Filled with melancholy, beautiful lyricism, and pitch-perfect vocals, Lizzy McAlpine's sophomore album is the genesis of her sound.
Whenever you listen to Lizzy McAlpine, you always find yourself stumbling into her inspirations and influences. Initially, it seemed that recongising these influences might take away from the credit that McAlpine’s five seconds flat deserves, but the similarities between her and Phoebe Bridgers crop up so often that the comparison needs acknowledging. However, this is not to detract from the record, which rivals Bridgers rather than stealing from her, but what they share, and how McAlpine borrows from a host of other writers around her, makes five seconds flat feel truly accomplished in every shape and form.
The comparison between McAlpine and Bridgers mostly comes from the indie acoustics, melancholic lyricism, and sultry vocals. They don’t sound identical, but they both have that rainy-day appeal that really tugs at the themes of existential or mid-life crises (ironic when you realise McAlpine is only 21 years old). Songs like the album’s opening, ‘doomsday’, do well to ground the music in what you might expect, launching into lyrics like “pull the plug in September, I don’t wanna die in June / I want to start planning my funeral”. Lyrics like these are not far and few between either; in fact, they dominate five seconds flat and become part of its unwitting charm.
McAlpine thrives in the style of sadness that juxtaposes emotion with sometimes vibrant and even uplifting melodies. ‘called you again’ is one such song. It plucks the strings of a violin, has a gentle drum beat and is backed by an almost indiscernible piano, but what sits in contrast in the sawing highs of McAlpine’s voice that balances emotion and brevity. At times there’s the softer side of the likes of Gabrielle Aplin present, but more common is the strong craftsmanship of musicality against lyrics that we haven’t seen in an album since Lucy Rose’s underrated No Words Left. ‘reckless driving’, ‘what a shame’, and ‘orange show speedway’ all contain that same contrast; a contrast which hasn’t quite been pulled off since Bridgers’ Punisher or Stranger in the Alps.
Ignoring the similarities between two great artists isn’t helped by the fact McAlpine shares what feels like a trademarke flatness to the vocals. That’s not to say there’s no vocal variation, but notes are often maintained across multiple words in a very “Bridgers” style. When the highs are high they stay as such, and the same with lows and middle-tones, but the actual effect – the maintenance of a single note across multiple words – is rather skilful and beautiful. It helps create an intimate feeling; a roughness that feels oxymoronic to soothing.
Although, McApline doesn’t just fill the album with slow ballads or liminal beats. ‘an ego thing’ has a wicked use of synths, drums and electric guitar. It occasionally has a low-fi appeal to it that packs a certain amount of energy but still sits comfortably among the slower paced songs. What comes along with these songs is a great deal of collaborations from FINNEAS and Jacob Collier. Both have voices that McAlpine perfectly compliments, but it’s the FINNEAS track, ‘hate to be lame’ that contains a poignant amount of depth despite the triviality it’s title implies. ‘hate to be lame’ is a beautiful song backed by a production style which is idiosyncratic to FINNEAS’, with its slow-build up to a heavier outro which all of sudden disputes inro the heartbreaking revelation of “if I could rewind, would there be some butterfly effect? / What if we never met? What if the stars never aligned?” It’s as close to chilling as lyricism sometimes comes, and it’s only because of the way the song is layered around the lyrics.
For all the comparisons of McAlpine’s five seconds flat, there’s still a sense of beauty and artistry that feels unique to her. It’s an accomplished album, one that deserves a spotlight for its sheer craftsmanship from start to finish.
five seconds flat is out now via Harbour Artists & Music / AWAL. Watch the video for ‘hate to be lame’ below: