Say It, Spit It Out
Announcing herself to the music world in 2015 with the Soundcloud release of ‘ocean eyes’, a Billie Eilish immediately cemented a position as one of the most exciting artists of recent years - and she was only fifteen at the time. In the years that have followed her traction hasn't diminished even once. Her debut studio album, When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? obliterated records left right and centre: Four multi-platinum singles, six Grammy’s and over seven billion streams on Spotify alone. If you looked up 'huge fucking success' in the dictionary, you'd see Billie Eilish; menacingly miniscule on a big white bed.
This year brings the arrival of the dreaded sophomore album. Happier Than Ever builds on the dark, bass-heavy minimalism of her debut LP but this time drawing influence from jazz, bossanova, trip hop, and a plethora of other styles and genres. This record is jam-packed with torch songs, a slight change thematically from When We All Fall Asleep. Lyrically it provides more insight and emotion on topics that Eilish, and many other young women, have experienced, from misogyny, emotional abuse and power struggles.
Without a doubt the title track is one of the best tracks Eilish has put out to date. Opening with light acoustic jazz guitar and Eilish’s signature soft crooning, the track builds and builds to an explosive crescendo. The change in vocal production halfway through the track is incredible; Finneas outdid himself here. The finale of ‘Happier Than Ever’ is so crushed and distorted, oozing with theatre and drama. The harmonised guitar leads feel reminiscent of 2000’s pop punk and emo, an era both Eilish and her brother have confirmed they are fans of.
‘NDA’, in turn, boasts some of Finneas’ coolest production ever. The AutoTune before the drop is so tasteful, and the drop itself has you sinking into a soundscape of pumping bass and distorted drums. It definitely feels like a step forward production-wise from the debut record. It retains the same atmosphere, but simply sounds and feels better than ever. Another single from the lead up to the record, ‘Lost Cause’, proves a different vibe altogether. Feeling like a 21st Century take on jazz singers from the 50s, it is a clear change of direction but is refreshing to see some development in her sound rather than the same moody, bass-heavy tracks for an entire record. ‘Billie Bossa Nova’ is a pretty self explanatory track. The delicate guitar chords paired with more modern sounding percussion is a great combination, while ‘Halley’s Comet’ opens with a piano chord progression very much following in Mac Miller's footsteps. It is definitely a rest stop production wise and it puts the spotlight completely on Eilish, which is certainly no bad thing.
‘Oxytocin’ drives forward with a groovy, dance-tinted beat, welcomingly inspired by artists like The Chemical Brothers and other late 90s outfits. It drips with swagger and has one of Eilish’s best performances on the record, with the sound design so on-brand here for the sound they are aiming for but still feels modern and refreshing. Every beat hits hard and the track never loses its energy. I can definitely see plenty of remixes of ‘Oxytocin’ inbound.
Album closer ‘Male Fantasy’ edges on a folk-type sound. It is understated, like many of Eilish’s softer, more romantic cuts, but has her delivering a truly wonderful vocal performance. The lyrics are pretty blunt as they tackle how the music industry is dominated by straight white men, and how media is engineered to appease this group.
Coming in at just under an hour long, there are a couple of tracks that don’t need to be here, and those are the slightly older singles: ‘my future’ and ‘Therefore I Am’. Both tracks are fine, but in the context of a record do not add much and due to the time they were released seem like they have been added in for filler purposes. The record does feel at times slightly all over the place with its constant change of style. However, every track is written and produced excellently, so it does not feel like the experimentation of genre is there for the sake of it.
Happier Than Ever is an excellent pop record. While it may take a few listens to fully get into it, it boasts some of the best songwriting, performances and production from Eilish (and Finneas). It feels like a much more mature record, and while the changes in style and genre throughout the record are a bit head-turning, it keeps the entire project feeling fresh and exciting.
- 7.9 -
'Happier Than Ever', 'NDA', 'Male Fantasy'
James Mellen is currently studying songwriting and production based near Bristol. Interests include silly effects pedals, Yorkshire tea and 100 gecs.
Thanks for reading! Slow Motion Panic Masters is a music, arts and culture website created by Ben Wheadon, an English literature graduate and guitarist from South Wales. He edited this article and is a Fleet Foxes shill.
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