Review: Lizzy McAlpine’s second album elevates her previous narrative work

“five seconds flat” builds upon raw lyricism and extends her storytelling through a longer exploration of heartbreak.

by Elle Muller | 4/26/22 2:05am

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by Julia Siegel / The Dartmouth Staff

“five seconds flat” features heart-wrenching lyrics and beautiful production as it chronologically captures heartbreak and finding a new beginning. Lizzy McAlpine’s musical style has been described as a cross between folk-pop and alternative indie, with her songwriting shining through the instrumentals. McAlpine’s new work was well anticipated, with five singles released in the six months leading up to the album. She gained popularity through social media and her first album, “Give Me A Minute.” Her second album, “five seconds flat,” came out on April 8 along with a 29-minute short film that was released the next day. 

The album follows a very cohesive narrative, sculpted by the order and structure of the album. Upon release, McAlpine wrote on Instagram, “i really put a lot of work into making sure that the track list was in the right order and the story that it told was cohesive so i would urge you to listen through the first time in order.”  “five seconds flat” is a narrative masterpiece, artfully telling a story of love and loss with emotional songs that leave the listeners aching. McAlpine proves her ability to structure a story with the album, but faults arise with the incohesive vision of the short film.  

“doomsday” is the first single and opening track, which forshadows the rest of the album beautifully. The track and music video have some of the most meaningful imagery with the chorus lyrics “it's only the death of me,” accompanied by McAlpine’s artistic funeral scene. Despite this metaphorical death at the hands of her ex, she is slightly optimistic with the lyrics: “I feel more free than I have in years / six feet in the ground.”

In addition to the singles, my personal favorites from the album have to be “ceilings,” “an ego thing” and “chemtrails.” “ceilings” builds on the energy of past McAlpine songs that are longtime favorites of mine, with powerful heartfelt lyrics, her peaceful soft voice and warm acoustic guitar accompaniment.

“chemtrails” is a beautiful tribute to McAlpine’s late father, capturing a timeless grief. Accompanied by a simple piano chord, gut-wrenching lyrics keep this song in the forefront of my mind. The end of the song incorporates audio from a childhood video with McAlpine’s father. “chemtrails” parallels McAlpine’s 2020 song “Headstones and Land Mines,” which follows the grief caused by the pandemic and the loss of her father. “chemtrails” shows difficult growth  with the melancholic lyric, “It's so hard to believe, but right now, I feel stable.” 

“an ego thing” has a new energy that I haven’t heard in McAlpine’s music before. With more experimental accompaniment and strong beats, the song strays from McAlpine’s signature songwriter sound. Continuing this versatility, “orange show speedway,” is a powerful finale to the album. It is an upbeat, danceable song that slows down in the final moments. Lyrics like “My best friends are with me and I feel okay / The last time I was here, I was eighteen,” show how she has changed over the last three years. She beautifully captures starting over while acknowledging, but not being limited by, memories of the past. 

The short film, written by McAlpine, illustrates a story of a high school breakup, a rebound and the recovery process of losing a relationship, accompanied by some of the songs from the album. Several allusions to  locations from earlier songs come back with McAlpine singing lines from “hate to be lame,” tying together the narrative of the film. Finally, the end credit song is “orange show speedway,” which is fitting because it’s the final song of the album and captures coming back after loss. 

Throughout the film, McAlpine uses skeleton makeup to show who is hollowed by the romance. With the first lover, McAlpine dons the skeleton makeup several times. Then, with the second lover, the new man wears skeleton makeup, showing that he is more invested in the relationship than she is. 

While I love that more musical artists are experimenting with short films, McAlpine’s unfortunately falls short. At 29 minutes, the film is too long and says too little. The short film uses the entire music videos for singles “doomsday,” “erase me,” “all my ghosts,” “reckless driving” and “hate to be lame.” This makes the overall film feel like a compilation of music videos, drowning out the dialogue and scenes. 

At first, I didn’t know why I didn’t like McAlpine’s short film as much as I wanted to. However, when I saw a TikTok advertisement for the short film, I realized what it was: The film has beautiful storytelling and imagery, but the compilation of music videos takes away from it. The TikTok featured one of the scenes with dialogue, with an instrumental version of what sounds like “hate to be lame” and “reckless driving” overlaying the dialogue and visual cuts of various scenes from the film. This minute-long video captured the feeling that I hoped the short film would have, with the music being an element to the film, not the feature.

McAlpine has collaborated with many artists, both on the album and in the past — she was on tour with dodie just before the release of “five seconds flat.” Since the album’s release, McAlpine’s fame has continued to grow, even joining FINNEAS at Coachella. McAlpine also announced her first headline tour for “five seconds flat” on April 7, the day before the album was released. By April 14, all but four shows had sold out. McAlpine is showing her ability to have success with full length albums, with both “Give Me A Minute” and “five seconds flat” achieving great success with their lyrical ingenuity — despite her new artist status. “five seconds flat” elevates her previous work and highlights McAlpine’s wonderful storytelling and unique ability to create a cohesive album. 

Rating: ★★★★☆

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