Album Review: Snail Mail - Lush

Who would win in a fight between Soccer Mommy and Snail Mail?

I tweeted this question, partially in jest, recently, and I was hesitant to do so—mostly because I don’t want it to seem like I’m not supportive of the recent rise in young women playing music that has a very heavy 90s alt. rock influence, but it’s not hard (and not totally unfair) to draw comparisons between Sophie Allison’s project Soccer Mommy, and Lindsey Jordon’s Snail Mail.

Neither of them are even 21 years old yet—Allison is 20, and Jordon is only 19; both began their music careers by using the internet to slowly parlay attention via self-recorded material; and both have released excellent albums this year through esteemed independent labels: the proper debut from Soccer Mommy arrived this spring from Fat Possum, and Snail Mail’s first LP, Lush, was just released on Matador.

Both women owe a lot to music that was made prior to their births—Jordon, specifically, has drawn comparisons to the early output of Liz Phair; so much so that the two of them took part in a lengthy conversation/interview for Pitchfork, in coordination with the reissue of Phair’s auspicious debut, Exile in Guyville, celebrating its 25th anniversary this year (coincidentally, released on Matador), as well as Jordon’s own Lush.

While there are many, many similarities between Soccer Mommy and Snail Mail, there is something slightly more ramshackle and ‘lo-fi’ about Jordon’s songwriting, and that really comes through on Lush—the album works to maintain Jordon’s aesthetic, and it does, but it also tries to clean up the rough edges found on the Habit EP, issued in 2016.

A slim album, running ten tracks—nine songs with one intro—Lush exudes what can only be called a nervous charm; it’s also brimming with youthful urgency and exuberance, and as it runs its course, it becomes clear that this is an album for the lovesick.

Lush isn’t exactly a ‘break up’ album, but it is an album about being broken hearted, and wearing that broken heart, in earnest, on your sleeve. At times, Jordan snarls; other times, she pleads—either way, it is pure emotion, all the way through.

The album really wastes no time—the first single, and first ‘proper’ track from Lush, “Pristine,” is one of its finest moments, simply because all of the separate, successful elements tumble together: it’s not exactly a hook driven song, but it’s infectious never the less, with big, shout-a-long moments as Jordan recklessly strums the guitar while regaling the listener with her woes—“And if you do find someone better, I’ll still see you in everything, for always, tomorrow, and all the time.”

While ‘Snail Mail’ is, more or less, a solo endeavor/moniker for Jordan, she does have a ‘band’ accompanying her on Lush, and you can hear the tightness in their playing, as well as in the way the record is produced to make the instrumentation crisp—bassist (aptly named) Alex Bass and drummer Ray Brown have been playing with Jordan since last year, and Lush was produced Jake Aaron, who is growing an impressive resume of studio work both as producer, mixer, and engineer. Aaron works to find the balance between showcasing Jordan as the frontwoman for the band, but still keeping the rhythm section present enough to drive the songs—bring out the jaunty grooves in “Speaking Terms” and “Golden Dreams.”

Lush hits some of its finest moments at the halfway point—a startling and pensive double shot of “Stick,” and “Let’s Find An Out.” The former, slow burning, desperate, and accusatory finds Jordan tapping into a raw, visceral place as she still recounts a messy end to young love—“It’s a hard trip to the kitchen sink, ‘cause I can’t wash this one clean,” she sings before, “Did you tell all of your friends? Maybe I could understand what it is about them? Would they stick around?

While the latter bounces along lightly, it finds Jordan turning inward; written with no refrain or chorus, the lyrics are slightly mysterious and evocative. It’s the album’s shortest proper song, and according to the annotation on Genius, it’s Jordan’s favorite on the record.

Lush is structured in a way that it doesn’t so much mirror itself, but following a somber middle section, Jordan and her band pick things back up for two more songs before slowing things down and getting sad for the conclusion with the surprisingly dark “Deep Sea,” and the regretful “Anytime,” which lyrically, brings Lush full circle—the heartbreak is still there, but over her guitar strums, Jordan seems to come to terms with her anguish—“I’m not in love with your absence, ‘cause I have fallen so hard for the space,” she sings. “And I’ve gotten to know the quite and still forgive you anytime.”

The more I listen to Lush, the more I realize what is so compelling and immediate about it is that, while it does share similarities to Jordan’s contemporaries like Soccer Mommy, it is very reminiscent of the first Land of Talk record, Some Are Lakes, which is now a decade old.  It’s brimming with that kind of ‘no frills,’ barely held together aesthetic that taps into something within and doesn’t ever really let go.

Jordan is obviously still growing as a songwriter, but by balancing pop songwriting and young person angst throughout Lush, she proves that she has an alarming amount of potential and promise at an early stage in her career.

Lush is out now, on all formats, via Matador.