On her debut LP “WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO?,” pop antihero Billie Eilish is… different. Leaving behind the floating, melancholy youthful sadness of her 2017 EP “Don’t Smile At Me,” Eilish gravitates towards the dark, brooding and morbid on her latest project, a jarring and unexpected turn for the 17-year-old singer.
Eilish makes a concerted effort to be dark, “edgy” and cool on “WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP,” but the attempt most often feels like a poorly-constructed façade with Eilish resting on her previously sleepy style behind it. And although she flirts with implementing elements of hip-hop, indie and experimental music into her own style, her efforts to blend the genres result in a depressing whirlwind of gimmicks and do little justice to any of her influences or previous work.
Eilish’s attempt to be relatable appears on the album’s first track, “!!!!!!!,” which features a series of obnoxious slurping sounds, followed by Eilish, in a mocking tone, saying, “I have taken out my Invisalign, and this is the album,” and laughing until the end of the nine-second cut. While introductory skits on records are not uncommon, Eilish completely upends the dark, moody tone that she set for listeners with the stark, horrific album artwork and the album’s somewhat threatening title going into the LP.
The true first track, “bad guy,” is comprised of a sparse beat, Eilish’s whispery, monotonous singing and a sorry excuse for a choral melody of watery, electronic harpsichord notes. The track’s only redeeming feature is the snap-and-clap line that follows Eilish’s voice throughout, evoking a bizarre dancehall vibe. The very tail-end of the track features a beat switch reminiscent of the work of the late rapper XXXTentacion, a controversial figure whom Eilish has regularly voiced support for in the past.
The record’s next track, “xanny,” offers even less than “bad guy.” In short, “xanny” sounds like a track co-produced by Lana Del Rey and XXXTentacion, slurring sleepy, melancholic falsetto with warped bass and Eilish’s distorted singing. Occasionally, a stray piano chorus appears alongside an angelic chorus of more Eilish tones, further stretching the runtime of the track. It is by far one of the worst songs that Eilish has ever put out.
Eilish finally picks up steam on “you should see me in a crown,” employing heavy, grating and mechanical sounds on the chorus along with strange, experimental sirens in the background. Her vocals in the foreground are warped and heavy like the instrumental; the track as a whole gives off an sickening, angry vibe and Eilish boasts that she will take over the music scene with her new album.
She follows up with “all the good girls go to hell,” which features a fun, quick piano melody underpinned by a bass-heavy beat. The chorus brings back the watery, electronic whining notes from “bad guy” while Eilish continues to sing-rap. While the track doesn’t land as well as “you should see me in a crown,” its attempt to be edgy and unique is more successful than many others on the record.
Suddenly, Eilish switches gears and falls back on her melancholic, whispery melodic style on “wish you were gay” and “when the party’s over,” again betraying the overall shadowy nature of the record but offering reprieve from the genre-defying swamp of the previous crop of tracks. Two of Eilish’s most emotional and pleasant tracks on the album, their tenure across the 14-track record is short-lived.
Any successful songwriting buildup Eilish had accrued to this point in the record is completely eliminated by “8” and “my strange addiction.” Continuing her sweet, sad aside of tracks, Eilish pitches her voice throughout “8” so that she sounds like a four-year-old singing over a “Riptide”-esque guitar melody underpinned by a thudding bassline. The vocals are so unbearably unlistenable that “my strange addiction,” featuring spoken mid-track skits, a sparse beat, contrived vocals that sound like a Bitter:Sweet song from 2006 and more unoriginal electronic melodies is more enjoyable.
The album reaches its high point with “bury a friend,” the album’s lead single. The track encapsulates everything that Eilish wanted “WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP” to be: dark, experimental and edgy. Unlike the rest of the dark tracks on the record, “bury a friend” feels naturally unsettling, and faithfully implements elements of experimental and hip-hop music. The shrieking melodies, drill samples and low, rumbling beat all explore the genuinely disturbed psyche of Eilish, as the rest of the record should have done.
After “bury a friend,” the record’s final four songs offer little in the way of unique, enjoyable music. “iomilo” rests entirely on a haunting melody of bells and Eilish’s whispery, quiet vocals, but still comes off like half of a song. “listen before i go” sounds bizarrely like a track ripped from a Broadway musical, with low-mixed, sparse piano chords, some genuinely sad moments from Eilish and a few New York City street sound samples. “i love you” sounds like Eilish is singing underwater, and her attempts at emotional output feel more like another attempt to be edgy and sad on purpose rather than expressing genuine teenage emotion.
The album closer, “goodbye,” is even sleepier and less distinct than “i love you,” and ends Eilish’s Frankenstein’s Monster of an album by whimpering lyrics from previous songs on the record and then fading gradually into silence.
At only 17 years old, Eilish is still figuring out who she wants to be as a musical artist. Genre-blending is difficult at any age, but Eilish doesn’t yet seem to have a solid grasp of any musical genre at all, though she may have a cursory understanding of a half-dozen of them.
Unfortunately for Eilish, a messy, uncoordinated slew of genres doesn’t constitute an experimental or interesting album, so “WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP” is left feeling like a disorganized slog through a twisted funhouse of teenage angst. There are moments on the record where Eilish begins to make a breakthrough, but each time she spoils it with a miserably-mixed hip-hop track or an entry to the YouTube famous “Lo-Fi Hip-Hop Beats to Study to” playlist.
All put, “WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO?” shows that Billie Eilish has future potential, but for now is squandering it by stretching herself too far across too many genres and trying too hard to make listeners think she’s actually edgy and cool.