Snail Mail - Valentine
Snail Mail's Lindsey Jordan was still a teenager when she broke onto the Billboard alternative and rock charts with her Matador Records-issued debut album, Lush, in 2018. Written in 2019 and 2020, the follow-up finds Jordan processing turmoil including her sudden fame and a breakup that permeates the album. It was partly written under unusual circumstances: Jordan spent 45 days of this period in a recovery facility, during which time musical instruments and equipment were strictly forbidden. She wrote nonetheless, working from memory and notations. When it came time to bring the songs to life, she headed to the North Carolina home studio of Brad Cook (Big Red Machine, Waxahatchee), where the two co-produced the resulting Valentine. Another intensely personal release, it features live bandmates Alex Bass (bass) and Ray Brown (drums) from her debut but adds components including synths, samples, and live strings for a conspicuous shift in sound. Greatly reduced are the often-mesmerizing, meandering guitar lines of Lush, replaced here with crisper, alt-rock power chords and shimmer, as evidenced on the opening title track. It begins with humming synths and a simmering, faux-sweet vocal: "Let's go be alone where no one can see us, honey/Careful in that room, those parasitic cameras, don't they stop to stare at you?" It soon becomes clear that the relationship is no more, as the song transforms from an '80s power ballad to an angry, '90s emo rocker ("So why'd you wanna erase me, darling valentine?"). Later on in the track list, "Glory" resurrects a churning grunge. In the meantime, however, "Ben Franklin" takes the form of a midtempo synth pop entry that exposes a later relationship as a poor substitute for her valentine ("Sometimes I hate her just for not being you/Post-rehab I've been feeling so small"), and "Forever (Sailing)" approaches an orchestrated pop unimaginable for 2018 Snail Mail. The more-melancholy, guitar-based songs, like the acceptance-themed acoustic ballad "Light Blue," "c. et al.," and the Lush-appropriate "Headlock," feel the most direct here and best complement Jordan's vulnerable, often-cracking, exasperated vocal delivery. Closing track "Mia" ("I love you forever/But I gotta grow up now") juxtaposes this stripped-back, guitar-centric authenticity and strings-swept, performative theatricality. Taken together, Valentine represents both a bold musical step and a signal that Jordan is ready to move on in more ways than one, at the same time that it leaves some of her distinctiveness behind.
C. Et Al.