A Valentine from Snail Mail: An Album Review

Andy Mockbee

Contributing Writer

 

In the music video for lead single and title track, “Valentine,” Snail Mail’s Lindsey Jordan is seen adorning a Victorian-era gown soaked in blood, slouching at a dining table as she gorges on cake by the fistful. “Time tends to pass and make a joke of things,” she reasons on “Forever (Sailing).” The 22-year-old singer has the maturity and wisdom to recognize when it’s appropriate to indulge your aching heart. And on “Valentine”—her sublime, sophomore album—Jordan has every right to indulge. By the end of its 32-minute runtime, crying into cake feels like a necessary response. Expanding the stylistic palette from her indie-rock, 2018 debut, Lindsey Jordan triumphs over her pain by embracing it with grace and maturity.

The most notable development since “Lush” is Jordan’s expansion beyond the jangly indie-rock that she had become known for. Many tracks, like the earworm “Ben Franklin,” fashion her melodies into glittering and funk-driven pop. Album centerpiece, “Forever (Sailing),” sees Snail Mail presented in mournful dream-pop. “Doesn’t obsession just become me?” Even equipped with a new bag of tricks, Jordan’s knack for confessional one-liners is sharp as ever. Her writing is especially potent when delivered over the intimate, acoustic ballads “Headlock,” “Light Blue” and “c. et al.” Her emotive vocals never cease to tighten chests.

Even when Snail Mail returns to the stylings present on “Lush”, such as on the immaculate “Glory,” Jordan shows her growth since that era. “You own me,” she growls over a rush of indie-rock instrumentals. Violin and sparse piano lurch beneath the mix, serving to complicate the song’s ever-present rage. It’s masterful. The only crime here is that it’s the shortest track on the album.

But there’s more than just stylistic changes to Snail Mail’s writing since her debut. “Valentine” sees Jordan stretching her pen into more abstract territories. “Madonna” considers the perils of idolizing the person you love from an evocatively metaphorical lens. “I consecrate my life to kneeling at your altar / My second sin of seven being wanting more.” Only the slightest hint of irony can be detected in her voice as she croons, “Could that have been the smell of roses, backseat lover?” Snail Mail’s trademark directness becomes the song’s Trojan Horse: “I don’t know why but / We’re not really talking now.”

The penultimate track, “Automate,” is also the album’s greatest. Jordan’s tried-and-true indie-rock stylings are adorned with walls of distortion, rich strings, haunting piano and wailing percussion. The Brooklyn singer delivers one of her most complex vocal performances—beautifully lilting and sour—contemplating the failings of passion-fueled love. The scene begins as a bittersweet memory: slow-dancing in her bedroom after a party dissipates. But, much like the party, Jordan realizes that their love is unsustainable. “I guess I couldn’t keep her fire out,” she softly remarks before snarling “I’m like your dog!” Snail Mail perfectly encapsulates the complex emotions of the ending to something never built to last. “Childishly, I’m lonely when it’s time to clear out the party.”

Like any great tragedy, Lindsey Jordan saves the most heart-breaking moment for the end. Singing over a mourning, orchestral swell, closing track “Mia” finds Jordan expressing her grief in its most potent colors. “Mia, don’t cry / I love you forever / But I gotta grow up now.” It’s gutting.

Jordan will pick herself back up—she always does. But on “Valentine,” she’s giving herself the opportunity to feel every ounce of today’s pain. As the album fades out, Jordan delivers her current desires in their most unguarded state: “I wish that I / Could lay down next to you.” Our hearts ache with hers.