The aching sincerity contained within is absolutely intoxicating.
It’s there in the name of the band. “Snail Mail” implies an outdated form of communication, a derisive snort hurled at physical media in an increasingly digital age. Yet there’s nothing snarky or derisive about Lindsey Jordan or her approach to music. As the leader and songwriter of Snail Mail, Jordan has crafted painstakingly sincere music for some time now, and she seems somewhat nostalgic for an age she never got to experience herself. Yet, to dismiss Lush as an amalgamation of well-trodden ideas and influences would do a disservice to what Jordan has actually done on Snail Mail’s debut album. The sounds may be familiar, but the aching sincerity contained within is absolutely intoxicating.
Snail Mail’s influences are pretty well-defined, taking equally from ‘90s indie rock and slowcore emo, but the general feel is that of guitar rock that evokes sincere pain without an excess of aggression or any sort of standoffish cool. There’s actually nothing especially “cool” about Lush, no arty pretensions or anything similar to shield Jordan from scrutiny. She bares all on these songs, taking ownership for her feelings and decisions no matter how self-destructive they may be. On “Pristine,” Jordan presents herself as alternately naive and despondent, speaking in first-person about a version of love that’s so all-encompassing and adolescent that even she, at this young of an age, can grasp the sublime ridiculousness of it all. Conversely, “Heat Wave” rings with a weariness and bitterness beyond its years, its repeated closing refrain (“I’m feeling low/ I’m not into sometimes”) a seeming condemnation of casual relationships and shallow connections. Throughout Lush, Jordan alternately comes across as an old soul and as the college-aged woman she is, but neither mode feels like a put-on. This is who she is and how she feels at her best and worst.
While her words chart emotional heights and valleys, Jordan’s musical compositions display a contrasting sense of subtlety. Lush doesn’t lash out and surprise so much as it slowly builds and meanders. The band plays in a basic guitar/bass/drums setup, yet Jordan’s lightly-distorted tones and crisp drums from Ray Brown give the album an intimate feel, as if we’re inside Jordan’s head as she works through everything. The lone instrumental flourish, a French horn introducing the penultimate track “Deep Sea,” stands out even more as the result of the relative simplicity of Jordan’s arrangements here. Otherwise, the band keep it simple, leaning on a formula perfected decades before and executed brilliantly here. Lush may not sound all that new to the sort of aging hipster that will be all too eager to point out Jordan’s debt to the likes of Liz Phair and Eric Bachmann, but it stands as an example of reinterpretation done right.
Like Japanese Breakfast and Mitski before her, Lindsey Jordan has accomplished something impressive through revisiting a sound that came before her and adding a modern, diverse perspective (as in a perspective from someone who isn’t a straight white dude). To call Snail Mail’s debut unique would be somewhat of an oversell, but few debut albums are this confident and this assured in their creative viewpoint. Sometimes, it takes a while for an artist to really announce themselves, but Snail Mail doesn’t need that time. They’re right here.