Sunday, November 7, 2021

Review: Valentine • Snail Mail

There’s something in the way that Snail Mail’s Lindsey Jordan delivers lo-fi rock music that seems off-kilter. She comes into her melodies just below pitch, smacking an arbitrary note then sliding down a stanza. The pieces never really congealed on Lush, a debut record that backlit an imperfect vocalist with thin, concise guitar work. It sounded like a teenage garage band project, because without a record label’s backing, it would have been just that. Thinking Lush carried itself with as much appeal as a coffee shop’s open mic night, I feared Snail Mail just wasn’t for me. But then came Valentine, Snail Mail's sophomore record.

Valentine torches a path that its predecessor failed to forge: Its use of guitars and keys are crunchier and more interactive, and its tight melodies sizzle before they burn. Jordan is a full-grown rocker now, having toured a record, gone through a bad relationship or two, and spent time in rehab – and she sounds like it. “You wanna leave a stain like a relapse does when you really tried. And damn, this time, I really tried,” she bleeds down “Ben Franklin,” the album’s red-hot highlight. “Madonna” stings, too: “Body and blood, lover's curse. Divine intervention was too much work. I don't need absolution, no, it just hurts. We're not really talking now.” With interesting choices in instrumental texture and uncomfortable melody to complement Jordan’s exacerbation, the two songs – plus the absolute thrasher of a title track – reintroduced Snail Mail as an instantly brilliant songwriter.

While early morning hymnal “Light Blue” suspends love in midair, most of Valentine becomes a pensive tale of defeat and disenchantment, caught in the throes of a sloppy, codependent relationship. “Who was I to ever want like this? You got so mean. Pouring out the Jack and consequence when you’re with me,” she admits on “Automate,” a linchpin to understanding the record’s catalyst. Every line reads poetic but with purpose, as Jordan commits to her feelings without reservations: Not many people could sound so confident in declaring, “I’m like your dog,” or “You owe me. You own me,” to an ex-partner. The record’s buzzier rock influences feel more actualized than her last record, managing to dissolve the barrier between the burning fires of obsession and the persistent nag of envy. “Forever (Sailing)” may pick up a wavy little disco lick in its pursuit to knock an ex from Jordan’s head, but as the rest of the record proves in a robust display of arms, there’s no chance of forgetting that soured valentine.

Valentine is available now under Matador Records.

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