November 12, 2017

Snail Mail

If you like your modern indie slow-burning, lo-fi and modestly abrasive, with thoughtful, memorable guitar-playing and up-front, expressive vocals that seem at least a second cousin to past ‘Emo’ styles, then Snail Mail (Lindsey Jordan’s 3-piece solo project) should be the first place you look.  In the process, you’ll also discover perhaps the most precocious example in the history of the genre – though that shouldn’t be your main focus.  Let me explain …

Imagine a teenage gal from the Baltimore area, only several years removed from summer guitar camp, where she endured “boys who were so mean,” but rather than getting discouraged studied with a renowned teacher (of Helium fame), holed up in her room writing spare, deceptively sophisticated songs of suburban angst, partnered with drums/bass to record her first group EP, Habit, last year at age 17, with elements that may, depending on the song’s tempo, suggest Sonic Youth, Rust-era Neil Young, very early Red House Painters and classic mid-tempo Emo (more as flavorings than main ingredients).  A buzz begins to grow until now, at 18, she finds herself signed to a prestigious indie label (Matador), with her first major release due next year.  One of her biggest worries over the past year?  Getting her school principal to sign a release so she could tour a bit, and play SXSW.

To pull out the critic hat for a moment, though Habit’s songs were overwhelmingly compelling, the EP had a few issues you’d expect in an early record:  muddy drum sound and vocals that, though peppered with expression, could have used a bit more forward projection and variety of delivery.  A few months later, however, there are no such issues with the Audiotree session live performance included in this article, which is astonishing, absolutely pitch-perfect (not only in Lindsey's arresting vocal command, but the drummer is about as symbiotic a partner for this music as could be imagined), with the only worry that her upcoming long-player might smooth over the edges too much – for ‘edgy’ is precisely what makes Snail Mail so instantly compelling, often spine-tingling.  (In this regard, Matador has more than earned the benefit of the doubt.)

Understandably, as teenagers don’t typically possess this level of guitar chops, songwriting ability and stage presence, all everyone wants to focus on is her age, not to mention her gender (last I checked, as a human, Ms. Jordan had roughly a 50% chance of being born female).  Those taking this track are, sadly, missing the point – Snail Mail is, quite simply, THE most compelling indie music of the ‘emotional’ genre, however you prefer to name or define it, in a current scene that seems lacking, often filled with noisy half-written pastiches.  I haven’t gone a day in 10 without listening to the full Audiotree set (the last times I could say that were after getting Kings of Convenience’s ‘Riot’ in 2004, and Pollini’s Chopin Etudes disc 30 years ago).  The fact that a near 55-yr-old guy is saying this should push aside any age/gender issues.  Enough said.

So, watch the live set above, marvel at what this ‘kid’ is doing, then buy it via the Bandcamp link below, and henceforth treat it just as any other great music on your hard drive, for Snail Mail is surely no novelty act.

Snail Mail (Bandcamp)
Label:  Matador Records

(Baltimore/Brooklyn - 2017)