tue 18/06/2024

CD: Billie Eilish - When We All Go To Sleep Where Do We Go? | reviews, news & interviews

CD: Billie Eilish - When We All Go To Sleep Where Do We Go?

CD: Billie Eilish - When We All Go To Sleep Where Do We Go?

A young star enters the hallucinatory cabaret tradition

Billie Eilish: 'Extraordinary talent'

Billie Eilish is a vaudevillian. Crack that and everything else falls into place.

Her impossible precociousness (at 17, she's a superstar and has been in the public eye for four years) and voraciousness (her and her brother Finneas's writing swerves from torch songs to trap beats, far-out electronica to glam-goth) should by all rights be an annoying mess, but absorb this album like a hallucinatory gothic cabaret show and it all makes sense. The gender ambiguities and gallows humour make sense. Even the manic pixie dream girl filtered via Resident Evil persona makes sense. Dammit, even the ukulele on “8” makes sense.

It also puts her in a continuum of off-beam artistic conjurers, particularly of fellow Los Angelenos. Sure, as has been remarked plenty, you can hear her as a creative younger cousin to Lana Del Rey. But just as much, under the impossibly smooth electronic surfaces of Finneas's production, you can hear Tom Waits, David Lynch, James Ellroy, The Doors (the huge single “Bury a Friend” either consciously or unconsciously nods to “People are Strange”): all artists who live that sense of life being a cabaret (old chum), who blur the lines between archness and sincerity, theatrical mask and lived bohemianism. This isn't the “ta-daaaaa” off-Broadway cabaret of, say, Lady Gaga, or the exhausting pantomime of Amanda Palmer, it's real LA noir, smoky dive, mystery theatre.

But despite the hints of old timers (you can also hear strains of Bowie and White Album Beatles here, too), this is a groundbreaking record. The trap and avant-club sounds – with distortion and pinprick hi-def electronics, retro and sci-fi playing off one another like it's nothing – are done with as much deftness and playfulness as the crooning and jazz and sinister prowling. At points it recalls another cabaret pop auteur, Róisín Murphy (play "Bury a Friend" next to Murphy's 2005 "Night of the Dancing Flame"). And crucially, though the tunes are big and the voice and persona distinctive, it's sonically subtle: the frenzied crush of EDM and other 2010s pop is replaced by confident creation of space, where Billie can breathe and move and don one guise after another. Of course, she's young, she's privileged, it could all go to pot all too easily – but for now, let's enjoy this strange cabaret show by an extraordinary talent.


Watch the video for "Bad Guy":

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