Lindsey Jordan grew up in Baltimore also home to Beach House and Wye Oak, while at one point her guitar teacher was Helium’s Mary Timony. Seeing Paramore at the age of 8 made Jordan question her previously held assumption that only men could form bands. Jordan formed the band Snail Mail, but as the sole songwriter and with her face alone on the album covers it’s essentially a solo vehicle. She started her career early, recording the EP Habit at the age of 16. She signed with Matador while still at high school, and released her debut album Lush at 18.
Snail Mail’s indie rock is slow-paced and emotive, recalling forebears like the offbeat 1990s rock of Liz Phair and the confessions of Paul Westerberg’s 1980s records with The Replacements. Playing since the age of 5, Jordan is a creative guitarist and her unexpected guitar parts help to make her records sound fresh. While 2018’s Lush largely stuck to guitar-based indie rock, 2021’s impressive Valentine was much more expansive.
Snail Mail Album Reviews
Lindsey Jordan wrote her debut album when she was only 17. Recorded with her eponymous band, it’s both musically and lyrically straightforward. Jordan told Rob Hakimian; “I like to think of it as sonically Lush, it’s fully immersive and you’re drowning yourself in the emotions of it.”
It’s a very mature album for an 18-year-old to make, but Lush isn’t as tuneful as her follow-up work, and it’s mostly notable for its poised dissection of youth. The standout is the 3/4 rocker ‘Stick’, a song that Jordan revisited from the 2016 EP Habit; it’s presented in a full band arrangement here. ‘Deep Sea’ features a French Horn solo, a welcome change of texture, while single ‘Heat Wave’ stands out as more energetic than most of the material.
Lush is very strong for an 18-year-old, but Jordan’s music would become more interesting.
It’s difficult to believe that Lindsey Jordan is only 22 – she’s just delivered an enviable sophomore album that retains the strengths of her debut while expanding her sound. Valentine adds sonic candy like strings and synths – adding depth while not taking away her grit and authenticity.
Jordan tried unsuccessfully to write a sequel to 2018’s Lush while touring. When touring ceased due to COVID, she returned to her parents’ house in Baltimore and wrote much of Valentine. Her disaffected eloquence recalls The Replacements’ Paul Westerberg – both were raised Catholic, and both use the word “absolution” in a song.
Promisingly, the further Jordan strays from her core sound, the more striking the results are. There’s a bait and switch on the opening title track, with a poppy sound before the guitars kick in. ‘Ben Franklin’ was written during a stay in rehab and pits a glossy beat and sinuous bass line against tough guitars and a gritty vocal. Even more of a departure is the sophisti-pop of ‘Forever (Sailing)’, with its strings, while there’s a lovely middle eight on ‘Madonna’. Despite some genre-hopping, Valentine still forms a coherent whole and songs like ‘C. Et Al.’ are raw and heartfelt.
I’ve covered a lot of very good female American indie this year – there have been strong records from Flock of Dimes, Japanese Breakfast, and Lucy Dacus. But Valentine is the cream of the crop, an astoundingly accomplished album from a 22-year-old songwriter.
Best Snail Mail Songs
C. Et Al
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Aphoristic Album Reviews is almost entirely written by one person.
Graham Fyfe is probably the only music blogger to appreciate both Neil Diamond and Ariana Grande. Based in Fleet Street (New Zealand), he's been writing this blog since around 2000. Aphoristic Album Reviews features reviews and blog posts across a growing spectrum of popular music.
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