Review: Snail Mail’s Valentine Represents a Plunge into Sober Self-Assessment

Snail Mail’s sophomore effort, Valentine, captures the blurry nature of an inquiry still in progress.

Snail Mail, Valentine
Photo: Tina Tyrell

On Valentine, Lindsey Jordan, a.k.a. Snail Mail, expands on the aesthetic and songwriting styles that she established throughout her 2018 debut, Lush. This time around, though, Jordan’s arrangements are more ambitiously layered and her lyricism is more diaristic and direct, partly the result of the 22-year-old’s recent stint in rehab. The album, then, represents a plunge into sober self-assessment and burgeoning autonomy.

While Lush erred on the side of sonic minimalism, the 10 songs here inch toward a rock-oriented busy-ness. On the opening title track, for instance, Jordan makes deft use of soft-loud dynamics. Speaking to the virtues of letting go and moving on, she segues from relatively spacious verses replete with self-reproach to brasher, more confident choruses.

On “Glory,” Jordan continues to experiment with volume, and though the interplay of the various instruments, like clashing guitars, generates a sustained tension, Jordan’s quiet intensity is occasionally lost in the mix. “Automate,” on the other hand, finds Jordan’s vocals placed more prominently in the mix, above the track’s distorted drone and reverb-washed accents. When she proclaims, “Automate me,” her anguish is palpable.

“I’ve got the devil in me,” Jordan admits on the trip-hop-infused “Ben Franklin,” apologizing for—and drolly accepting—her past mistakes and summarizing Valentine’s primary themes. She eschews the disempowerment that characterized her debut, instead considering her history and default patterns while displaying a matter-of-fact melancholia. If Lush presented a snapshot of a particular mindset, a woman trapped in a psychological limbo, Valentine captures the blurry nature of an inquiry still in progress.

 Label: Matador  Release Date: November 5, 2021  Buy: Amazon

John Amen

John Amen is the author of five collections of poetry, including Illusion of an Overwhelm (NYQ Books), a finalist for the 2018 Brockman-Campbell Award and the Dana Award. His music, literary, and film reviews appear in such publications as No Depression, The Line of Best Fit, Beats Per Minute, and Pop Matters. He founded and is managing editor of Pedestal Magazine.

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