Blood Harmony is less interesting for the world it creates than the world it inhabits and eulogizes.
The 2018 wildfire season struck a chord with Californians, filling the skies above Los Angeles and San Francisco with ash and blood red, giving us an image to go with the very real possibility that many of us living today are going to die with the human race. People talked like the world was actually going to end. And in pop, the burning of its capital has become shorthand for those fears. “L.A.’s in flames/ It’s getting hot,” sings Lana Del Rey on “The Greatest,” so far the best song in this vein. “Hills burn in California,” whispers Billie Eilish on “All the Good Girls Go to Hell.” Eilish’s older brother Finneas O’Connell, who writes and produces most of her material, has gone one step further. On the cover of his debut EP Blood Harmony, he’s trying to outrun the flames.
“You found me just as the smoke filled the room/ In the valley,” he sings on “Die Alone.” It’s one of the year’s eeriest pop songs, a play-by-play of a conversation that could happen between two lovers as the fires get closer. “Do you want to die alone or watch it all burn down together?” she asks over an anti-beat that could be an Eluvium track on its own. “I’d rather try and hold on to you forever,” he responds. It’s the kind of kissing-as-the-world-burns scenario we’ve all been familiar with since the last shot of Fight Club. The difference is that the world is actually burning. It’s kind of clever, using an age-old pop snow clone as a vessel for fears rooted in the real world.
That intertwining of artifice and anxiety, though, is too often lacking from the six lesser songs that precede it. For most of Blood Harmony O’Connell presents himself as a person rather than a pop star, leaning more heavily on honesty than on taut hooks or interesting sonics, ignoring the fact that the two aren’t mutually exclusive. His songs are mostly about losing friends and girlfriends, set to beats that hint at epicness without crossing the line into the intoxicating artificiality Del Rey or Eilish inject into their work. O’Connell wrote and produced everything here, but Blood Harmony has little to do with auteurism, more to do with a thin veneer of melancholy that’s enough to give him depth but not enough to make us feel for him.
His production and writing for Eilish lean loud, blasphemous, experimental. We don’t get much more than competent here, which is a shame. The best beat aside from “Die Alone” is on “I Don’t Miss You At All,” if only because it leans into the smol-bean sonics of Louie Zong and lo-fi chill beats more heavily than any pop song before it. Maybe O’Connell’s like Timbaland, generous enough to save his best beats for the people closest to him, but you’d think he’d create an environment for himself to inhabit as exciting as the one he spins for his sister. Blood Harmony is less interesting for the world it creates than the world it inhabits and eulogizes.