Billie Eilish Pirate Baird O’Connell was the first musician born in the 21st century to score a number one single in the United States. Eilish had already been building a profile for a few years, debuting on SoundCloud and building a following through singles and the impressive EP don’t smile at me. Her debut album, When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?, was released in March 2019, after she’d already built an ardent following. She’s also released significant non-album material – the Bond theme ‘No Time To Die’ and a duet with Rosalía on ‘Lo Vas a Olvidar’.
Eilish’s intensely personal and dark music seems like an unlikely fit for the top of the charts, but she’s connected with disaffected teenagers. In an era of careful PR and image cultivation, Eilish is refreshingly individual. Her songs are written about the night terrors and lucid dreams that she experiences. Eilish is charismatic and her vocals are engrossing.
There are parallels in Eilish’s teen angst and bedroom poetry to Lorde’s 2014 breakout Pure Heroine, but Eilish’s music is rawer. Production, co-writing, and instrumentation is supplied by her brother Finneas, formerly a child actor on Glee. Eilish has an off-beat magnetism that’s allowed one of her insular songs to top the charts. Eilish is an important figure for legions of youthful fans, and she’s one of the most influential voices in popular music.
Billie Eilish Album Reviews
don’t smile at me
Eilish followed up a successful series of singles with an eight-song EP. It’s substantial enough to be considered as a mini-album. It’s a little brighter and more conventional than her subsequent work – the less dense songs like ‘idontwannabeyouanymore’ demonstrate that she could make a career as a torch singer. It’s especially impressive given that Eilish was only 16 when she recorded it – she’d already released the key track ‘Ocean Eyes’ at the age of 14. Deservedly, don’t smile at me was a success, reaching #14 on the Billboard chart.
Not surprisingly for a debut, there are a few awkward moments – ‘My Boy’ jumps sections a little clumsily, along with some awkward vocal asides from Eilish. But she also shows remarkable maturity at times – “Tell the mirror what you know she’s heard before/I don’t wanna be you, anymore” is a great line from ‘idontwannabeyouanymore’. ‘Ocean Eyes’ is gorgeous, Eilish’s vocal gentle and yearning.
don’t smile at me is an impressive mini-album from Eilish, paving the way for the phenomenal success of When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?
When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?
It’s a sign of the times when a Grammy-dominating, worldwide #1 album was recorded by a teenager in her brother’s bedroom studio. Often the instrumentation is minimal, with O’Connell just playing a single instrument at once – the prominent instrument on number one single ‘Bad Guy’ is the synthesizer bassline.
When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? captures a range of moods – the album closes with pretty and vulnerable songs like the acoustic guitar on ‘I Love You’ and piano on ‘Listen Before I Go’. Despite the bedroom setting and use of acoustic instruments, there’s an industrial harshness to songs like ‘Xanny’. ‘My Strange Addiction’ presents Eilish’s skewed take on pop, accompanied by samples from The Office.
I find the minimal and darker sound less compelling than Eilish’s other releases, but it seems like I’m in the minority with that opinion.
Happier than Ever
Billie Eilish’s debut album When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? made a major impact. Among other milestones, Eilish became the fifth artist to win both Best New Artist and Album of the Year at the Grammies. Such acclaim was premature for a teenager still developing her craft, but she was instantly charismatic and relatable for disaffected teenagers.
Eilish’s second album, Happier Than Ever, was still a worldwide number one but hasn’t had the same cultural impact. Yet it’s a better record, suggesting that Eilish might not join Starland Vocal Band and Milli Vanilli in the ranks of the Best New Artist Grammy curse.
As with her debut, Eilish’s main collaborator is her brother Finneas, who provides cowrites, production, and instrumentation. Happier Than Ever is a little long at 56 minutes, although, unusually, the strongest material is clustered toward the end. ‘Your Power’ is sparse and majestic, with Eilish accompanied by acoustic guitar. ‘NDA’ accompanies Eilish’s vocals with an electronic pulse, while ‘Happier Than Ever’ begins as a torch song and builds to a dramatic conclusion with its big guitars. Happier Than Ever is a more sonically ambitious album than before, but the low-key, bass-driven ‘Therefore I Am’ revisits the territory of her debut.
Happier Than Ever outstays its welcome, but it’s enough to demonstrate that Eilish is here for the long haul.
Best Billie Eilish Songs
Happier Than Ever
Therefore I Am
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Aphoristic Album Reviews is almost entirely written by one person.
Graham Fyfe is probably the only music blogger to appreciate both Neil Diamond and Ariana Grande. Based in Fleet Street (New Zealand), he's been writing this blog since around 2000. Aphoristic Album Reviews features reviews and blog posts across a growing spectrum of popular music.
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