Snail Mail rouses blue, tear-stained authenticity on ‘Valentine’

Cover of Snail Mail's new album Valentine
Matador Records/Courtesy

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Grade: 4.0/5.0

Few artists have experienced the kind of immediate glowing critical acclaim as Lindsey Jordan, releasing music under the moniker Snail Mail. With only one full-length LP under her belt, Jordan has managed to mold the American indie rock sound around her whimsical sound and simplistic yet gutting lyricism. Jordan’s fans have waited three years for her highly anticipated sophomore album Valentine, which was released Nov. 5. Valentine is amped-up and stylized, but nonetheless heartbreakingly transparent.

The record opens with the title track, a deceptively buoyant heartbreaking anthem underpinned by brash guitar licks and discordant synthesizer. An earworm chorus solidifies the track as one of Jordan’s most memorable: “So why’d you wanna erase me, darling valentine?/ You’ll always know where to find me when you change your mind,” she laments.

Jordan expressed her desire for authenticity in an interview with NYLON, stating that “when you take a step back, it’s like all faking showing our real selves on the internet, to get people to feel close to us. It’s kind of manipulative.” For Jordan, part of embracing genuineness has been more explicitly about embracing her queer identity in her music. “Mia,” the album’s closer, is the breakup song to end all breakup songs — a devastating end to the tumultuous romance that is Valentine. The track stitches together Jordan’s fervent, raw vocals and intimate anecdotal lyrics to generate sublime transparency.

Many moments from Valentine inspire waterworks, while others kindle danceable euphoria. This duality is what makes Snail Mail one of the most spirited, high-octane players in the indie rock scene today. Lush was imbued with an abridged, kitschy aesthetic — down to the Amatic SC font on the album’s cover. Yet on Valentine, Jordan ditches this coarseness for glossy maximalism, both lyrically and musically.

Nowhere is this more evident than on “Ben Franklin,” a cathartic amalgamation of snappy bass lines and digitally twangy synth. Jordan postures as insouciant, singing “Got money, I don’t care about sex.” As listeners come to understand over the rest of the album’s duration, this flippancy could not be further from reality. The record is saturated with yearning — a characteristic that still shines through Jordan’s performances of spite toward her former partner.

“Madonna” is similarly vengeful, though perhaps amplified even more than earlier on the record. It’s Jordan at her most uncurbed, spitting out the kind of robust, rage-filled lyrics one might expect from a Phoebe Bridgers record. This fury is rendered poetic through the lens of Jordan’s artistry: “I consecrate my life to kneeling at your altar/ My second sin of seven being wanting more/ Could that have been the smell of roses, backseat lover?” she wails on the second verse.

The track’s overt religious motifs once again exemplify the deeply personal origins of Valentine. Jordan, who grew up Catholic, has stated that using religion as a jumping-off point for the track felt “exacting and genuine.” Jordan is far from the first queer indie artist to source lyrical inspiration from religious childhoods — Lucy Dacus did it earlier this year on her transcendent LP, Home Video. The childhood inspirations of “Madonna” recall glimpses of Lush, which dealt significantly with late adolescent disaffection. Valentine, while undeniably a more grown-up project from Jordan, still retains some youthful allure.

Reveling in subdued transcendence on “C. et al.,” in which Jordan delves into some of the LP’s most relatable material, especially in the context of the modern pandemic era. It’s also the most reminiscent point on the record, with Jordan seemingly having resigned herself to the end of a relationship. “Least we ended things nice/ Summer’s gotta end sometimes/ Oh, Mia.” Jordan is undoubtedly burdened by the sheer emotional weight that comes with both breakups and growing up, but she manages to construct something beautiful from the dregs.

Jordan is ebullient on Valentine. Even in the album’s very few banal moments, it glimmers with delicacy and longing — it’s evident that heartbreak has morphed her into one of the most compelling lyricists of a generation.

Contact Emma Murphree at [email protected].