Band: Snail Mail
Label: Matador / Remote Control
Release: November 5th, 2021
Equally as glittery as it was melancholic, Lush – the aptly titled debut from Maryland indie stalwart Snail Mail (aka Lindsey Jordan) – had a notable ‘lightning in a bottle’-esque quality. It wowed with meticulous production and conscientious songwriting, but it also shone for its blithesome looseness and brazen confidence, Jordan committing herself wholly both as a classically trained musician with an ear for technicality and a dorky queer teen living in the peak of meme culture.
Three years on, Jordan doesn’t try to recreate that magic. It would seem she isn’t so keen, either, to reinvent herself – she knows she has a niche, and she’s happy to lean into it – but there’s a clear determination to evolve and experiment. Where warm, fuzzed-out Jaguar chords laid the groundwork on Lush, they’re just one small chunk of a much broader, more vibrantly vegetated soundscape on Valentine. We open with the title track, filmy and ethereal synths flooding the mix as Jordan’s cool, honeyed rasp dances over them – until about a minute in, when she and her band erupt into a bold and emphatic chorus.
There’s a fierce, St. Vincent-channelling swagger on “Ben Franklin”, and a dip down into the doughier, more pensive indie flair of Jordan’s early work on “Headlock”. In succession, these three tracks paint an orphic and arresting picture of the album as a whole: rich, soul-baring songwriting twined around poignant and pictorial – and above all, interesting – melodies.
But as the album continues to unwind, so too does it continue to surprise – whether it be via the folky acoustic fingerstyle and warm violin on ‘Light Blue’, heady tinges of blustery ‘90s pop on ‘Forever (Sailing)’, or subtle, smoky prongs of bass guitar on ‘Madonna’, tastefully accented by eerie stringwork and a warbling synth. Even the most zealous fans are bound to blindsided by something unpredictable – yet entirely welcomed – as not a second of Valentine feels like it was penned without the utmost care and consideration.
Jordan’s use of space is especially admirable. A track can have two guitars, a kinetic beat, strings and synths in abundance and her own dryly sung, kaleidoscopic quips, yet never feel cluttered. In fact, the record often sounds distinctly lowkey, Jordan maintaining a prudent tact throughout despite such a dense array of colours and tones at her disposal.
This, too, is reflected boldly in her lyricisms – sharp and stormy, but delivered in such a way that makes Jordan come off as down-to-earth and reticent. She never teeters on vaudeville, but the dramatisation of her inner turmoil is always gripping and grandiose. She drums up a wealth of emotion, potent and impassioned, and makes it all look effortless in the process.
So, on Valentine, Jordan doesn’t look to recreate the magic she made with Lush; instead, she makes a whole new kind of magic – one that is endlessly more… Uh… Magical.
Please note: this review is also printed in #145 of Australian Guitar Magazine, syndicated here because AG’s album reviews are no longer published online.
Valentine is set for release on November 5th, 2021 via Matador / Remote Control. Click here to pre-order.