Coming in at 45 minutes and 5 seconds flat, Lizzy McAlpine’s five seconds flat is a haunting yet heartfelt project that showcases her newfound sonic and artistic maturity.
McAlpine’s debut Give Me a Minute is a near perfect record. Effortlessly emotive and highly cohesive, each song ebbs and flows into one another with ease, making for a seamless, sensitive listen. While this album was a strong starting point, McAlpine’s sophomore release parades her impressive growth and dynamism. five seconds flat is more diverse in terms of its production—experimenting with slightly edgier, electronic effects alongside her signature gossamer acoustic sounds. Although this record distinguishes itself from Give Me a Minute through its myriad musicality, this component doesn’t detract from its thematic cohesion. If anything, this album is even tighter thematically, as evidenced by the album’s accompanying short film which pieces nearly every song together into a single story of a tentative foray into new love after treacherous heartbreak. In addition to increasingly advanced production choices, collaborations with larger artists such as Jacob Collier and FINNEAS also give the album a more mature feel as we see McAlpine begin to come into her own as an established indie artist. For all of these aforementioned reasons, it’s difficult to compare this project to Give Me A Minute since both have drastically different goals and accomplish those respective goals extremely well. Regardless, this album is certainly on par with her prior work, if not even stronger.
The opening track, “doomsday,” picks up right where her debut’s closer, “Headstones and Landmines,” left off: in mourning. However, here McAlpine is premature in her lamentation, dreading the devastation of an impending break up, singing “doomsday is close at hand, I’ll book the marching band”. Through a brilliant mosaic of minor chords and a tragically transcendent bridge, the marvelously melodramatic “doomsday” sees McAlpine embark upon her entanglement with a darker style, a thematic trend that acts as a throughline for much of the remainder of the record.
This grittier edge persists in “an ego thing,”. This double-faceted song cuts back and forth between sharp, confrontational verses grounded by a sizzling strumming pattern mimicking the one-two rhythm of a pounding heartbeat and lighter, conciliatory choruses framed by a bubbly backing track. “erase me (feat. Jacob Collier)” rounds out this darker introductory triad with brilliantly layered vocal tracks courtesy of the combined harmonic talents of Collier and McAlpine. Initially, the electronic breakdown during the chorus feels out of place considering the typical acoustic leanings of her music, but upon further reflection, it becomes clear that that is the entire point: her identity is being erased. Listening to McAlpine deviate from her classic delicate cadence to showcase a stronger, commanding side of her voice is an absolute delight.
Her collaboration with Collier is just one of many wonderful collaborations on five seconds flat, the best of which is, hands down, “reckless driving (feat. Ben Kessler).” The chorus is scream-in-the-car-worthy, and the ending, which escalates and escalates only to be cut so unsatisfyingly short, is brilliant in its intentional abruptness, meant to mimic a car crash. Another excellent build can be found on “firearm.” When McAlpine finally pulls the trigger, an angsty pop punk-style bridge reminiscent of something off of Olivia Rodrigo’s “Sour” or the bridge in Billie Eilish’s song “Happier Than Ever,” clears everything in its wake.
While this album is largely characterized by darker themes of heartbreak and the metaphorical soul-death that accompanies it, “called you again” and “ceilings” show a return to a more lovesick form reminiscent of the Give Me A Minute days. “all my ghosts,” the happiest song on the entire album, is delectably jubilant Here, McAlpine strikes a perfect balance between more melancholic subject matter and cozy, cheerful indie pop, with a tender tune that shows her overcoming her heartbreak in order to pursue a new spark. Complete with a positively infectious bridge, this song cannot help but feel perfectly suited for a coming of age movie soundtrack, 7-Eleven slurpees and all.
Dedicated to her father who passed away in 2020, “chemtrails” is a devastating listen that is easily the most emotional song in McAlpine’s discography. In this piano ballad, McAlpine sings “I see chemtrails in the sky, but I don’t see the plane” and “I see lines in the sand, but I don’t see who made them,” signifying that she can still see her dad’s marks on the world even though he is not physically with her anymore. Furthermore, as his daughter, she is his chemtrail, his line in the sand, the living fingerprint of her father’s legacy. Even though the thought of growing up without him is extremely painful, a part of him is still able to live on within her, a message that is equal parts heartbreaking, breathtaking, and beautiful. This song is so deeply moving, that it is nearly impossible to listen without shedding a tear (or many in my case), especially as the final verse rings out and the voice memo of her and her father begins to play. The penultimate “chemtrails” is, simply, incredible.
The wonderfully wistful “orange show speedway” ends five seconds flat on a perfectly sanguine note. Even though this album is characterized by feelings of emotional death, this song is bursting with life, suggesting the possibility of rebirth through new love. Although love is something that has the potential to “kill you in five seconds flat” if it turns sour, McAlpine refuses to close herself off to the possibility of finding new companionship just because of the possibility of heartbreak. It’s a bittersweet concept, but McAlpine is anything but bitter here. Rather, by track 14, she has acknowledged the possibility of heartbreak that comes with opening up your heart to another person as a necessary risk that must be taken in order to find love. This anthem of reignited hope progresses like a sunset, aflame with a triumphant tangerine blaze before settling into a softer burnt orange finish as the lights flicker out.
five seconds flat firmly side-steps the sophomore slump with mature production, stellar lyricism, and fearless creativity. McAlpine uses her incredible voice and songwriting to vocalize life’s most complicated emotions, retroactively reclaiming power over situations in which she once felt powerless.