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Billie Eilish Plays With Extremes on Hit Me Hard and Soft

Inspired by modern-day “auteurist works,” Eilish returns to the spirit of her debut by being simultaneously cohesive and endlessly surprising. 

by Ben Boddez

With how long it feels like she’s been a kingpin figure in the cultural consciousness, it’s easy to forget that Billie Eilish is still only 22 years old. Releasing her third full-length, Hit Me Hard and Soft does at times thematically address the pressures of constantly being the youngest to do … just about everything, but for the most part, it doesn’t seem like she’s too concerned with reactions to her work anymore. Instead of chasing radio hits – the only track that sounds like it could end up there, “Lunch,” contains X-rated subject matter that they likely won’t touch – many of the songs here span past five minutes, many of them containing multiple tempo switches as Eilish and brother FINNEAS experiment with the jazziness and theatricality that her soft-spoken vocals can bring.

In the sparse promotion for the album – it was released without a single or even much imagery – Eilish spoke about being inspired by “auteurist works” like Lana Del Rey’s Born To Die and Vince Staples’ Big Fish Theory, calling her latest “an album-ass album.” In that way, it hearkens back to her widely-celebrated debut. In the same way, the closing track contains a variety of lyrical references to the prior songs, tying up the themes on display, but the spirit of that striking breakout era resides most in just how much Eilish can still surprise us.

Two of the most head-turning new developments on this project are the arrival of piercing neon synths, which Eilish uses more as unsettling narrative device than pop-oriented dancefloor filler, and the pushing of her vocals far past the whispery comfort zone we’ve become accustomed to. Some of her belted high notes are sure to raise goosebumps on listeners worldwide. Whether it’s the warm summer romance of “Birds of a Feather,” the rock breakdown on “The Greatest” or the cinematic and orchestral soundtracking of a sleepless night on “Wildflower,” the album stays true to its title, showing the many extremes of what Eilish can do. Even as she shies away more from the public eye, she’s still one of our most exciting vocalists in music today.