The Cathartic Bravery of Billie Eilish’s ‘HIT ME HARD AND SOFT’

A vulnerable record that is as bare bones as it gets in terms of pulling from all things personal, HIT ME HARD AND SOFT is a transcendental, sonic experience on the production side of things. Fans are treated to the best of both artists who worked on it: Billie Eilish and FINNEAS, the dynamic duo who have stated on numerous occasions that writing and recording the critically-acclaimed “What Was I Made For?” was a massive catalyst in how this LP came to be. That single for Barbie (2023) supposedly spawned a fresh, emotional renaissance in the studio in the same way that it shaped the year at large – sweeping award shows, taking over radio stations and playlists, becoming inescapable in the most honest of ways, and essentially giving the world the newly-crowned American Idol (winner Abi Carter auditioned with the hit song).

Throughout the 10 tracks that we hear today and that make up HIT ME HARD AND SOFT, the alternative songstress battles the past and present with her heart on her sleeve. You can feel the Barbie influence, but what is most tangible while diving into the album is the unwavering and über-relatable sadness that grounds every single crack and crevice of the almost 43-minute record.

Similarly, as heard from the very beginning of her career, it is FINNEAS’ eclectic and layered production style, the stuttering beats and open-minded instrumentation and overarching musicality behind the lyrics (and Eilish’s signature airy voice), that bring mesmerizing levity and memorable groove to the tracks at hand. These songs expertly combine the earliest of Eilish with the most recent, so longtime listeners and new fans are all in for a treat. (We have been dissecting each track since the album’s release on Friday, and have come to that conclusion by weeding through the darkness, amplifying the artistry, and finding the invigorating juxtaposition that has become synonymous with the musical brother-sister partnership… so, trust us. There is something for everyone here.)

Songs like album closer “BLUE” and should-be-single-release “THE GREATEST,” as well as the lovelorn “BIRDS OF A FEATHER,” can (and will) break your heart as easily as they can (and will) mend it. They are realistic in narrative and laced with soul. Feelings of romance and acceptance and desire and discomfort are evident; all of which remind you that you are not alone and that you need to feel your feelings, now or later. You need to hear yourself out, too, literally and figuratively, which Eilish does with some of her strongest vocal moments yet, belting and crooning among her dream-pop quietness and indie rock subtleties. Nothing is quite groundbreaking, but everything is pretty damn game changing because of the painful realizations and truths that are, for lack of a better word, human.

There is grit and suspense in the mix, edging listeners for the grandiose moments of past album hits like the tongue-in-cheek “Duh!” in “bad guy,” from WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO? , and the swelling finale of the angst-filled title track from Happier Than Ever. The build-up of sound and space is exhilarating, especially if you take the album as it is and strategically listen start to finish as it was originally created. For other songs that are already fan favorites, don’t quite go hand-in-hand thematically, but are bravely rough-around-the-edges (maybe more than before), and/or are seeped in glossy sensuality: “LUNCH,” “THE DINER,” and “SKINNY.” Expertly combining the experimentation of that debut album and the sleek soul-baring of the sophomore follow-up, on this third Eilish installment, fans will experience both relief and release.

HIT ME HARD AND SOFT is spellbinding and intimate, the audible storytelling of what you most likely perceive the album title as. Upbeat and uptempo moments are few and far between, yet when they occur, it’s with intention in the way that the warmth of love (in any and all forms) can be a distraction. Brilliance at its finest? Yes. Exactly what we have known to expect from a Billie Eilish record? Also, yes. Slick and smart in how it is art that is as evolved and matured as the star behind it? Yes, yes, and yes – without a doubt.

There is a lot more to say about the creative, hip-hop-adjacent producing of showstopper FINNEAS and even more to pull apart as we sit with the bold, personal tales of the alternative pop singer-songwriter herself, but to summarize for now, just days after release…. On her third studio album, Billie Eilish and brother Finneas O’Connell return to – and embrace – the earnest and emotive DIY creations and Soundcloud roots that evoked something special from listeners at the very start of their career while absorbing the modernity of growth that come with personal choices and professional opportunities. HIT ME HARD AND SOFT is an atmospheric awakening and a nostalgic, cathartic creation for everyone.