Who can honestly claim to be fully formed at the age of 22? When most of us look back at the person we were at that time; it’s not exactly a pretty picture. Maybe you were struggling with adjusting to adult life after university. Maybe you were already in the swing of starting a family. Maybe you were still the burnout loser you were as a teenager. Whatever state of development (or arrested development) you might have been in, chances are you weren’t fully formed, assertive, and evolved into your best form. Most us of aren’t that lucky.
There are those that inevitably transcend beyond this notion. Jennifer Lawrence had her first Oscar at 22, Muhammad Ali won his first World Heavyweight title at the same age, and George Washington was already leading his men into battle well before his 23rd birthday. It’s not a race, but some people just hit their stride early. Go ahead and add Snail Mail’s Lindsey Jordan to that list, as the 22-year-old singer-songwriter has ascended to the top of the indie rock pile with her second studio album, Valentine.
When Snail Mail’s 2018 debut LP Lush was released, Jordan appeared to be an ascending diamond in the rough: a talented songwriter who was a little too preoccupied with making every lost love a tragic event. It was easy to point to the fact that Jordan was a teenager when that album was recorded as the culprit, and a fair amount of the album’s reviews gave praise while pondering what Jordan would sound like with a little bit more maturity and life lessons at her disposable.
Well, here it is. The heartbreak and longing aren’t gone – in fact, they’re more prevalent than ever. What’s changed is the way Jordan faces them. Lyrically, the scope is much larger than on Lush, including fleshing out backstories and putting a spotlight on what went wrong on all sides, not just from her own side. The album plays almost like one long goodbye to someone you love, savouring the last details as they slip through your hands and disappear into the ether. Call that mature, if you like.
“I love you forever, but I gotta grow up now,” from the album’s final track ‘Mia’ ties up the entire LP’s M.O. in ten words. You can find the parallels in Jordan’s real life in parts of the album’s lyrics, including the line, “post-rehab I’ve been feeling so small/ I miss your attention, I wish I could call” from ‘Ben Franklin’ acknowledging the facility where most of the songs were first written. The darker themes of obsession and breakdowns threaten to cover the album in a morose cloud, but Jordan’s constant moving forward is what keeps it from getting bogged down. “Can’t live for us both / You’ve gotta live and I’ve gotta go,” as the album’s title track puts it.
Musically, there’s far less bombastic punk-inspired indie rock than on previous Snail Mail releases. However, the additions of strings and synths don’t fall into the typical narrative of a young and angry artist attempting to find new sounds and styles. The main pairing of Jordan and her guitar are still the most prevalent features of the arrangements, with Jordan proving that an acoustic guitar can hit just as hard as a distortion stompbox when given the right setting.
Preview singles ‘Madonna’ and ‘Ben Franklin’ were almost like smokescreens, making it seem as though Valentine was going to be a hard-hitting and slinky electronica record. The truth is that hazy indie-pop, acoustic folk, and even stripped back balladry are the most potent styles on the album, with rock songs like ‘Glory’ and ‘Headlock’ sitting next to intimate affairs like ‘Light Blue’ and ‘c. et al.’ without ever feeling jarring or out of place.
With Valentine, Snail Mail does more than just defy the sophomore slump. Instead, Jordan rises to the top of the indie rock world by evolving and improving just about everything from her first album while still retaining her signature voice as a songwriter. In the process, she makes a strong case for herself being crowned the new queen of indie rock. Even during its more pedestrian moments, Jordan never lets anything on Valentine become boring, cliched, or redundant. The result is nothing less than a triumph from a 22-year-old ready to take on the world.