The buzz around Billie Eilish has been bubbling for years. Her debut single “Ocean Eyes” attracted industry attention immediately. Her debut EP “Don’t Smile At Me” made a slow-burn rise on the Billboard 200, breaking into the top 100 months after it was released. Many music legends like Dave Grohl and Paul McCartney proclaimed the talent of this young voice. It was soon obvious that Eilish was extremely unique and poised to harness the power of the internet in the way only a digital native really could.
The 17-year-old songwriter has chosen to keep doing it her own way, despite having all the golden gates of the music industry open for her. Her debut album, “When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?,” bears no features or mega-hit producers. Instead of chasing clout, Eilish chose to craft the record with her brother and songwriting partner, Finneas O’Connell. The whole record is the brainchild of this duo and was recorded within their parent’s house.
“When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?” operates figuratively and literally as a title, pulled from the lyrics of “bury a friend.” The record is a journey through nightmares and dreamscapes. The sonics of the album dance through hauntings and longings, pulling at the residual feelings different dreams leave us with when we wake up. She isn’t portraying the dreams as much as she is grasping for why the dream occurred and why it leaves her feeling this way.
The record holds tight to Eilish’s signature ethereal darkness. There is a dueling balance of high energy tracks like “bury a friend” and “bad guy” and down tempo emotional tunes like “xanny” and “i love you.” The songwriting and production are so distinct from anything out there, and her vocal performance is just as brilliant and dexterous. The songs are nothing like each other but stand together as a cohesive portrayal of who Eilish is as a person and an artist.
Eilish’s music sits in a sweet spot that defies genre and eschews categorization. It is equally alternative, pop, R&B and even punk rock. The intimacy of the music and its creation have allowed the rule book to be left on the shelf and the freedom of creativity to inhabit the space it occupied. Take the structure of the single “bury a friend”: it’s chaotic and far from the traditional verse, chorus, verse, chorus, bridge, chorus structure we’ve grown accustomed to.
Songs like “bad guy” and “xanny” have lyrics that are mature beyond her years, but her persona is convincing enough to pull them off. Her interviews, visuals, fashion sense and demeanor have proven her to be the “bad type / Make your mama sad type / Make your girlfriend mad type” and, yes, even the “might seduce your dad type.”
But within the mature themes and spooky sonics, her youth shines through, as the album begins with her announcing the removal of her Invisalign braces. Eilish’s youth brings no sense of innocence, but a sense of vigor to the project.
“When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?” is a bold debut album from a daring artist. This is sure to be the beginning of an interesting and impressive career for Billie Eilish.
Billie Eilish will be performing in Philadelphia June 15 at The Met Philadelphia.