ALBUM REVIEW: Snail Mail, Valentine
Old habits die hard, they say, as do fresh heartbreaks. I’m old enough to have spoken with friends and family members about their exes and helped them through breakups, and let me tell you, the mindstate that these people find themselves in is more complex than meets the eye. Whether it was as a result of cheating or just boredom, each individual has a different way of moving forward. Some people just simply act like they’re still dating the other person, inviting them to events and maybe even sneaking a kiss when no one is looking. I’ve heard people get philosophical, religious, angry, numb, misogynistic, all of it. The common thread with all these situations is that no matter what, they can’t stop talking about this person. Even if it is a situation where the bridge is not only on fire but submerged into the Hudson, it’s as if continuing to rehash the old relationship will magically fix all the issues or manifest the person back into their lives for good. It’s all coping, and on Snail Mail’s best record yet, her grieving process is told from denial to ultimate acceptance. I really love this record, so I’m going to do the rare task of covering it from top to bottom without skipping a song, ready?
“Valentine”, the record’s title track and first single, is bandleader Lindsey Jordan’s greatest offering yet. She paints the romance she wants back in bold, bright colors. She adeptly weaves back and forth between subdued, synthy ‘80s verses and loud, hard rocking choruses. “Fuck being remembered, I think I was made for you/So why’d you wanna erase me?” is such a devastating set of lines, coupled with the self-awareness and blame she places on herself, it’s as if she is totally submitting herself to this person’s will. This is a theme that persists through the record, the power dynamic on the side of the ex would obviously make Lindsey the loser of the relationship if they ever rekindled. Even in the post-breakup, Jordan is catching L’s. On “Ben Franklin”, even those she’s paid and sure of herself, the ex is still able to put her in a shitty mood with her presence. The bassy, percussion heavy instrumental coupled with all the evil lyrical imagery is straight out of the Yves Tumor playbook, and this is not a complaint. It works well because Jordan still remains soft and open, never really sounding vindictive regardless of the ill-will she clearly feels.
“Headlock” finds Jordan at her nosiest and most depressed, opening with the lines “When’d you start seeing her?” Like Phoebe Bridgers did so well on Punisher, she sings a new chorus each time, showing the progression of her thoughts as the lyrical content gets more severe, with the most eye opening being a line alluding to slitting her wrists in her bathtub. “Light Blue” switches the instrumental palette up drastically without losing the core sound of the record, it’s just a cool down. Rather than bring up hatred or violent imagery, this feels like the bargaining section of the album. The illustrious strings and painting-like scenes she creates with her words feel like she is living in an edgeless-fantasy, where nothing sharp can harm her. She is so dynamic as a singer as well, able to sing these powerful overblown rock choruses or keep it in the lower register when the backing is more serene. “Forever (Sailing)” finds her somewhere in the middle, over Blood Orange bright ‘80s licks, violins and trip-hop drums. A major issue I had with her debut was that it kind of just sounded like indie music, this sounds way more like an artist triangulating the exact sound she wants. Like the previous song, it feels like floating on a cloud, ignorant of the actual situation unfolding before her eyes. As the song wraps up, it feels like she is falling back down to Earth, “So much destruction, look what we did/That was so real, you don’t just forget”.
“Madonna” uses religious imagery like altars and “body and blood” to emphasize how much of religion this relationship is to her. Even though she goes through all the sacraments and prays every night for it to work out, she is keenly aware of how distant she is from this person. It’s almost like having her prayers unanswered by God and being left on read how the same weight, this is life or death for her. I love how she is able to always hold my attention by emphasizing certain parts of the instrumental, or making her voice stronger at just the right moments. “c. et al.” is the slowest, most folky song on the record (AYO The Guardian, you are the laziest fucking music critics, this is barely a folk album), and it probably my least favorite. Regardless, I do like it, and it saves itself from dullness with a tasteful and intimate acoustic solo between the second and third verses. I also really appreciate the vignette-like structure of each piece of the song, I just really think this could’ve used a strong chorus to bring it home. Thankfully, “Glory” does bring that rocking quality of Valentine back into full swing. This song feels like her being more self-aware and getting into more fine detail. She describes exactly where she is and what she’s doing, as well as realizing the true power her ex has over her. “Automate” is not quite as speedy, but it is more substantive and poetic. It is also at this point in the record that I need to give this album props for having some of the most consistent choruses of any indie rock I’ve heard this year. She is just so great at summing up her emotional state and then working it around a melody that hits harder each time. The use of strings on this record is also done quite well, used as lowlights underneath the rock rather than a complete overhaul of the sound like on the Clairo record from earlier this year.
“Mia” made me cry. If you are a long time fan of this page, you’d know that I cry a lot when I review music, but this time it’s a little different. I’m not just upset at this particular song, I just truly feel like Snail Mail is my friend and she just finished telling me everything. She sits there, completely and totally accepting every detail, even dead dropping this person’s name, the address she is walking to, and noting that this new person in her ex’s life is a man. I’m not gay and don’t fully understand the dynamics of what it must be like to see the person you used to love with someone of the opposite sex, but the mere fact that she mentioned it must mean it stings. It’s like the new person has something concrete and different to offer her ex that she can never provide, yet she is still mature enough to accept that she needs to move on with her life. She still wishes that she can lay down next to Mia, and pillow talk with her. It’s those simple things about past relationships that are missed the most, the lazy moments, the unconscious ones. For only being 22, she has a really nuanced understanding of heartbreak already. Maybe it’s the trap of parasocial relationships, but I find a real kinship in her words, and hope that she finds someone better. She is too talented and good to feel like she owes her life to this person, I just want her to be happy. This record is amazing, I can’t recommend it much higher.