This story is featured in CityBeat's April 19 print edition.
Valentine, the second album by Lindsey Jordan under the moniker Snail Mail, opens with her hushed voice delivering the following sentiments as atmospheric keyboards linger in the background: “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?”
Another verse rife with lyrics about a relationship gone rocky follows, this time with the addition of a modest drumbeat, before an explosive, guitar-juiced chorus kicks in as Jordan’s equally tone-shifting vocals demand, “So why’d you wanna erase me, darling valentine?” She elongates the pronunciation of “erase me,” which adds an extra layer of urgency.
It's quite the scene setter — and a clear refinement of the talents Jordan flashed on Lush, the unusually assured full-length debut she dropped in 2018 when the Maryland native was all of 19 years old. Valentine, which surfaced in late 2021, again hinges on Jordan’s acutely personal lyrical observations but it opens up sonically, lacing her love of 1990s indie rock (most obviously early Liz Phair) with a more sophisticated musicality (think the late-era explorations of Elliott Smith).
Valentine’s second song, “Ben Franklin,” cements the shift. Swirling keyboards and a deep, throbbing bass line provide a moody backdrop for Jordan’s yearning vocals, which seethe with resentment and regret, highlighted by this admission: “Got money, I don’t care about sex.”
Valentine is a curious juxtaposition of raw, intimate emotions and elegant grandiosity, a somehow cohesive vision replete with accompanying art design — the stark, pink-hued album cover features Jordan gazing directly at us with a knowing look on her face, as if signaling the musical journey we’re about to experience with her.
“Ever since I started writing music for the first time, I feel like the idea of writing an album was scary to me and seemed like an impossible task,” Jordan says in a recent phone interview with CityBeat. “Finding influences with entire records that spoke to me was a huge part of me getting into music. I’m always really interested to see what the artist is trying to put together with an album.
“I’ve been worshiping people who do it since I was 6,” she continues on the topic of her reverence for the album format. “So just being in this position, I take it seriously to try to study the things that I love and try to make something from it if I’m going to have a part in the music conversation at all. I want to make great work that I’m proud of.”
If Lush was driven by Jordan’s teenage angst and her expressive guitar playing, Valentine represents the next step in her evolution as an artist, an album brimming with newfound textures and tones. Jordan co-produced Valentine with Brad Cook (who has worked with the likes of Bon Iver, Waxahatchee and The War on Drugs, among many others) at his studio in Durham, North Carolina, during the height of the pandemic, which couldn’t help but have an impact on the results. Then there was the attention Jordan garnered as the “next big thing” during the Lush breakout — an especially tough transition for a young person in the age of invasive online culture. The anxiety of that period led to a 45-day stay at an Arizona-based rehab facility.
“I think it just gives fans too much access,” Jordan says of social media. “I think feeding into it is stupid and kind of doesn’t have anything to do with the actual craft. I personally don’t believe in running an art project through trying to make people have to pay attention to me on my social media feeds. I just find the entire thing really annoying and really false.”
Enter Cook, a multi-instrumentalist, manager, producer, engineer and all-around musical guru who is noted for his ability to provide creatively nurturing work environments.
“Brad was already a friend of mine,” Jordan says. “He’s just been really nice and supportive to me. There was a lot going on at the time, and I really wanted to work with somebody who I knew would let me take the wheel. I had already fleshed out the demos on Logic (Pro) for like seven months and wrote the harmonies and the synth parts and some of the string-section parts before I even got into a real studio, just in my apartment.”
Cook let her lead the way and made suggestions when necessary.
“I’ve worked with other producers where it is agony making the vocal take and it’s a compilation of parts. Both approaches are valid, but I liked that Brad was just like, ‘Let’s do a take and it’s not that big of a deal.’ We were smoking joints and doing one take and being like, ‘It’s done,’ and then agonizing over everything else. That made me feel more excited about doing it. It was more fun. I feel like the emotions were flowing in the room.”
Exhibit A is the slow-burning album closer “Mia,” which wouldn’t be out of place on Frank Sinatra’s Only the Lonely. Jordan’s fragile, emotive voice mingles with strings and a lightly strummed electric guitar as she sings, “Lost love so strange/And heaven’s not real, babe/I wish I could lay down next to you.”
Valentine is the essence of an artist who’s learned that not everything can turn out the way we envision — a realization that sometimes makes Jordan’s earlier songs a challenge for her to revisit in a live setting.
“I don’t know how to explain it, but I don’t feel things as hard and I just don’t feel as bad for myself,” Jordan says. “The songs from my perspective that are like woe is me, which is a lot of them, sometimes I have to tune out when I’m playing live now. I’m like, ‘Oh, that’s just so not me anymore.’ That’s a weird thing about making music at such a developmental time in my life. I feel a lot chiller about things. I know that happens with time but even going through a breakup in recent years, it’s like, ‘Oh, well.’ It’s not like, ‘Oh, shit, I have to fucking cut their name into my skin and cry over a sculpture I built of them.’”
Snail Mail plays Woodward Theater at 7:30 p.m. May 2. Info: woodwardtheater.com.
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