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

  • Genre: Alternative
  • Produced by: FINNEAS
  • Released: 2019 on Darkroom/Interscope Records

If you’ve been trying to get away from Billie Eilish, have we at CVLTYOUTHS got great news for you! For this blog’s first post in 3 years (life intervened, unfortunately), we are extremely pleased to present you with this review of her debut album. If you don’t like her, you can eat my ass (ok, no, I was kidding on that). Before we begin, here’s some background info on her:

  • Born to actor parents as Billie Eilish Pirate Baird O’Connell, she’s also the sister of Finneas O’ Connell (known professionally as FINNEAS), who produced her debut album.
  • Homeschooled from young, she grew up singing early, and was also part of a children’s chorus group that she says helped her “learn the proper way to sing.” She started writing songs at age 11.
  • She and FINNEAS released single Ocean Eyes via Soundcloud in 2016, with the accompanying video’s choreography done by their dance teacher. The EP Don’t Smile At Me was released in 2017.
  • CVLTYOUTHS admits to being drawn to bitches’ broken eyes and bellyache. Oh, and Bury A Friend. Alright, this is not a fact, but still.

What stood out for me is Eilish’s chameleon-like ability to switch between different roles in her songwriting, but retain her hand-on-heart honesty and compelling vulnerability throughout, delivered with youthful flippancy. Her aggression is never overtly expressed throughout the album, but when it’s wedged between hip hop beats and sound effects that sound at home in a horror movie, it becomes curiously addictive. because a complex personality comes through. Musically-wise, she is highly reminiscent of Lorde, with the very minimal musical arrangements and her excuse-me-but-I-don’t-give-a-shit attitude, and Lana del Rey, queen of tragedy and her memorable, larger-than-life characterisation.

Bad Guy announces itself after !!!!!!!! with a thumping bassline, her hushed voice muted with a menacing subtlety. She plays with the amorphous theory of identity and gender, neatly tearing the lampooned version of the alpha male into shreds (So you’re a tough guy/Like-it-really-rough guy/Just-can’t-get-enough guy/Chest-always-so-puffed guy), then countering it with the typical roles of femininity (I’m that bad type/Make-your-mama-sad type/Make-your-girlfriend-mad type/Might-seduce-your-dad type/I’m the bad guy), before ending it with the outrageously dismissive ‘duh’.

bury a friend tosses the ball back into Billie’s court, where she examines the proverbial monster under the bed. Where do we all disappear in our sleep, when we are transported unconsciously to that mysterious tunnel without an end? For Billie, it tends towards the latter – a great, dark mire of insecurities, unfulfilled yearnings, a wry statement about fame and sleep paralysis. Again, we get a minimal drum treatment, her soft vocals hovering between a wide-eyed numbness and a strange pliability. In the video, she is roughly manhandled by numerous hands, with syringes stabbed simultaneously into her back. Billie has this to say about the video in an interview with Rolling Stone, which sums up the gist of the song perfectly:

“I had this idea where I’m naked. Like an abduction-type thing, completely not in control, just a helpless body, and people putting syringes up my arms and in my neck. That’s one of people’s biggest fears — needles — and that’s what I’ve been doing recently: honing in on people’s fears.

Rolling Stone

listen before i go stood out for me on the first listen, because of the way the piano lingered so prettily, and how Billie’s vocals drift haphazardly across the horizon. One reads the lyrics and is presented with an emotional render. The listener is treated to an almost comfortable numbness, the tender prelude that brushes one’s fringe away, before death (Sorry can’t save me now/Sorry I don’t know how/Sorry there’s no way out) before being punctuated with a barely audible ‘sorry’.

On the whole, When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? is an excellent debut, its often playful lens revealing an unsettling complexity, even in the most mundane of events. What are we truly, deeply inside, and why do we behave the way we do?

CVLTYOUTHS admits to not having an answer for this sudden, philosophical musing, but perhaps we can divert your attention to the video for bury a friend instead?

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