Much was made of Lindsey Jordan’s age when she debuted with the music press all too eager to cast her as the savior of indie rock at the age of 17. Lush was rightly hailed for Jordan’s already sharp lyrical ability and intricate guitar arrangements, but the hail of critical acclaim also thrust her into the limelight without preparation.
This year, Lorde, Clairo, and Billie Eilish all have released albums grappling with being anointed teenage musical prodigies, and, unsurprisingly, fame similarly took its toll on Jordan. She’s since described the constant whirlwind of emotions, intensive touring schedule, and the exhausting pressure to please everyone, all culminating in a 45-day stint in rehab. Perhaps that pressure is part of the reason why her sophomore record Valentine arrives three years after its predecessor. But that extra time was seemingly well spent, as Valentine finds Jordan more thoughtful, ambitious, and self-assured than ever.
It’d be tempting to read deep into Valentine, tracing references to “parasitic cameras” or rehab buried in the lyrics. Certainly, the specter of fame hangs over her latest effort, with Jordan’s trademark lyrical honesty on display with tracks like “c. et. al” (“Even with a job that keeps me moving / Most days I just wanna lie down”). Yet, the theme that reappears most consistently - unsurprisingly given the album’s name - is love.
The title track opens the record on a delirious lovelorn high. It’s an instant stylistic shift from Lush, with Jordan delivering the most propulsive hook of her career, along with a lyrical intensity to match (“As long as it’s us two / Fuck being remembered / I think I was made for you”). Similarly, the subtle, synth-driven grooves of “Ben Franklin” see Jordan accusing a lover of breaking their vow to die for her. Throughout Valentine, love is a life-or-death proposition. Jordan operates at almost religious levels of devotion or in the throes of devastating heartbreak, and sometimes both at the same time as with the sensual proclamations of “Madonna” (“I consecrate my life to kneeling at your altar / My second sin of seven being wanting more”).
Though the rest of the album isn’t quite as bombastic as the opening tracks, there’s still an unexpectedly potent pop quality to tracks like “Forever (Sailing)” and “Glory.” Jordan departs somewhat from the guitar-driven indie rock of Lush, working in slinking R&B cuts, synth-laden instrumentals, and oblique, winding song structures. She still delivers the climactic pop heights, but these songs often are a slower burn, the kind of songs that take their time to worm into your memory but stay there indefinitely.
Valentine is a big, ambitious album centered around big, overwhelming feelings, but some of its most resonant moments come when Jordan strips away the layers of drama. Pastoral acoustic ballads like “Light Blue” and “c. et. al.” show off new lyrical depth while cultivating sparse arrangements with some of the deftest and most textured guitar work on the record. Jordan’s cracked vocals are not the most technically impressive, but she instead uses her voice as an instrument of pure emotional weight. These bruised, aching performances reach their apex with “Mia,” Jordan’s stirring string-backed finale. It’s both the most romantic track on the record, and its biggest emotional gut-punch as Jordan sings farewell to young love一“Mia, don’t cry. I love you forever / But I gotta grow up now.”
After the runaway success of Lush, the question was always going to be what will Snail Mail do next? It’s a question that’s been hanging over Jordan for years now, but she has found a confident answer with Valentine. After emerging from one of the hardest seasons in her young life, she’s delivered an album full of unrepentant honesty, decadent instrumental highs, and an unguarded emotional core. Few other artists can so perfectly capture the dizzying life-or-death stakes of those who love too young and too hard.