Review: Snail Mail’s Lush is a fantastic debut, held back by untapped potential

MATADOR - 2018

MATADOR - 2018

Lush is the culmination of three years of building momentum. Riding the positive reception of two EPs, Snail Mail (the solo project of 19-year-old Lindsey Jordan) debuted their first full-length in June of this year. In ten tracks, Jordan fully immersed me in her reverb-laden compositions. As “narrator,” she is simultaneously conflicted, relatable, vulnerable, and as is not too often the case in emo music, sympathetic.

The brand of indie rock that Jordan creates is seemingly simple: grab a guitar with single coil pickups, throw on some reverb and chorus, and start strumming some slow jams. But there’s a reason many other indie rock bands labor in obscurity while Snail Mail doesn’t.

An obviously trained guitarist, you can tell that care went into shaping the album’s guitar parts. While songs are built on simple foundations, Jordan introduces a lot of rhythmic flourishes and interesting chord variations to keep things zesty. She also knows when to upset her own status quo. When the album breaks from its omnipresent clean guitar tones, like a dirty solo in “Heat Wave,” or the sudden introduction of acoustic guitars in “Anytime,” you take notice.

Lush is at its best when forefronting Jordan’s inventive arrangements and exceptional vocal performance. Jordan has a strong voice that cuts through the mix. Her voice has a lot of movement, bending up into notes and pushing against her upper register. Throughout her range, her voice still retains its clear, bell-like quality that helps catapult it out of the reverby wash of the instrumentation.

Lyrically, the album treads familiar ground, with many tracks dedicated to angsty longing and romantic disappointments. While the lyrical content of the album feels a bit uneven to me, there are still flashes of brilliance throughout. For example, “Heat Wave” begins with the somewhat mundane couplet, “I'm so tired of moving on / Spending every weekend so far gone.” But immediately follows with some more striking, poignant imagery: “Heat wave, nothing to do / Woke up in my clothes having dreamt of you.” While some songs fall into the “overly vague poeticism” category for me, there are great lines of rebellion, self-realization, and vulnerability throughout. For every meh verse like, “Don't even wanna fix it now / Should know better than to wait around / All in a haze / Couldn't shake it for the rest of the day” there’s a startling moment of grace and perspective, like when Jordan addresses an ambiguous ex with, “In the end you could waste your whole life anyways / And I want better for you” or, “And I hope the love that you find / Swallows you wholly / Like you said it might.” Even if some of the lyrics didn’t work for me, I couldn’t deny that they all felt honest and genuine.

The album possesses some standout tracks, namely “Pristine,” “Heat Wave,” and “Anytime.” The back half slides into more contemplative, slower pieces. While still effective songs that advance the overall tone of the album, they didn’t command my attention the way “Pristine” and “Heat Wave” did. I found myself slipping into autopilot until “Anytime” hit and refocused me. Regardless, it’s an album I keep coming back to, putting it on during car rides, when making dinner, or while falling asleep.

Lush is, by all accounts, a triumph. But what should excite music fans is that Snail Mail’s ascent has just begun. Lush proves Jordan has the ability to successfully execute her musical vision, and I can’t wait to see what she sets her sights on next. Younger than 20 and already showcasing insight well beyond her years, her exploration of more varied and complex subject matter would be the makings of a can’t-miss album. In fact, that was a nagging feeling I had throughout Lush, that there was still some untapped potential. If Jordan continues to pursue the honesty and authenticity in her songwriting, she’ll do just fine. All we can do is sit back and wait for the coming of Snail Mail’s final form.

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Top Tracks: Pristine, Heat Wave, Anytime

For Fans of: Songs to play at night, reverb and chorus pedals

Pros: An artist’s vision successfully executed, some instantly essential indie rock songs

Cons: Lyrically uneven, too easy to gloss over later tracks