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Lizzy McAlpine’s Older is an ornate exploration of coming-of-age


Release date: 05 April 2024
Lizzy McAlpine – Older – Album Artwork
04 April 2024, 19:00 Written by Matthew Kim

Lizzy McAlpine has never seemed interested in following the crowd.

Perhaps that’s a byproduct of the fact that much of her music gained popularity primarily in online circles. Her biggest song, the TikTok-famous (and just plain famous) “Ceilings,” gained popularity from going viral; she didn’t even have a label by the time she released a single that would eventually become certified platinum in the United States. Being famous as part of the online generation, often independent from label machinery, has granted today’s up-and-coming pop stars some creative leeway: it feels like our younger musical artists are able to make music that they’re passionate about for a change. McAlpine took that opportunity and ran with it.

While her music used to stay in the folk-pop lane, she has delved into everything from abrasive synthpop to driving indie rock – and, on Older, she crafts an ornate chamber pop bildungsroman entirely different from anything she’s ever recorded. And it’s absolutely wonderful. Despite some tracks falling flat in relation to others, Older is McAlpine’s finest work overall. It’s a thoroughly honest look into McAlpine’s coming of age, paired with exquisite lyricism and instrumentation.

While her last Five Seconds Flat had electronics constantly floating throughout the album – strange synths, occasional electronic drum programming – Older is, as stated, purely acoustic. McAlpine states that everything down to the creaking of a piano bench is captured in the final album, giving the album a deeply intimate feel. At the same time, Older isn’t exactly sparse: it tends more towards baroque pop, with detailed string, guitar and piano compositions enveloping every track. Even when a song starts out simple – only a piano or guitar and McAlpine’s light, precise singing voice – it often finds a way to become more complex. For example, single “I Guess” begins as a guitar ballad before instantly blowing up into an almost-overbearing array of instruments and choral vocals.

Just as with McAlpine’s previous work, it’s incredibly obvious that she’s classically trained. Her vocal harmonies and the complex chord arrangements in the instrumentation are all very clean, but dissonant in the right places for the right amount of time, always perfect. That isn’t necessarily an upside if a song feels mechanical in its adherence to theory, but the instrumentation largely serves to accentuate the album’s core emotional honesty rather than detract from it. On songs like “All Falls Down,” sweet woodwind and string harmonies can make songs feel wistful and airy; on others, like the climax of “Broken Glass,” those same instruments can create intense, cinematic soundscapes.

The main downside of the album’s ornate instrumentation is that the more simple singer-songwriter songs tend to fall flat – for example, the sparse piano ballad and lead single “Older” is lyrically interesting but instrumentally lacking, and despite the song’s relatively short runtime, it still starts to drag near the end. The album’s last few tracks, which are largely acoustic guitar-based, serve as good closers for the album but aren’t as texturally interesting as the rest of the tracklist.

Beyond the raw honesty of Older’s instrumentation, though, McAlpine also seems to have honed her songwriting skills. On Five Seconds Flat, her lyricism was great but felt at times like an ersatz Phoebe Bridgers – note the wanton poeticism, the references to random anecdotes, the doomsday themes. Of course, Bridgers' Punisher is far from the worst lyrical muse to imitate, but Older still improves upon McAlpine’s previous work by building upon her inspirations, creating a style just as confessional and melancholic as her contemporaries but unique in its honesty about McAlpine herself.

Five Seconds Flat spent most of its tracklist exploring love in its various forms – love gained, love lost, love confusion, etc. – Older is also inspired by relationships and love, but that’s not the central thrust of the album: as the title suggests, it’s about growing older. Its explorations of relationships are more mature: “Drunk Running” explores how alcoholism can introduce tension into a relationship and “Broken Glass” describes the push-and-pull of emotional violence. McAlpine’s previous work was already complex, but Older breaks those themes down even further, and its journal-like tone makes the album feel like a two-way conversation.

In a statement, McAlpine said that the goal of Older was to “strip away everything and find what sounded like me.” And this album sounds unmistakably like McAlpine. She’s been one of Gen Z’s best indie darlings for years, but this is the album she needed to make. Overall, that combination of conversational, vulnerable lyricism mixed with impeccable baroque pop arrangements makes Older as unique for the pop world as it is beautiful. All in all, it’s a deeply honest album, both in its exploration of aging and in its rejection of pop cliches.

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