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Review: Snail Mail - Valentine

Lindsey Jordan’s expertly crafted sophomore album is an arrestingly honest exploration of love and heartbreak under the spotlight.

By Juliet Barshan, First Year Spanish and Politics

Lindsey Jordan’s expertly crafted sophomore album is an arrestingly honest exploration of love and heartbreak under the spotlight.

Lindsey Jordan has grown up. The cooler older sister to her debut album’s ingenuous teenage romantic, Valentine sees the Baltimore singer explore heartbreak with a maturity and candour that her 18-year-old self was yet to develop. With the same cathartic honesty that made 2018’s Lush so powerful, Jordan wears the heart shattered by her titular valentine on her sleeve, taking listeners on a piercing exploration of what it means to be poisoned by Cupid’s arrow.

"I’ll never love anyone else", Jordan lamented on Lush’s first track ‘Pristine’, wrapped up in the teenage rite of passage of unrequited infatuation and the genuine conviction that your first love will last forever. Where her first album was a dreamy, guitar-driven ode to the naivety of youth, Valentine rips back the curtain and delivers a raw depiction of relationships gone awry.

It's clear that Jordan doesn’t want to be exclusively boxed into the sad-girl-of-the-indie-rock-persuasion persona that made her name, showcasing more experimental tracks and a bolder voice than her debut. "Why’d you wanna erase me?" she belts on titular track ‘Valentine’, the synth-driven verses building up to a deliciously punchy rock chorus. There’s the sexy and indignant ‘Madonna’, dripping with religious imagery and laced with venom as Jordan takes off her rose-tinted glasses and deconstructs her exaltation of a lover.  "You owe me / You own me,” she resentfully confesses on ‘Glory’, a tantalisingly angry rock track sonically inspired by Nirvana’s MTV Unplugged rendition of ‘Something in the Way’. This is incontestably a heartbreak album, but Jordan doesn’t spend all ten tracks wallowing.

That being said, it wouldn’t be a Snail Mail record without a healthy dose of melancholy. On delicate, bittersweet closing track ‘Mia’, Jordan doesn’t want to admit that the hazy, dreamy summers she sung of in Lush will eventually yield to winter frost. “I can’t keep holding onto you anymore”, she murmurs, but it’s as though she’s still trying to convince herself. Jordan is older, more jaded, yet nostalgia is still her Achilles heel. “Got money, don’t care about sex,” she sneers on ‘Ben Franklin’, an attempt to vaunt her rising star over the regrets of the past, but she can’t keep her characteristic honesty from prevailing over her bravado. As she puts it on ‘c. et. al', a Phoebe Bridgers-esque ballad filled with stripped-back acoustics and confessional lyrics, ‘I’d leave it behind if you wanted me to.’

The pitfalls of romance are not the only storms of toxicity that Jordan has weathered. Catapulted into the spotlight before she could even officially buy a drink, the singer has struggled under the pressure of celebrity like all too many of her industry fellows. References to her 45-day stint in rehab late last year are threaded through catchy second track ‘Ben Franklin’. The woes of addiction and heartbreak are intertwined through the synth-driven groove, an anthem for anyone who has been enchained by the iron grip of obsession.

Valentine is an unapologetic confession of women loving – and losing – women. The music video for the title track is an extravagant historical romp that sees Jordan entangled in a turbulent affair with a high-society noblewoman and ends in a Killing Eve-esque bloodbath of glamorous brutality. Jordan doesn’t want her sexuality to be the distinguishing hallmark of her music, but it’s still an important part of her identity that she doesn’t want to hide. Where Lush was a more ambiguous ode to unconsummated yearning, Valentine is a beautifully unfiltered depiction of the messiness and hurt that queer love can leave in its wake.

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Jordan’s sophomore effort is clearly her boldest to date, an eclectic mix of pop, rock and even soul influences building on Snail Mail’s indie roots. A perfectly designed rollercoaster ride of an album, the short but wonderfully sweet 32-minute track list pushes the boundaries but also stays true to Jordan’s trademark emotional sincerity.  Valentine doesn’t relinquish the introspective, self-aware lyricism that earned her a crown of indie-rock royalty. But now we can see she’s capable of so much more.

Featured image: Matador Records

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