It is certainly impressive for an artist to be young and new to the alternative scene but already be a well known name and just come out with their first full length studio album. But that is just what Billie Eilish did.
Her hit single “Ocean Eyes” and avant-garde boardline scary music videos have garnered her a lot of attention and, based on her debut album “When We Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?”, it is well deserved.
Eilish was heavily involved in the writing process with her brother and co-writer Finneas O'Connell for all but two of the 14 tracks on the album. The songs were designed to explore the different phenomena that happen after one goes to sleep from sleep paralysis to lucid dreams. Like most concept albums, the theme can be hard to apply to all songs, but the songs are crafted well enough that the listener can apply whatever meaning makes the most sense to the songs.
The album opens with a light hearted speaking audio track “!!!!!!!” with Eilish joking about taking her invisalign out therefore officially starting the album. In a startling transition, the music starts with “bad guy” and Eilish’s signature whisper tone voice over a hard pounding beat that slowly adds an alternating snapping one. The song is playful and almost light hearted (in terms of Eilish's usual dark mood) making fun of the bad boy stereotype that up plays the tough guy act. The chorus pokes fun at certain characteristics before placing herself in the role of the bad guy. The synthetic beat following the loud “Duh” gives the the song it’s playful undertone. Just as the listener accepts the song has ended, a heavy bass comes in with Eilish pointing out the darker side of the bad guy character.
This isn’t the only surprise Eilish gives her listeners. In “xanny,” the song starts with the whisper tone and acoustic bass reminiscent of a sad ballad from the 1940s through the first verse, but it takes a sharp turn in the pre-chorus with the synthetic beat resonating and distorting Eilish’s voice. The experimentation continues in “8,” where a ukulele accompanies a much younger sounding voice before it comes back to Eilish’s signature voice. In between the lyrics of admittance for addiction and heavy but upbeat beat of “my strange addiction” are clips of audio taken from “The Office” adding an unexpected sense of humor.
Aside from her experimentation with audio effects, Eilish pushes the boundaries on dark themed lyrics. “bury a friend” has the most ominous sounding track title, but it also best exemplifies the album’s theme with lyrics referencing the album’s title as well as nightmarish scenarios. The ticking clock beat with strange synthesized interference create an eerie background to Eilish’s whispered sinister lyrics telling the listeners her nightmares.
“When We Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?” is an interesting question that Eilish tries to answer through her exploration of sound to provide the right mood for her haunting lyrics.