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Lizzy McAlpine’s ‘five seconds flat’ redefines breakup albums with a beautifully crafted narrative

Telling a story of longing and loss, alternative indie singer-songwriter Lizzy McAlpine divulges her experience of heartbreak and falling out of love in her second studio album, “five seconds flat,” released April 8.

A former student of Berklee College of Music, McAlpine previously solidified her place in the music industry with the release of “Give Me a Minute,” her first full album, back in 2020. This soft-sounding, gentle record delivers comfort in the relatability of her lyrics about the cycle of losing and finding love, most notably through the songs “Means Something” and “Pancakes for Dinner,” respectively.   

Since then, McAlpine has established a sizable following on TikTok, where she posts candid videos of her everyday life and snippets of new songs, often sung casually from her bathroom floor. One particular video of an unreleased song known as “You ruined the 1975” has gathered over 9 million views, nearly 2 million likes and thousands of comments begging for its release. In an Instagram livestream from Jan. 2021 that shared a more complete version of the TikTok demo, McAlpine revealed why that release will not happen:

“I was just about to release my album [“Give Me a Minute”] and it made me sad that people only cared about that one song … I don't want my other music to get overshadowed by this song because I personally don't think it's [my best work].”

While “You ruined the 1975” certainly resonated with a wide audience, McAlpine’s response to its virality proves that she prioritizes the quality of her craft over the number of streams. McAlpine did admit to the possibility of this song being released “way down the line,” but her current stance certainly cements her position as a reputable songwriter as opposed to a social media artist — an apparent trait that can be seen in her latest work.

“five seconds flat” — as a beautifully crafted, 14-song narrative — has a noticeably newer sound in comparison to McAlpine’s debut album. However, that was the intention all along, according to her interview with the Boston Globe from March 2021: 

 “[My second album] definitely sounds totally different, and I want people to listen to my discography and tell that my style has progressed and matured.” 

“doomsday” — the opening track on the record, first released as a single  Oct. 2021 — accomplishes exactly that. This breakup song, a familiar territory for McAlpine, takes on a whole new meaning with its ominous, somewhat spiteful tone in describing the anticipation of heartbreak.

Following the album’s opener are “an ego thing” and “erase me (feat. Jacob Collier),” which are both best described as indie-techno thanks to a strong synth. “all my ghosts” precedes “reckless driving (feat. Ben Kessler)” later in the album and introduces a more indie-pop feel. Further down on the track list, “firearm” embodies an alt-rock vibe in its chorus with an electric guitar backing powerful vocals. In the past when McAlpine found success in gentle, indie ballads, she tapped into that again with “ceilings,” “nobody likes a secret” and “chemtrails.”

The record closes with “orange show speedway,” a considerably upbeat song that reflects McAlpine’s emotional return to the place where she fell in love. Hidden in the last verse is the sole mention of the album’s title, seemingly in reference to longing for the love that was the cause of so much pain: 

“When you’re racing head-first towards something that’ll kill you in five seconds flat / When I’m racing head-first towards everything that I want back.”

Across her discography, McAlpine has shown her unique talent to include highly specific personal anecdotes in her lyrics while crafting songs that are wholly relatable. That strength is most evident in “five seconds flat,” as a complete story engages listeners throughout a genre-fluid tracklist. 

So, in short, although all its songs are sonically unique, “five seconds flat” remains tied together thanks to McAlpine’s dedication to  incredible lyrical and thematic cohesion.

Perhaps the greatest gift of McAlpine’s second studio album is its visual components. Accompanying the release of “five seconds flat” is a short film that artfully pieces together ten songs from the album — behind some clips from past music videos — with narratively driven scenes in between. Because McAlpine’s songs are so lyrically strong and the cinematography so beautifully illustrates the album’s story, this short film exists as a strong piece of entertainment on its own, as opposed to a simple collage of recycled footage. 

While McAlpine’s music might not currently be on your radar — though, now I hope it will be — her rise in the industry is not going unnoticed. “five seconds flat” has caught the attention of loads of fans in addition to major media platforms such as Soundcheck on NPR and credited Mills of Apple Music. The album debuted nationally at #6 and globally at #9 on the Spotify charts and has since gained over 22 million streams on the app. 

Perhaps you are first hearing of Lizzy McAlpine from this article or are a fan of her previous work. Maybe you gravitate to the rawness or singer-songwriters or are looking for a refreshing take on breakup albums. Regardless of where you stand, one thing is certain: you will quickly come to love McAlpine’s new record. Just give it, like, “five seconds flat.”

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