Snail Mail Powerfully Pieces Herself Back Together on Valentine

Following a beloved debut, a breakup and treatment, Lindsey Jordan makes sense of the aftermath

Music Reviews snail mail
Snail Mail Powerfully Pieces Herself Back Together on Valentine

Lindsey Jordan was only 18 in 2018 when her indie-blockbuster of a debut splashed an icy bucket of water in our tired faces. Lush would’ve been a stellar first chapter for any artist, but it was especially impressive considering Jordan’s age. She seemingly captured a lifetime’s worth of heartbreak and longing in Lush’s blistering 38 minutes, plus all the many flavors of the “genre” we call indie rock, to the delight of her peers and stodgy rock fans alike. And as with any artist who busts out of the woodwork with a shockingly great debut album, both Jordan and her listeners have known for almost four years that Lush would be a tough act to follow. The long-awaited follow-up, Valentine, is finally here, and it entirely delivers on Lush’s promise that Jordan isn’t just a teenage wonder—she’s an innovator who’s here to stay.

Of course, the original novelty of Lush is gone, as it should be. In its place is an artist who has taken her time to find her groove, even if that meant crashing and burning along the way. Valentine first took shape while Jordan was receiving treatment in Arizona, following what Waxahatchee’s Katie Crutchfield called “issues stemming from a young life colliding with sudden fame and success” in the bio accompanying Valentine’s press kit. Isolated from both her new normal in the spotlight and her instruments, Jordan started piecing together Valentine via pen and paper.

The end product, which was finalized earlier this year in North Carolina with Durham-based producing heavyweight Brad Cook, doesn’t explicitly list the “issues” Jordan was facing—rather, it attacks the universal misery we encounter when forging and dissolving relationships, again with the instincts and acumen of an artist many years Jordan’s senior. But it’s not like she was trying to wise up. She was just making sense of a startlingly bad breakup, a jumpstart to her music career and a stint in rehab, much of which occurred before she had even sipped her first legal beer.

“Referring to the process as the deepest level of catharsis and therapy I have ever experienced would be a huge understatement,” Jordan said of making the album.

That healing comes packaged in a blend of blistering rock and pensive singer/songwriter product that isn’t too far off from what we first heard of Jordan on Lush and even her Habit EP from 2016. The main difference on Valentine is Jordan’s newfound vocal confidence: She has perfected her singing voice to match her musical maturity, making Valentine more like Lush’s cool, assured older sister than simply a sequel.

The top-heavy tracklist is among Valentine’s only flaws. The triumphant title/opening track and excellent “Ben Franklin” are probably the most inventive songs on the album, so much so that everything else feels a bit like an afterthought. The latter has nothing to do with the bespectacled Founding Father, but the fuzzy, synth-powered song positions Jordan as a frantic moth drawn to the flame of the love she just can’t quit. She also quietly likens her time in treatment to the breakup at issue, singing, “Post rehab I’ve been feeling so small / I miss your attention / I wish I could call.”

Undoubtedly one of the best songs of the year, the aforementioned “Valentine,” also the album’s lead single, finds Jordan beyond frustration while yearning for the ex who dumped her, or maybe just someone out of reach. The song’s grand scale works because it’s so easy to believe Jordan is as desperate as she sounds. Breakups aren’t just sad—they’re rage-inducing. “So why’d you wanna erase me?” she hollers through the tears, before adding, “You won’t believe what just two months do / I’m older now, believe me / I adore you.”

Another high point, “Glory,” chronicles the same addictive love Jordan describes throughout Valentine, this time attacking her ex’s ego: “Jesus died just to save you,” she deadpans. The stakes are high in “Glory” and in every song on the album, like Jordan might actually die without this person. Maybe she just has a flair for the dramatic, but the better interpretation of her all-or-nothing attitude might be simply that love is dramatic. Love is painful, particularly the obsessive kind one might encounter in one’s early 20s—a turbulent period of life if there ever was one.

“Headlock” may be sonically unassuming, but lines like “Drag me with you to nirvana baby, take me all the way” feel designed to be screamed in unison at a packed-out Snail Mail show. It’s again proof that Jordan’s range is wider, her voice fiercer, her guitar-playing more urgent. Take also “Forever (Sailing),” an aching post-breakup song that catches one’s ears with spiky guitar, but fully hooks one in with psychedelic synths and Jordan’s ironically calm vocal delivery of apocalyptic lines like “So much destruction / Look at what we did.” “Automate” leans even more on sludgy, psychedelic guitar stylings as Jordan sings about her struggles to adjust to being single again post-relationship (she “tried life without you,” but one memory of “you in that green sweater” swallows her right back up).

Twisting alongside these glassy rock songs shining with Jordan’s now-signature ‘90s-inflected guitar style are a few terrific folk tunes, like the windswept “Light Blue,” a delicate love song not unlike “Let’s Find An Out” from its predecessor record that contains lovelorn couplets like “I wanna wake up early everyday / Just to be awake in the same world as you.” Another, “c. et al.” politely sways with the acoustic ease of something like a Jack Johnson song, but Jordan’s strained voice is a reminder that nothing about it is relaxed enough for a coffee shop mix. “Can’t make sense of the faces in and out of my life,” Jordan moans.

Another single, “Madonna” is laced with religious imagery. Studded with sizzling guitar, the song’s chorus has the effect of a roaring pop song as Jordan promises to “atone” and “consecrate my life to kneeling at your altar.” After walking alongside her demons for 30 minutes, Jordan closes the album on an appropriate note with a farewell ballad. Not only is she parting ways with “Mia,” presumably the almighty Valentine she’s addressing for the bulk of the record, but she’s also closing the door on a fraught few years. “I love you forever,” she sings over a fluttering string section. “But I gotta grow up now.”

Some of Valentine’s more melodramatic verses might have sounded overdone if sung by someone else, but here Jordan has wielded even the most theatrical of emotions to her advantage. She hacks away at the extra fluff and molds every song to feel as cathartic as an enlightening sob session with your therapist. We’re left with 10 raw, rock-solid tracks that feel just as restorative for us as they clearly do for Jordan. Valentine is proof that a breakup album doesn’t have to be sad—it just has to be powerful.

Ellen Johnson is a former Paste music editor and forever pop culture enthusiast. Presently, she’s a copy editor, freelance writer and aspiring marathoner. You can find her tweeting about all the things on Twitter @ellen_a_johnson and re-watching Little Women on Letterboxd.

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