Lizzy McAlpine’s Debut Album is a Great Folky Indie Pop Break-Up Album

Lizzy McAlpine’s Debut Album is a Great Folky Indie Pop Break-Up Album

Crafting an emotional break up album, Lizzy McAlpine’s debut Give Me a Minute is a satisfying sonic journey.

Break up albums are ubiquitous, seeming to transcend genres. Songwriting is, for many, an effective means to translate the complicated, often contradictory emotional turmoil that the end of a relationship can bring. There are many approaches to the break up album. Some artists keep the focus narrow and hone in on the split and the immediate, emotionally messy aftermath. Others choose to widen the scope, chronicling a longer process of pain and healing.

Lizzy McAlpine is a student at Berklee College of Music, majoring in songwriting. She spent time in Spain in 2019, and that’s when her break up and the writing of the subsequent album happened. She chose to follow her story from just before the break up to the beginning of her next relationship.

There’s a sense of isolation in the tracks on the album, and many capture the extensive inward looking that follows the end of a relationship. Accompanying her lyrics, McAlpine plays acoustic guitar, adding some folky texture to the indie pop sounds of percussion, strings, and piano that give the album a dynamic, ever changing sound.

The album opens with the track that lends its title to the album as a whole, “Give Me a Minute.” Those words open the song in McAlpine’s gentle, high voice with a lone guitar strumming. It’s a quiet start to the album that blossoms into a larger song with percussion, backing vocals, and more strings. The floaty instrumentation and singing provides a contrast for the lyrics that tell of the first thoughts of ending a relationship. It starts small, with the line “Maybe it’s time to forget you.”

The next track, “Nothing/Sad N Stuff,” shows us the cracks in the relationship. The fingerpicked guitar keeps the song moving with accompanying strings , but it’s a mournful one. The first half conveys the emotional mess, claiming nothing is wrong when everything is. This song introduces the continued utterances of “I love you” juxtaposed with “I’m sorry.” There are lots of contradictions, but sometimes that’s just how relationships end. The song shifts into strumming guitar and piano. The lyrics are more confident, and the song opens up. McAlpine’s voice shows a great emotional range, from quiet and confused to melancholy yet forceful. The excellent closing lines sum it up well: “He feels good to come home to/But not to stay.”

“Over-the-Ocean-Call (Andrew)” is a doozy. Opening with fingerpicking and a low pulsing bass line, McAlpine sings in a husky voice. The track is tense, and chronicles the breaking point itself. The chorus builds the intensity, up to the lines:

“And I thought that I wouldn’t cry

But breaking your heart breaks mine

I can’t hide it

An over-the-ocean call

Is how I told him

This isn’t working anymore.”

But the tension isn’t allowed to burst until the bridge with the lines “I’m fine, I’m fine, I’m fine,” that build to a brief musical burst with drums, throbbing bass, and echoed vocals, before returning to a quiet intensity. The track is understated, but there’s real emotional heft in McAlpine’s singing. The song illustrates a harrowing but quiet final break, robbing you of a big loud emotional finale for a fairly true to life anticlimax. It’s a powerful song that seems like it  ends with a strummed chord, but there’s a brief coda. A simple, quiet acoustic guitar riff reemerges with McAlpine’s breathy vocals. She captures a lovely little intimate moment, made more tragic coming after the final break up. It highlights the irony of a bad breakup, when all you want is the comfort that person can give you.

The next run of songs look back on the relationship that just ended, with some moments of regret and others of forceful perseverance. “I Knew” begins as a bright happy song about the little moments that show true love, with bright vocals, before shifting in the chorus to questioning why the relationship ended. Many of the songs capture the emotional contradictions of a break up, like the chorus of “Why did you have to go?”, which immediately follows the account of calling to break up. The track is a lovely example of a happy song with fairly dire lyrics.

“Where Do I Go?” begins and ends as a stripped down song that shows McAlpine’s folk influences, but adds a powerful, lush bridge. The vocals suddenly shift from distant and echoey to full and rich, and back to stripped down just as quickly. It’s an unexpected moment, but adds a great amount of texture to a quiet track. The lyrics are all about emotional confusion and feeling lost, and it all comes together into an unexpectedly powerful song.

The next track, “To The Mountains,” manages to balance a sudden move forward while still being haunted by looking back at the relationship. It continues the album’s pattern of starting out simple, with just guitar and vocals before layers of strings and further instrumentation drift in. Each mid-song swell manages to achieve a unique character–some open out in a wide crescendo like the last track, while this one is more subtle with plucked and bowed strings gently emerging before fading just as smoothly. McAlpine’s mountains are a place to be alone and relearn some independence. The thoughts of her ex are still there, (“Don’t try to reach me cause I don’t want to talk to you,”) but this marks a shift in the album. She’s looking to the future now too, not just the past.

The brief “You, Love (Interlude)” is a point of no return. It’s quiet, just McAlpine’s voice and light guitar strumming. It has an intimate sound, like the coda on “Over-the-Seas Call (Andrew),” but where that one was regretful for the end of the relationship, this one has a sense of finality.

“Means Something” has a great sliding guitar riff that alternates with McAlpine’s multilayered singing. The slight echo gives the song a great texture. The track has a melancholy sound, and the fingerpicking adds a franticness. The lyrics depict the confusion and overthinking that can be so hard to shake after a break up, when one is overanalyzing every little thing. For a solemn song it’s overall strangely catchy. Plus, the final line is a killer: “Do you think it means something/that I wrote another song about you?”

“Same Boat” has a great dramatic feel. It feels like the final appearance of the ex. There’s a sense of fragility, as if McAlpine has made up her mind for sure, but the doubt and confusion could reemerge at any moment. The line, “If you asked out of the blue/how I really truly feel about you/I don’t have a clue how that would go,” is a brilliant illustration of this. Accompanied mostly by piano, the song expands slowly but surely. The final chorus has an emotional intensity that McAlpine’s voice effortlessly conveys, sounding both vulnerable and self assured.

The next song played a sort of trick on me. The title is “Pancakes for Dinner,” but it starts out with quiet finger picking. I was ready for more quiet devastation, but McAlpine’s voice has a sort of subtle spark in it. The lyrics reference a “you,” and for the first time, it’s not the ex, but someone new. There’s a jittery feeling in the lyrics, full of things McAlpine wants to say to this person but is afraid to. The chorus is full of seemingly simple things that McAlpine wants to do, but she fills them with playful intimacies. Secrets that aren’t juicy, but capture that nervous energy of getting to know someone for the first time. McAlpine strings the words together into long, but smooth lines that give a happy, bubbly feeling. It’s a delightful song with the excellent line “Don’t wanna say something wrong/Don’t wanna be weird.”

Coming off the emotional high point, “How Do I Tell You?” is full of doubt. The lyrics relate all the doubts that run through McAlpine’s head as a new relationship begins. The ex haunts the song: “How do I tell you I got it from him?” The verses are guitar and vocals describing what sounds like a pretty nice person. There’s hope and uncertainty constantly vying for dominance. The chorus has a great build and an intensity with layered vocals that show McAlpine’s strength, and the song ends with some quiet singing and piano fading away for a quiet finale.

The penultimate track, “Apple Pie,” is a great love song. Sometimes you meet a wonderful person and things just can’t work, but sometimes you can find someone that makes wherever you are feel like home. “You feel like city life/apple pie baked just right,” is an unexpected juxtaposition, but it feels like such an honest description of someone. With guitar, piano, some light percussion, and sometimes layered vocals, the song reveals how love feels in simple, sometimes strange comparisons. I’m not sure how sound can be warm, but this song feels warm and loving.

The album closes with a song titled “Headstones and Land Mines.” The title sounds grim, but the song manages a subdued optimism. The references to a funeral evoke feelings of an ending, but the lyrics show that even at the end of things, scars and little reminders stick around. McAlpine’s voice is husky and intimate for the final song, and it allows the album to float off on a cloudy day. Things have been desperate, confused, unbearable, but also full of excitement and promise of happier days. It may not be a totally happy ending, but things are looking up.

With Give Me a Minute, Lizzy McAlpine has crafted a powerful debut album. She has a confident sound, and her music conveys a great range of emotions, from confused and melancholy to a bubbly carefreeness. It’s a great, folk tinged indie pop break up album.

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