With the release of Billie Eilish’s debut album, When We Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?, it feels safe to declare goth dead and buried. We don’t need it anymore, because Eilish is here to give us a new musical language through which to interpret the horrors of the world.
Eilish is poised to become one of the first musical superstars of Gen Z, and she lives in an America where school shootings happen on a regular basis, where wildfires ravage her home state of California, and where suicide rates have been rising sharply since she was born.
Co-written with and produced by her older brother Finneas O’Connell, Eilish crafts music for permanently grey skies using moody, heavy synths, creating a dirge that’s in diametric opposition to her breathy, girly voice. The sound is creepy, especially when the bassline beats take a cue from late ‘90s horror movie music and drop very low or all the way out as if the floor just fell from under your feet — a move that’s perfected in standout track “you should see me in a crown.” In a Saw-esque twist, she sampled a dental drill for “bury a friend.” Her clipped, direct delivery on “bad guy,” the album’s first track, makes it clear that all the scary men out there should reassess who’s the badass ("I like it when you take control / Even if you know that you don't / Own me, I'll let you play the role"). She just may be the beast under the bed — or the person best equipped to help fight it off.
Eilish takes a page from old school goths in “all the good girls go to hell” by playing with religious dogma, matching it with a philosophical conversation that harkens back to the album’s title on “bury a friend” ("Why aren't you scared of me? Why do you care for me? / When we all fall asleep, where do we go?"). She slips into a sultry tone in “wish you were gay,” a song that has been critiqued for co-opting queer culture, and “when the party’s over,” a haunting ballad that has hints of Fiona Apple sprinkled all over but owe a sonic debt to James Blake. Eilish swings between these serious moments silly interludes (yeah, we mean those samples from The Office in “strange addiction”) with an ease that belies her 17 years.
When We Fall Asleep immediately stands out as one of the best debut records of the decade, hinting at the impressive output still to come from Eilish.