Snail Mail knows that young love is a risk. On ‘Valentine’, she dives anyway: NPR
Tina Tyrell / Courtesy of the artist
When 18-year-old Lindsey Jordan released her debut album under the name Snail Mail, she was deemed “wise beyond her years” to nausea. With this record – 2018 Luxuriant – the slacker-rock prodigy accomplished more in his freshman year of high school than many musicians imagine to accomplish in their lifetimes. As his friends settled into their early years of college, Jordan racked up accolades from numerous publications, a coveted signing to Matador Records and the title “the future of India rock. âShe’s been around the world and rubbed shoulders with her heroes. Where the hell was she supposed to go from there?
Understandably, Jordan found that being named Next Big Thing before she could even legally order a beer was a heavy burden to bear. Citing the stress of embarking on her music career when she was so young (Snail Mail’s first material dates back to when she was 15), the 22-year-old spent a month and a half in a rehab center late last year, where she didn’t have a phone or proper recording equipment. When she emerged she finally felt ready to assemble Lushthe ambitious follow-up of, Valentine. While her predecessor approached love with a wide-eyed sense of innocence (âYou don’t love me for me?â She pleaded âPristineâ), Valentine, which Jordan wrote on her own in her childhood bedroom in 2019 and 2020, is a collection of shocking franchise reflections on romance that often highlight the ugly sides of a partnership gone bad. Yes Lush documented the euphoria of first love, then Valentine is a bitter snapshot of the startling moments when you realize that even the most promising relationships aren’t guaranteed to last forever.
Wearing her heart on her sleeve isn’t new to Jordan, but she’s probably been through a lot of emotional turmoil since. Lush, and she’s not afraid to face the trials she faces with brutal transparency. On the sweet “C. et. Al.” She lays out the pressures of being indie rock royalty: “Even with a job that gets me moving / Most of the time I just want to lie down.” She directly references the aforementioned processing program in the “Ben Franklin” synth groove: “Post-rehab, I feel so small / I miss your attention, I wish I could call.” She’s also a self-proclaimed perfectionist, which as a songwriter means every word is sung with an abundance of intentionality: “You’ll always know where to find me when you change your mind,” -she on “Valentine”. His choice to say “when” rather than “if” is deliberate, and all the more excruciating. It is these subtleties that distinguish and amplify Jordan’s songwriting.
While Jordan has undergone a personal evolution, his sound has undergone a similar transformation. she recorded Valentine in Durham, NC with producer Brad Cook, whose resume includes the most recent albums from Waxahatchee and Bon Iver – artists who, like Snail Mail, have leaned on their rambling beginnings and opted for a more wide in their latest records. While Lush embraced the no-frills indie rock of his Matador predecessors like Pavement and early Liz Phair (unsurprisingly, Jordan played in a Liz Phair cover band in high school), Valentine sees Jordan embrace a wider range of influences to his advantage. She channels Garbage’s punchy pop-rock on “Ben Franklin”, the mellow R&B of Nelly Furtado’s debut on “Forever (Sailing)” and the distorted breath of Drop Nineteens on “Glory”. On the title track, it oscillates harmoniously between lethargic, synthetic verses and a chorus the size of an arena. The guiding line between all of these modes is Jordan’s attention to detail, allowing even the most seemingly awkward songs to feel authentically Snail Mail.
But what has changed the most between Lush and Valentine is Jordan’s voice, which went from a childish drawl to fuller with a wider range. On the spare acoustic ballad “Light Blue”, she confidently wears a falsetto as light as a feather: “Nothing’s going to stop me now,” she repeats, her voice slipping with impeccable control. Meanwhile, on âValentine,â she assumes a raw, heart-wrenching belt that blazes with betrayal and extreme desire.
As her star grows, Jordan knows that her eyes are constantly on her and that the armor of being a teenager – the freedom to present oneself in an immature way – has been given up. Jordan has discussed remorse for exposing too much of herself emotionally over the past two years. She is too noted that in this iteration of Snail Mail, she actively avoids appearing “messy” in the public eye in her life. From the first seconds of Valentine, Jordan makes it clear that she craves some semblance of privacy: “Let’s go alone,” she whispers in the opening lines of the album. Lush was praised for its frankness when it was released, but on Valentine, Jordan seeks a little more balance: wanting to stay true to herself as someone who admits “feel things really hard” while acknowledging that his openness in his music – and the resulting reception, often overwhelmingly positive – has led to further pressures.
Juggling the desire for integrity and the assumption that your words will be scrutinized like a petri dish of your own agony is an almost impossible task in the age of celebrity gossip Instagram accounts. Despite this challenge, however, Valentine sees Jordan re-engage in the burning specificity of his music. Carrying your heart is as much a responsibility for an artist as it is for a lover; the fact that Jordan does both in Valentine is a statement of his dedication to sincerity. All along Valentine, she skips metaphors in favor of animal names and specific anecdotes: she alludes to seeing her own death on “Headlock”, disgruntled attitudes towards sex on “Ben Franklin” and excessive consumption of alcohol to make your way through a party on “Automate”. Her choice to be outspoken now is riskier than it was when she was a teenager writing Lush, before she was sure someone would never hear her. But with these songs, she suggests that for her, the potential reward is much more monumental.