Music Review: Lizzy McAlpine tells intimate folk-pop stories on her third album, ‘Older’

 The opening track on folk-pop singer-songwriter Lizzy McAlpine’s third album, “Older,” is only one minute and 40 seconds long. In that time, “The Elevator” carries the listener into McAlpine’s internal world, climbing a steady piano melody toward a drum-led instrumental before the song meets an abrupt end — depositing the listener at the second track, [[{“value”:”

The opening track on folk-pop singer-songwriter Lizzy McAlpine’s third album, “Older,” is only one minute and 40 seconds long. In that time, “The Elevator” carries the listener into McAlpine’s internal world, climbing a steady piano melody toward a drum-led instrumental before the song meets an abrupt end — depositing the listener at the second track, but more importantly, in the thick of McAlpine’s current conundrum.

“It wasn’t slow, it happened fast,” she sings in a near-whisper, readying her heart-rendering thought. “I think we can make it; I hope that I’m right.”

The track sets the listener up for the album that follows: “Older” is a rich world for the listener to live within precisely because the songs vary in range and emotionality. Her songs tend to focus on maturation, entering and leaving relationships, learning to trust and be trusted. On “Older,” that includes navigating grief and growing older, while watching others grieve and grow older, too.

“Older” follows McAlpine’s 2021 album “Five Seconds Flat” and its viral hit “Ceilings,” McAlpine’s first entry into the Billboard Hot 100. The ballad soundtracked hundreds of thousands of social media videos, revered by fans for its cinematic telling of a (spoiler alert) imagined love story.

McAlpine, 24, evolves her visual, scene-driven songwriting on “Older” — sure to please fans of “Ceilings.”

McAlpine’s folk-pop tunes have always felt informed by musical theater styling (fitting, for a drama fan and one-time collaborator of composers Benj Pasek and Justin Paul of “Dear Evan Hansen” and “La La Land” ), if mostly for her ability to infuse each song with character, as if acting.

Lyrically, she does that by referencing details — rocks thrown in water, a rejected cigarette, a crooked tie, a carousel ride — and telling blunt truths, like on “Drunk, Running,” when she admits: “I’m so sorry I stay/When I shouldn’t” atop piano.

The record is then effective when that intimacy is met with bold production that swells to meet the performer where she is at, and not in an attempt to impress. Take “Broken Glass,” which crescendos into a bridge that sees McAlpine belting above a drumbeat.

The penultimate song, “March,” is an aching but even piano-driven ode to McAlpine’s father, who died on March 13, 2020. Since his passing, she’s determined to dedicate a song in his honor on each of her projects, ideally track No. 13. Here, “March” brings reflections on grief: “Tryna find the lesson in it all but/I haven’t learned anything.” And: “I didn’t know it’d be this hard/So far away and then it hits you.”

The title track, “Older,” ends with McAlpine repeating the refrain: “I wish I knew what the end is.”

Tucked within McAlpine’s worried words is exactly what listeners look to her for: A still-confident tone, a pretty melody and reflections that only assure listeners in their own troubles.

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AP music reviews: https://apnews.com/hub/music-reviews

Elise Ryan, The Associated Press

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