Reviewed By: Troy Lafond
“When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?” is the debut album by teenage alternative-electropop singer-songwriter Billie Eilish. Eilish has rapidly captured the streaming world by storm with her debut EP “Don’t Smile at Me,” which has been streamed over a billion times on Spotify, despite a lack of a major hit single. To this day, Eilish has yet to attain a major commercial hit, despite massive successes across all streaming services, in no small part due to her off-trend, quirky musical style. With “When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?”, Eilish makes no pleas for commerciality, which is exactly what makes it so perfect.
One of the most surprising examples of the album’s lack of inherent commerciality is the lack of previous singles present. Many artists who are coming off from a highly successful EP and a string of well-streamed singles would include some of these on the album. However, “When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?” is comprised entirely of songs made for the album itself, leaving her “Don’t Smile at Me” songs in the past, and even choosing not to include previous successful one-off singles, including Khalid collaboration “lovely”. Her artistic vision for the album came before making the album something more accessible, commercial or well-liked, and this makes the album shine.
Eilish has built her following from making her unique blend of electropop, alternative and trap music that, as a result, appeals to a fairly wide base of listeners, and yet remains very anti-commercial, unique and specific to her. This is not a sound that any other artist in the game right now is making, and it is a bit hard to pin down exactly. As a result, it begs for comparison with other recent standout female alternative-pop debut albums, namely “Pure Heroine” by Lorde and “Born to Die” by Lana Del Rey. These two and “When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?” were all albums that focused first and foremost on refining the sound of the artist rather than making music that they felt may be more successful, and became successful not despite it, but as a result of it.
The album opens with the 14-second intro “!!!!!!!”, which features Eilish simply saying, “Here is the album,” and then devolving into a burst of manic laughter. This laughter sets the tone for much of the rest of the album, where Eilish presents herself as an atypical, quirky, confident and yet extremely broken girl. In this way, “When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?” feels like a thesis for her entire persona. While listening to a few songs here and there may leave a listener confused to who exactly Eilish is as a person, her personality shines through when the album is consumed in full.
The entire album was co-written by herself and her brother, Finneas O’Connell, and also entirely produced by Finneas. The amount of songwriting and producing skill on the forefront of the album is immediately evident, especially the latter. The first full-length song on the album, “bad guy,” as well as much of the rest of the album, has engrossing, detailed and just overall incredible production. The songwriting can be a little hit or miss depending on the listener’s tolerance for the angst of a teenage girl, as this is a through and through an angsty album, but there is little denying the pure skill shown throughout it.
Perhaps the peak of these two factors is on pre-release single “when the party’s over”. The swelling production, the vulnerability in Eilish’s voice after hearing how confident she tries to come across in prior tracks and the sparse, yet engrossing songwriting makes it not only an emotional high of the album but also the peak of the album and her career thus far in general.
While it may be a bit premature to call “When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?” a modern debut pop classic in the veins of the previously mentioned “Pure Heroine” and “Born to Die,” it is undeniable that this is an incredibly well done and unique body of work that has the potential to influence the direction of current mainstream music.