The surprising new album that every audiophile should listen to this weekend

Billie Eilish vinyl album
(Image credit: Billie Eilish/Darkroom/Interscope Records)

A familiar subject of conversation resurfaced following the High End Munich show earlier this month; why can’t we have some more interesting music at hi-fi shows? And that was the polite version. 

While it would be wrong to say that all you’ll hear at a hi-fi show in 2024 is The Eagles and Diana Krall (it might have been true a few years back), there remains, from my experience, a fairly conservative selection of test tracks on rotation at too many demo rooms. 

And it’s not necessarily about the repetition of aforementioned hi-fi classics, many of which are great tracks and do function as a fine way to show-off a system. No, it’s more about the type of music; and music that can sound like it was only made to demonstrate how a hi-fi system should sound. Incredibly spacious and stripped-back, breathy vocals, twinkling piano or plucked guitar, perhaps some deliberately dynamic sweeps or FX (if you’re lucky); you can probably all hear the sort of thing I’m talking about. Once in a while, fine, but again and again? That will get hi-fi journalists grumbling (it doesn't take much), not to mention the paying public. 

What about simply playing music that people enjoy listening to? And in a variety of genres? Maybe some music that’s been made in the last year or so? 

I listen to a lot of electronic music, from techno to drum and bass, but also a healthy dose of jazz, rock, soul and plenty more. And despite my pretty wide-ranging tastes, it felt the exception rather than the norm to find something along any of these lines playing in the rooms. But I am open-minded and don’t demand to hear my favourite tunes on a system, it would just be great to listen to a bit more variety. And I’m not talking about something particularly obscure or underground for the sake of it – and this album is a case in point. 

Pop music is one of my blindspots but it pays to keep an ear out, as some of the biggest artists in the world right now are delivering not only great music but some genuinely exciting-sounding records. Billie Eilish falls squarely in this category, and if you’re guilty of staying in your lane too often or turning your nose up at anything in the charts (guilty), then you should listen to her new album this weekend. 

There’s a reason you’ll find her music on our round-up of best pop songs and our list of recommended spatial audio releases: she’s offered up some fine tunes over the last few years, tunes which also tick plenty of boxes when it comes to top-level mixing and mastering. And it's fair to say her tracks have found their way into some hi-fi demo rooms.

But if you’re yet to have the pleasure, this new album is as good a place to start as any. Hit Me Hard and Soft sees her again working with her brother, Finneas Eilish, and the LP delivers their trademark laidback, dreamy sound complete with whispered vocals, alongside moments of more dynamic even dancefloor-orientated tracks. Plenty of squelchy synths and fuzzy bass lines relieve the lazy rhythm of the – perhaps one-too-many – more familiar-sounding ballads. That said, even a Billie Eilish ballad tends to surprise with a sudden tempo change or a shift in mood. 

It’s a good album, and there are plenty of solid ‘test tracks’ here. Despite Eilish’s DIY aesthetic, there’s no questioning the quality of the production nor the ambition of some of the arrangements. I would prefer a few more uptempo tracks to offset the moody melancholy; or for the album to explore some of the most engaging elements, such as the second half of Blue, for a little longer, but there are still novel ideas here to enjoy.

For the wider music world, a new Billie Eilish album is a huge deal - nobody needs to be told it’s worth a listen. But based on the best part of 20 years in the hi-fi industry, it feels like plenty of people in our world would happily let it pass them by. So I say; don’t turn your nose up (as I might have done previously), give it a listen, and you may have a surprisingly enjoyable hour – and find a new test track.

Joe Cox
Content Director

Joe is the Content Director for What Hi-Fi? and Future’s Product Testing, having previously been the Global Editor-in-Chief of What Hi-Fi?. He has worked on What Hi-Fi? across the print magazine and website for almost 20 years, writing news, reviews and features on everything from turntables to TVs, headphones to hi-fi separates. He has covered product launch events across the world, from Apple to Technics, Sony and Samsung; reported from CES, the Bristol Show, and Munich High End for many years; and written for sites such as the BBC, Stuff, and the Guardian. In his spare time, he enjoys expanding his vinyl collection and cycling (not at the same time).

  • fitzrik
    The music is great and sounds great but it should be called out that the vinyl is getting very bad reports of pressing issues. No point recording and mastering well if they ruin the record with bad pressings.
  • Friesiansam
    fitzrik said:
    The music is great and sounds great but it should be called out that the vinyl is getting very bad reports of pressing issues. No point recording and mastering well if they ruin the record with bad pressings.
    Over 30 quid for an album, known for poor quality pressing? NO. Was put right off Billie Eilish
    by her dire Bond theme so, I won't be buying the CD.