ALBUM REVIEW: Valentine by Snail Mail

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WRITTEN BY: Will Kirkpatrick

Sitting on a Victorian-style couch surrounded by ornate decorations, Lindsey Jordan waits for the droves of fans to file into Repo Records to meet her and get their record signed. I say hello, introduce myself, and hand her my copies of Habit and Lush. Making small talk, I mention how one of her friends went to high school with me and ask if she remembers a set of ginger triplets from her high school. She laughs and says, “yeah, I do.” She hands me back my now most prized possessions and I ask, “What is one thing you want people to know about the album.”

“Listen to it in order.”

Snail Mail makes her triumphant return with Valentine, a gloomy journey through the mind of Lindsey Jordan over the past three years since her first album, Lush. Released on November 5, 2021, Valentine sees a more mature version of Jordan. The sound departs from the jangly, riff-heavy indie-rock she is known for and shifts towards poppier production. The more fleshed-out sound works very well for the Snail Mail format. The strings, pianos, synths, and use of backup singers push the music beyond Jordan’s humble indie-rock roots.

But the old Snail Mail is not gone; we still hear her trademark sounds all through this record. On the chorus of the track “Valentine,” Jordan slams down dissonant, overdriven chords, similar to what is heard on “Heat Wave.” On the track “Head Lock,” the cadence of the chords and tone of the guitar are reminiscent of her sound on her debut EP, Habit. Ray Brown is tight on the drums and pulls the whole Snail Mail sound together. The bassist, Alex Bass, is awesome throughout, but especially on “Ben Franklin, laying down a beefy overdriven bassline that gets your head nodding.

We see Jordan’s classical guitar roots shine through on songs like “Light Blue,” “c. et. Al.,” and “Mia,” whose fingerpicked guitar arrangements are reminiscent of “Let’s Find an Out” on Lush. In an interview with Pitchfork, Jordan mentions that during her time in rehab last fall she was able to acquire “a pretty bad acoustic guitar that was initially covered in dust and had two strings.” On these more guitar-focused tracks, imagery of her sitting alone in her room playing guitar comes to mind, making these tracks feel much heavier and filled with emotion.

Another welcome change on this record is Jordan’s voice. After two years of touring after the release of Lush, her voice was shot and her live performances were suffering. But on Valentine, the vocal melodies are lower and seem to be much more comfortable for her to sing.

“Valentine” starts off the album strong. The verses are timid but the chorus kicks it into high gear as Jordan belts out, “So why’d you wanna erase me, darling Valentine.” Here lies the thesis of the record; her former partner has moved on and is casting Jordan aside, pretending that they never happened.

“Headlock” is the first non-single, and is somewhat of a return to form. It’s filled with dark and morbid lines that are well-crafted and beautiful: “Thought I’d see her when I died. Filled the bath up with warm water—nothing on the other side.” “Man enough to see this through, or is it one more thing I won’t get to? Can’t go out, I’m tethered to another world where we’re together.”

“Forever (Sailing)” has an odd late-90’s pop sound that Jordan pulls off successfully. You can imagine the Backstreet Boys doing a cute little dance while singing it. Overall, it’s a great track that shows Snail Mail can break out of the Pitchfork-darling mold many have put her into.

“c. et al.” is a solid song. The guitar work is beautiful and the lyrics are reflective of her life on the road after Lush was released. She sings, “Most days I just wanna lie down—sleep it away ’til it’s nothin’.” Jordan seems to hint at trying to put herself back on the dating scene after breaking up with Mia (who is named for the first time). Like she did on the track, “Heat Wave,” Jordan uses colors to personify her romantic interest, singing, “Baby blue, I’m so behind.”

 “Automate” is waltz-like with its ¾ time signature, her lyrical reference to dancing pushing this feeling even further. The song is a hard-hitter and the contrast in energy on the verse and chorus is great. Jordan knows how to take the listener to the top of the mountain and slam them back down to rock bottom. Trying to move on from Mia, Jordan sings, “And I’ll never find a love like this,” and, “Blank lips, dark room, I pretend it’s you.” But she feels guilty, admitting, “And it’s thirteen days after, but it still feels like I’m cheating.” Jordan is hitting a wall, and anyone who has been in her situation can relate to this. The attachments of former lovers are strong and at times moving on can feel like betrayal.

Valentine is covered with amazing lyrical work, but at times can feel a bit repetitive when you listen with a close ear. The songs show different situations and feelings from a breakup, but they ultimately come back to the same few ideas. As a whole, Valentine doesn’t come off as repetitive, however. Each song has its unique features that prevent the record from feeling like a rehashing of ideas.

Overall, this record is a treat to listen to and gets better with time. Lindsey Jordan makes you feel like your heart was just ripped out of your chest, but she still can play a few high-energy bangers that you can cry and dance to at the same time.

 Track list:

  1. Valentine
  2. Ben Franklin
  3. Headlock
  4. Light Blue
  5. Forever (Sailing)
  6. Madonna
  7. c. et al.
  8. Glory
  9. Automate
  10. Mia

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