Snail Mail may be officially a three-piece band, but they feel rather more like the project of 19 year old Maryland native Lindsay Jordan. Jordan is, as you may have guessed, not your average teenager. By the time she was 17, she was supporting the post-punk band Priests, had released a couple of startling self-produced EPs and then signed to Matador Records in September 2017. Oh, and she was taught to play guitar by Mary Timony of Helium and Wild Flag.
Like her contemporary, Sophie Allison of Soccer Mommy, Jordan’s specialty is sad songs about love, in a minor key. After the reverb-heavy 70-second opener, the self-explanatory Intro, the opening chords of Pristine kick in, and you can immediately see what all the fuss is about. It’s a big, bittersweet, winsome sigh of a song, with lines like “I know myself and I’ll never love anyone else” and “we can be anything, even apart” perfectly encapsulating the intensity of unrequited love.
Similar emotions are mined on Heat Wave, a lovely, lazy number that shows off Jordan’s considerable guitar skills as well as her sad sigh of a delivery of lyrics such as “I hope whoever it is holds their breath around you, ‘cos I know I did”. As well as the aforementioned Soccer Mommy, there’s nods to the likes of Courtney Barnett and Liz Phair at times, as much for the guitar pyrotechnics as the blisteringly honest lyrical skills on display.
Listening to Snail Mail can be a strange experience at times. Jordan sounds simultaneously exactly how you’d expect a heart-broken teenager to sound, while also displaying a world-weary ennui that makes her seem older than her years. The fact that she’s very obviously influenced by ’90s alt-rock probably adds to this: as well as the Liz Phair comparisons, producer Jake Aron (who’s worked with Grizzly Bear and Solange before) gives her sound an early ’90s sheen that suits the songs very well – not least the subtle borrow from Jeff Buckley on the closing Anytime.
It’s a confident and assured debut, and Aron’s production is beefy, glossy but never bland. There’s just one song on Lush that dates back to the breakthrough Habit EP, and that’s Stick. It’s intriguing to listen to both versions side by side – the earlier recording is rough and lo-fi with Jordan’s voice low down in the mix, whereas the Lush version is more muscular but no less affecting. In fact, if there’s a criticism to be made of Lush, it’s that Jordan’s acoustic side isn’t shown too much: the gorgeous Let’s Find An Out is one of the quieter, frailer moments and is a standout of the album.
Like Phoebe Bridgers‘ outstanding debut last year, Lush is an album that the devoted will take to their hearts and luxuriate in its sadness. Some may decry the lack of variety on show (there’s a definite template to a Snail Mail song and it’s stuck to rigidly on Lush), but it cannot be denied that this is a debut that promises great things to come.