Snail Mail holds back just the right amount on Valentine
Two years and some months ago, I wrote my first Buzzsaw article: a review of Snail Mail’s debut album Lush. I had, like many others, initially never heard of the band. But I instantly fell in love with the honesty that came through so clearly on the album. Singer Lindsey Jordan could sound angry, sad, confident and unsure all at the same time, a perfect encapsulation of being a young adult.
In Lush, it felt like the main character was just beginning to learn that love is complicated, which makes sense considering Jordan was only 20 years old at the time. On Valentine, Jordan is once again asking what feels like all the right questions about love and life, even if they’re painful.
Between albums, Jordan spent a brief period in rehab, something she still struggles to talk about in interviews. But what she struggles to explain in interview questions, she seems to easily express in her music. Lyrics give us glimpses into her experiences these past few years, admitting: “Post-rehab, I’ve been feeling so small/I miss your attention, I wish I could call” on the single “Ben Franklin.”
Jordan isn’t afraid to confront the challenges of complicated love on the album. In “Madonna,” Jordan compares putting her love on a pedestal to religious devotion, confessing: “I consecrate my life to kneeling at your altar, my second sin of seven being wanting more.” “Glory” seems to be written with the same person in mind, but the lyrics are much more raw, repeatedly declaring: “you owe me, you own me.”
“Automate,” places us inside a night of binge-drinking and losing control after coming to realizations about her love. The painfully raw track leads right into the album’s closing song, “Mia,” focused on mourning the recent end of a relationship. Jordan opens the song quietly questioning “Isn’t it strange, the way it’s just over?” Jordan no longer sings of simple crushes; there are times where even love can’t keep a relationship healthy. While her lyrics seem so open, it’s clear from interviews that Jordan is very careful about what she reveals in her music. Her choices are deliberate and calculated, elevating her songwriting to another level.
Like any good sophomore album, Valentine expands on what Lush brought to the table. Valentine is true to Snail Mail’s musical roots: it’s lyrically honest and driven by passionate vocals and grungy guitars, as showcased in the title track. The introduction of strings, new vocal harmonies and synths lend themselves to a poppier sound, which feels like a surprisingly natural next step for the band. For example, “Headlock” has a beautiful melody with soft vocals, but instead of being accompanied solely by zingy rock guitars, Jordan’s voice flows seamlessly along with piano and synths.
While the three piece band is still its musical core, the album contains more strings, keys and synths than ever before. The poppier songs featuring more strings and synths, like “Ben Franklin” and “Forever (Sailing),” showcase Jordan’s penchant for writing intoxicating melodies. Snail Mail have struck a perfect balance in their current sound.
For fans of the band, the changes are obvious and triumphant. With production by Brad Cook (Indigo de Souza, Waxahatchee, Bon Iver), Snail Mail has seamlessly shifted what the world has come to expect of their music, pushing aside expectations put in place by a quick rise to fame. Not only has Jordan’s voice taken on a more crackly, near-tears sound on Valentine, but the changes in instrumentation add even more depth to her honesty. Lindsey Jordan won’t let despair and deteriorating love put out her flame, or destroy her confidence. She uses them to ignite it.
Brennan Carney is a fourth-year journalism major who dreams of owning Lindsey Jordan’s red Fender Jaguar guitar. They can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Art by Art Editor Adam Dee.