I’m going to make a confession, the rise of Los Angeles singer/songwriter and pop phenomenon Billie Eilish Pirate Baird O’Connell AKA Billie Eilish had generally passed me by before last week. My first encounter with her music came in 2018 when she dueted with esteemed American singer/songwriter Khalid on her track Lovely. It immediately became one of my favourite songs of the year, with it’s haunting strings, compelling lyrics, and beautifully performed vocals.
What followed was a string of well received singles, with songs like You Should See Me In a Crown, When The Party’s Over, and Come Out and Play, among others helping to build a sense of hype around the career of the teenager. Despite this, I still didn’t feel the need to engage with the seemingly endless supply of content that she was releasing…
And then came the release of her debut album, WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO?, and I decided to delve in… I’d seriously been missing out.
Billie Eilish is still only seventeen years old, having had her first major breakthrough single at the age of 14 with the hauntingly beautiful Ocean Eyes, this album oozes confidence and a maturity that is not often found on debut album.
From the very beginning I was hooked, helped in no small part to the downright mind blowing bass line on the first full track, Bad Guy. This bass line is given the responsibility to carry the whole track, a bold move that works brilliant as it carries along the almost whispered lyrics of Eilish. Across the album, there is a theme of Eilish almost ashamedly reciting the lyrics of the song through hushed tones or distorted vocal effects. It is this effect that almost helps to accentuate the lyrics of the songs, as the listener has to make an extra effort to hear what is being said.
The example of using a bass line to carry a full song is a part of the consistent theme of Eilish pushing the boundaries of standard or traditional instrumentation that runs across the album. This instrumentation along with the lyrical effects are the reason why I consider this album to be such a triumphant masterpiece. The contrast in music style and switches between simplicity and complexity can happen various times during the same song never mind across the album, an example of this comes on the track you should see me in a crown, as we are treated to vastly different chorus and verse instrumentation.
Across the album we are also treated to just random outbursts and records of Eilish in the studio, along with random samples that nobody else is doing at the moment, I mean, who else has ever tried to include clips from The Office in their music, and yet on my strange addiction that is exactly what we get – and it works!
Another aspect of Billie Eilish as an entity that sets her apart from her contemporaries, is the darkness and edge at the heart of her music. Every track is endlessly catchy or compelling listening and yet there is also something somewhat discomforting about it all. Eilish is challenging you to be an active listener and not just someone who has the album on in the background. This requires you attention, and to properly enjoy it you need to push through that comfort zone, through her music and her music videos.
But it’s the moments of simplicity on this album that hit the hardest, songs like when the party’s over, listen before i go, and i love you, pack an emotional punch that you won’t find matched anywhere else at the moment. i love you is probably my favourite of the three. There is a beautiful simplicity to the instrumentation with an acoustic guitar and piano carrying the song under the raw and fragile lyrics of Eilish – a powerful song about being in love with someone who it might be better if you weren’t in love with, it had me pushing the repeat button a lot. All three of the songs above demonstrate the maturity and lyricism that the teenager from LA possesses already, even at this early stage of her career.
Album of the year already?
Billie Eilish is an artist, a true uncompromising artist, and this is still only her first proper body of work. She is only going to get better. I’m crazy excited. The hype is all justified.