Tina Tyrell/The New York Times

November 28, 2021

Snail Mail’s “Valentine” is an Intoxicating Ode to Heartbreak

Print More

Snail Mail’s 2018 album Lush is my most played album on Spotify, and ever since then, I partially dreaded the release of her sophomore album because I feared it couldn’t possibly live up to the gorgeously raw, melancholy indie-rock masterpiece of her debut. With Valentine, released on Nov 5, Snail Mail’s Lindsey Jordan gloriously proves me wrong.

On the jazzier track “Forever (Sailing)”, Jordan croons, “Doesn’t obsession just become me?” and with a tight tracklist of ten songs, Valentine expertly chronicles the highs and lows of an all-encompassing love affair. While she experiments with synths and a more indie-pop sound on tracks like “Ben Franklin” and “Forever (Sailing),” the album still retains the Snail Mail signatures of melodramatic and enticing chord progressions with a candid edge. It’s a triumphant and honest addition to her catalog, and after several listens, I found myself reveling in more of Jordan’s intimate guitar riffs and stirring vocals. 

Jordan is a master at tension and release in her songwriting; in the title track and lead single, a droning synth explodes into a flurry of guitars as Jordan accuses, “So why’d you wanna erase me?” She is still the same heartbroken lover as on Lush, but with a more sharpened perspective on love and yearning. The album introduces newer textures (Lush was essentially a three-piece band) and a new producer, Brad Cook, whose collaborators include Indigo de Souza, Bon Iver and Waxahatchee, but Jordan can still write a guitar riff like no one else in the game. On the heartbreaking track “Mia,” wistful strings are set against an inquisitive guitar line drenched in reverb. It’s a lovely melodic and thematic parallel to “Anytime,” a vastly overlooked track on Lush mourning the loss of a relationship. You can hear Jordan’s voice quiver as she musters, “Lost love, so strange / And heaven’s not real, babe, but I wish that I could lay down next to you.” “C.et.al” and “Light Blue” also have notably intimate and creative compositions, which truly embody the album’s feelings of reckless devotion.

Jordan’s bluntly honest lyricism is even more vulnerable on Valentine; in “Headlock” she ruminates, “Thought I’d see her when I died / Filled the bath up with warm water / nothing on the other side.” The track sweeps us into a rotating gyre, guitar ceaselessly looping as she describes lonely, lovesick nights and drunken thoughts of self-pity. It is heartbreaking, but also keenly self-aware; Jordan knows her musical caricature as always the lover and never the loved. 

Personally, I think that one of the elements which makes Jordan’s music feel so fresh and multisided after so many listens is her vocal performance — she prioritizes expressing emotion over sounding ”good” technically. In a recent interview with Pitchfork, Jordan notes that “I edit my lyrics over and over until I’m 100 percent sure that everything feels right. It’s perfectionism, in a pull-my-hair-out type of way. On this album, it was really important to me that certain lines hit in certain places in the song. All of the vocal deliveries are super intentional too. There are certain parts that when you sing them soft, it hurts more, or things that when you sing them with projection or a little more rasp, it’s emotional in a different way. It’s theatrical as hell.” 

This is especially relevant for one of my favorite tracks on the album, “Madonna”. The song is packed with rich religious iconography deifying her lover and is set against an exquisite guitar riff, breezy 808s and Jordan’s trademark whine. In a heavenly moment of catharsis, Jordan sings, “Divine intervention was too much work / I don’t need absolution, no, it just hurts.” Since Lush, her perspective on love has matured from pure romantic fantasy to realizing the flaws in her lovers, who she puts on a pedestal. She still retains a wonderfully cheeky tone in the song, as well as in “Automate”, with its endlessly quotable lines like “Dread life without you/but you in that green sweater / I could die if I had the guts”. 

In her updated Spotify bio, Snail Mail is described as an artist who has “chosen to take her time” in the midst of so much mediocre, indistinguishable indie music. I wholeheartedly agree. Valentine firmly solidifies Jordan’s place as a masterful songwriter and indie-rock icon. It’s a powerful work of art, and an ode to the sensitive and lovesick that should become a modern classic. 

Violet Gooding is a freshman in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at [email protected].