On her sophomore offering Valentine, Snail Mail lead singer and songwriter Lindsey Jordan has never made yearning sound so romantic. Throughout this impressive and dazzling album, 22-year-old Jordan examines every facet of young passion: the joy, confusion, possessiveness, rage, and surrender, all resulting in a volatile yet thoughtfully composed work. Birthed “on the heels of life-altering success, a painful breakup, and 6 weeks in treatment,” according to Jordan, Valentine channels a crumbling collapse and an eventual piecing back together.
In an interview with Pitchfork, Jordan says, “I wanted the songs to be about me.” As much as Valentine details about those with whom Jordan finds herself infatuated, each track reveals even more about the lovesick young adult on the giving end of every romantic gesture.
With the opening title track, Jordan comes on strong, clinging to a lover for whom she ruined herself—only to be rebuffed. “Valentine” kicks down the door of the album with a thunderous, guitar-driven chorus line, balanced out with atmospheric and tender synths that foretell the rest of the album.
Her feelings of fury alternate powerfully with desire, as the pleading verses give way to a heart-shattering, “scream into the sun” kind of chorus. Three years after Lush, Jordan’s voice comes across as more grounded, with a greater sense of control: possessing an almost whiny, raspy undercurrent, the singer uses that distinctive grain to her advantage, embracing the wider range of inflections now at her disposal. Throughout Valentine, Jordan reaches a new height of expression that practically demands to be heard and felt.
In the bass-heavy “Ben Franklin,” Jordan acknowledges her need for attention (“I miss your attention / I wish I could call”) and how this need blurs the lines between what’s real or not, and what’s healthy and what’s toxic. It’s a sharply self aware and honest track about the pain that lies at the bottom of every all-consuming connection. She sings, “Sucker for the pain, huh, honey? But you said you’d die… Said you would’vе died for me.”
The question flies both ways, as it’s clear Jordan finds some pleasure in an all-consuming, rapturous kind of love, despite ultimately leading to broken promises and hurt feelings. The singer likens her path toward sobriety with continuing the relationship, one that leaves a stain like spilt wine. “Ben Franklin” compellingly captures the deepest woes of watching someone move on without you, and the complex responses our mind and body offer in moments of abandonment by someone we love.
Like “Ben Franklin,” the following track, “Headlock,” deals with the absence of a dearly beloved. It veers in a new direction sonically, with a moseying pace and country feel, and Jordan asking for nirvana only to receive sorrow. Though filled with declarations of love and adoration, much of Valentine hinges on these feelings of disrepair, loss, and being left behind, arguably best epitomized in “Headlock.” With lines like, “Another world where we’re together / Are you lost in it too?,” Jordan has lost herself in pursuance of another.
While the catchy “Madonna” ponders the perils of idolatry (“it’s about why love can’t exist between a person and a concept of a person,” Jordan says of the song), Valentine bursts open in “Light Blue,” a bright, beautiful, finger-plucked melody about diving head first into love. Touching and fey lyrics like, “I wanna wake up early everyday / Just to be awake in the same world as you” surface and disappear while Jordan’s voice reaches a tender place, mirroring the delicate nature of the track. She’s whispering in the ear of someone she loves, promising no pain and no more heartache. Written for her girlfriend at 19, “Light Blue” is intimate, and bold in its willingness to bare all of Jordan’s sappy sweet nothings.
At the heart of the album lies “Forever (Sailing),” a dreamy, swooning ode to someone with one foot out the door. Jordan’s affection here again borders on obsession, an all-consuming need to be seen by someone, for each kiss and every touch to feel the same for both people, forever. The ballad soars above the clouds as Jordan reminisces on love’s beginning: “I love you from the city to the stars / But nothing stays as good as how it starts.” She compares it to a sailing ship (in a chorus pulled straight from Swedish singer Madleen Kane’s “You And I”); but ships always have the potential to sink, resulting in destruction that—tellingly, for Jordan—proves the relationship was “real.”
In contrast, the second half of Valentine is the comedown, as the thrill fades and what’s left is the scattered remains of body, lust, and devotion. Every drunken bender comes with a wicked hangover the next day, and Jordan’s woken up with a less romantic view of her relentless infatuations. After the folksy and foreboding “c. et al,” acoustic guitars are traded out for heavier electric ones, and the smooth bass lines which root earlier songs are now guided by the steady, harsh thwack of a drum.
On “Glory,” Jordan’s straightforward and cold, pushing with urgency as she tells someone “you own me.” Similarly, in “Automate,” she ponders the double-edged sword that is conditional love, recognizing that things remain good as long as she’s good, nearly slurring as she says, “I’m like your dog / I’m like your dog.” The comparison is apt in its level of degradation and blind loyalty as Jordan waits to be called on once again.
Finally, “Mia” is the last kiss goodbye. Aforementioned in “c. et al,” this character becomes an ever-changing face in Valentine. She’s Jordan’s devoted, her destroyer, life force, the other woman, her Madonna. Yet, even as Jordan tells Mia not to cry, she sounds on the verge of tears herself. With only the lull of strings and an acoustic guitar, vulnerability reaches the forefront. Jordan comes to terms with the fact that heaven doesn’t exist—not in the biblical sense, but in the heaven she’s constructed with Mia. Trilling strings rise as the lights fade down and Jordan ends it for good in the perfect closing chapter, one that hints at lessons learned and maturity.
Over Valentine, Jordan takes turmoil and heartache and creates something beautiful from the mess. All of the things she’s learned over the last few years come to a head in the final adieu as she chooses to step away from the rollercoaster romance, even as the longing remains. Nonetheless, if this Valentine were actually a gift given to someone, it would be a still beating heart with a dagger through it—with a note attached that reads “I loved you.”