“I have taken out my Invisalign and this is the album”. The 17-year-old phenom’s unusual, yet fitting introduction to her massively hyped debut full-length sets the stage for a journey complete with spider-eating and The Office. If Lana Del Rey had an emo phase, it’d be Billie Eilish. WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO? is edgy, dark, and confirms Eilish’s potential as a songwriter. Unfortunately, the persistent lo-fi production results in a few humdrum-sounding songs and a tracklist 10 minutes longer than it should be. Though it’s rough around the edges, enough’s there to make listeners confident Billie and her brother will refine their craft in future releases.
Many of the tracks fit the breakup mold, but Eilish wears a new costume for each. Sure, “my strange addiction” and “wish you were gay” both resemble failing relationships, but each have a unique spin thanks to some clever songwriting. “Shoulda taken a break, not an Oxford comma”, she explains of her dangerous infatuation during the former. The Office sound bites come off as a little forced, but doesn’t deter from the quirky beat. Eilish puts her on spin on Weezer’s “Pink Triangle” for “wish you were gay”. The concept of wishing her boyfriend was gay to avoid the reality that she’s not lifting her weight would likely fall flat in the hands of an amateur songwriter, but it’s at times like these where Eilish really stretches her wings as a talent with the pen. The numerical flow in the lyrics weave together the story excellently, and the whole song comes off as more artistic and not in the slightest homophobic.
Other reaches of the album are sure to attract angsty teens with the blunt edginess. The grim atmosphere of “bury a friend” is traditional Billie. A dark music video, muddy vocals, and the ominous production succeed at creating this sense of dread. “Oh” moments pop in and out across the LP, like when she murmurs “I wanna end me” here and sings about straight up suicide on “listen before i go”. While these certainly cater to her sad girl image, the stylization doesn’t reach much higher than a typical emo Soundcloud rapper, and are simply too on-the-nose to hit deep.
The song “xanny” will make parents cautious of Eilish’s effect on their mood-swinging teen breathe easier. Instead of the blatant suicide references, the majority of this track is spent looking at the hard-partying junkie lifestyle in fear. Though it comes before much of the depression talk, it pits Eilish’s vulnerability better than the rest of the album. “I’m in their second hand smoke/Still just drinking canned Coke” is a marvelous line to show her shrewdness at an age where many teens go down that unfortunate route.
Smart lyrics are often slagged down by production which still does have its moments (“you should see me in a crown”s’ bass drop, the synth chorus on “bad guy”), but a bulk of the patterns aren’t really ear catching. Not to mention the teen star’s breathy voice can get old after a while. The album’s length is a big part of what drags it down, too. 55 minutes is a bit much on the heavy side for something that doesn’t hold enough variety like WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO?. Billie and her collaborating brother, Finneas, have made a crowd-pleasing debut her fans will eat up until her next release, but the indie popper still has some shortcomings to work on.
SCAD Radio gives it a 7.7/10.