" is just thirteen seconds of taking out a retainer and joking that “this is the album.” Of course, Eilish is simply reminding people that she’s still an impish teenager, despite her bizarre media image. This fact about her age really shouldn’t matter, but it sort of explains why she would open up a record like this. On a record where all of the instruments are subdued, this seems to stick out like a sore thumb in that it doesn't evoke any sort of atmosphere. It’s not even quirky. It’s just there.
“bad guy” and “bury a friend” are without a doubt, the best tracks on the album, thanks to thumping, muffled percussion and strong tunes supporting those beats. You would be hard-pressed to find anything else on the album that sounds like those two songs, considering that Eilish tends to favor light, indie-folk rhythms and soft flourishes of piano, like on “8” and “when the party’s over,” respectively. But when she does make songs with a noticeable beat to them, they are definitely worth listening to. “xanny” is a good song with matter-of-fact lyrics that are profoundly against Xanax addiction, and of course, “you should see me in a crown,” despite the same manufactured trap beat, sounds much better within the course of a full album rather than as a single.
Then there are some songs that are just too clumsy to stand back up again. “my strange addiction” is one of those tracks. The three-minute romantic ballad samples dialogue from an obscure episode of The Office (U.S. Series), but not in a sense that adds to the meaning or fits the context of the song. As a result, it becomes just as grating as that cumbersome vocal sample in Ariana Grande’s “the light is coming.” Fictional characters and pop music don’t mix, unless it is used sparingly, and Eilish should know that.
Other gripes include “wish you were gay” and “listen before i go.” The first one is the absolute worst track on the album because there’s no substance, there’s nothing redeeming about the words, and there’s something awkward about the way she sings “gay,” like it’s a word that she just learned. Accents of applause may spice up the track a little bit, but the acoustic pop music itself doesn’t bring anything new to the table. It sounds like everything else in mainstream pop music, which is weird because Eilish is supposed to be the bitter exception to the genre. The other song, “listen before i go,” is not bad by any means. It just sounds boring and dull. There’s no edge to this song at all. Its atmospheric qualities don’t sizzle enough to compensate for the fact that it’s not properly cooked. If it’s atmosphere and emotion that you want so beautifully captured in a bottle, “i love you” would be the true masterpiece, but not “listen before i go.”
Billie Eilish certainly has proven that she can make rich, textured music that sounds pleasant upon the first listen. Now is her chance to expand her talents and make songs, much like “bury a friend,” that sound fresh and innovative even after listening to them a hundred times. Will she open up and take even more creative risks in the future? Probably “yes,” and this album alone would be proof enough as to why she is currently the epitome of an anti-pop star.
Overall Score: 3/5
“you should see me in a crown”
“bury a friend” (BEST TRACK)
“i love you”