With her 2018 debut album ‘Lush’ Snail Mail perfectly captured the feeling of having your heart being bashed to pieces and ceremoniously stamped on, as well as acknowledging the melodrama of believing that the hurt will last forever. On the immaculate ‘Pristine’, for instance, Lindsey Jordan vowed to never love anybody else again, declaring: “I’ll still see you in everything”. And, more than anything on ‘Lush’, Jordan seemed to understand the urge to cling onto raw grief and live within it forever.
It’s an understandable impulse: perhaps the strangest part of healing is the discovery that somebody who was once your everything will eventually become nothing more than a passing shrug. As Snail Mail puts it on her ‘Valentine’ track ‘Forever (Sailing)’: “Time tends to pass and make a joke of things.”
Paired with precise, spare and clean-sounding guitars, ‘Lush’s emotional astuteness also made it a pretty formidable record to improve upon. But instead of attempting to rehash the sound of her debut, Snail Mail’s follow-up ‘Valentine’ embraces a rich palette of warm synthesisers, longing orchestral hums and gravelling folk. Its centrepiece, the stand-out track ‘Forever (Sailing)’, utilises sampling with magical results by borrowing its swooning chorus melody, hissing percussion and title from the Swedish disco singer Madleen Kane. While Kane’s ‘You and I’ felt full with hope that love could prevail over the stormiest of seas, Jordan’s reworking weathers more uncertain waters.
While Jordan’s voice has often been the highlight of past Snail Mail releases, there’s a clear progression in the power and expression of her vocal here. It deftly shifts from the hushed folksy delivery of ‘c.et.al’ to the desperate plea which bursts out of ‘Valentine’s soft-focus beginnings (“so why you wanna erase me?” she cries). On the exceedingly personal and synth-laden ‘Ben Franklin’, which references the singer’s stay in a rehabilitation facility in its second verse, Jordan counters this vulnerability with a frayed growl: “Sucker for the pain, huh, honey?”
While previous Snail Mail releases embodied the perspective of teenage malaise and trudging around the suburbs with dreams of escaping them, ‘Valentine’ subtly touches upon the ways that Jordan’s life has shifted since her debut album changed her life. On ‘c.et.al’, accompanied by spare guitar, she captures the detached reality of life on the road. “Even with a job that keeps me moving,” she sings, “most days I just wanna lie down.”
On the title track Jordan’s narrator slips away behind closed doors with a hint of fear: “Let’s go be alone, where no one can see us, honey,” she warns. “Careful in that room, those parasitic cameras, don’t they stop to stare at you?” Album closer ‘Mia’ is one of the most beautifully sad devotions of eternal love that Snail Mail has ever written: combining her signature intensity with a softer kind of tenderness. “Isn’t it strange, the way it’s just over… Mia, don’t cry / I love you forever,” Jordan sings. “But I gotta grow up now.”
Expertly curated, every single song in ‘Valentine’s relatively restrained 10-song tracklist feels like a fully-realised gem. As a songwriter, Jordan continues to cut straight through to the messy, conflicted, hopelessly infatuated guts of life. It’s a rare skill to pull it off so flawlessly in a signature track or two – let alone across the space of two concise records.
Release date: November 5
Release label: Matador