Snail Mail's Debut Album Has Three Great Songs
Which unfortunately means it also has seven less than great songs.
8 June 2018
Lush is the debut album from Snail Mail, also known as Baltimore-area musician Lindsey Jordan. As of this writing, Jordan is still a teenager, which gives the album's meditative teen angst lyrics true authenticity. Her youth maybe helps explain why so many of the songs on the album sound so similar to each other. Although to be fair, plenty of older artists also deal with this issue at times.
The album opens with "Intro", a short (73 seconds) song with just Jordan playing a simple guitar accompaniment to her mumble-mouth singing. It's pretty and unadorned, but the way Jordan runs her words together gives the song a gauzy kind of feel. That turns out to indeed be a pretty good intro for Snail Mail because even though Jordan doesn't sing like this on every song, there is a hazy feel to most of the record. Intentionally or not, it's also an auditory representation of the album cover, where Jordan sits with a dazed look on her face and her mouth half-open.
Second song "Pristine" is the lead single, and it's a great one. The song is mid-tempo, but Jordan's guitar playing has an urgency to it that gives the whole track energy. Her bandmates Ray Brown on drums and Alex Bass on bass match that energy level and the whole song soars. Jordan's singing is much clearer and more passionate here, and she comes up with a vocal melody that highlights her best range, pushing into the high notes at just the right places. Lines like "Don't you like me for me" and "I know myself, and I'll never love anyone else" capture the rush of infatuation, while "If it's not supposed to be / Then I'll just let it be" is the unconvincing defensive emotional shield.
It's a shame that most of the rest of Lush doesn't live up to those standards. There's a whole host of other songs on the album that follow similar templates to "Pristine" but are much less effective. "Speaking Terms" backs off on the intensity and has a decent guitar riff but is much less interesting melodically. "Heat Wave" adds fuzz guitar leads in the hopes of spicing up the third mid-tempo, slightly jangly indie rock song in a row. It does, but only for the bridge and guitar solo of a five-minute-plus song. "Stick" slows things down and changes up the time signature to 6/8 and has some really nice drum work from Brown. Yet it still has trouble standing out amongst the rest of the songs here.
It isn't until sixth track "Let's Find an Out" that Snail Mail manages to perk up the ears again. Jordan changes up her guitar tone for a cleaner, near-acoustic sound and turns in a pretty folk ballad with just a whisper of drums and bass accompanying her. It puts her voice in a different setting, and it's very effective.
Then Jordan goes right back to her wheelhouse and continues to play songs that sound like "Pristine" but aren't as good.Lush's penultimate track "Deep Sea" slows things way down and adds a French horn, which at least gives the song some character. The album finishes with "Anytime", which foregrounds Jordan's voice more than any other song on the record. This simple production change makes the song stand out; it also happens that it has a compelling vocal melody to justify putting her voice front and center. The song adds a quiet organ when the music swells but eschews drums completely. These are savvy arrangement choices that make "Anytime" memorable.
"Pristine", "Let's Find an Out", and "Anytime" are all really strong songs, but they aren't enough to make Lush a good album. What they do is show that Lindsey Jordan has a lot of (the dreaded) potential as a songwriter that she isn't fully realizing yet. The rest of the album is too similar in sound and style to do much besides blur together. I'll concede, however, that as a 41-year-old man driving around in the Texas summer sun listening to Snail Mail, I might not be in the best age range or environment for the album to click. Younger people listening in cooler climates and darker times of day could well get a lot more out of Lush than I did.