My commute to work this summer was about twenty minutes. There were plenty of variables that changed every drive – Did I need gas? Iced coffee? How can I get around the traffic this morning? One thing remained constant almost everyday though, the sound of dreamy guitar riffs, punchy drums, and lyrics that put into words the thoughts and emotions I couldn’t myself coming through the speakers of my car, the music of Snail Mail.
Snail Mail is the project of Baltimore-based 19-year old Lindsey Jordan. Jordan has been playing guitar since she was five, and created the band Snail Mail with two of her friends at 16; within weeks they began playing shows. Their first was at the Screaming Females festival in Baltimore, playing with other area bands like Priests and Sheer Mag. The performance caught the eye of Priests, who signed Snail Mail to their band’s independent record label, Sister Polygon, and released the band’s debut extended play (EP), Habit.
Habit is a six song collection with music ranging from anthemic, sing-along tunes to bare, emotional songs featuring only Jordan and her guitar. Much of the EP has a lo-fi sound, with distorted guitars and vocals kept low in the mix, but it provides the foundation for which the band builds their later work off of.
“Thinning”, the first track, begins with guitar, drums, and bass building up to the infectious energy of the verses. Jordan sings about a case of bronchitis she suffered for months, all the while playing intricate guitar riffs and solos. It is one of their most popular songs, racking up millions of streams on Spotify, and garnering a Best New Music ranking from Pitchfork, a widely read music blog, growing the band’s exposure outside of the Baltimore DIY scene. “Pitchfork used to put their Best New Tracks for the month together on their Youtube channel”, says Emerson freshman Max Besser, “that’s where I heard “Thinning” for the first time, and I found Snail Mail through there.”.
Other songs showcase the wise lyricism that Snail Mail has become known for. “Dirt” has a self-awareness about the seemingly crushing weight of teenage emotion, while also thriving within it. “Baby when I’m thirty/I’ll laugh about how dumb it felt”, sings Jordan during the track, knowing that her sixteen-year old feelings, with time, will be something to look back fondly on. “Slug”, the penultimate track, is a five minute meditation on Jordan’s sense of self and mortality. “So if you look death right in the face don’t thank him/Because there’s nothing and there won’t ever be”, she sings at the song’s conclusion, a cutting line from someone so young at the time.
In the years that followed this release, Jordan completed the rites of passage that so many other teenagers accomplish: getting her license, prom, graduating from high school. The band’s profile continued to grow: playing shows across the country, and landing prestigious appearances on NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert series and Audiotree’s live sessions. In September 2017, the band signed to Matador Records, home to indie legends like Liz Phair, Yo La Tengo, and recent acts like Car Seat Headrest. From here, the band began the process of making their debut album, Lush.
Following a brief intro track, Lush opens with the single “Pristine”. Within seconds, the song marks the incredible artistic growth that Snail Mail displays on the album. Using their foundation of complex guitar riffs, searing lyrics, and dreamy atmosphere created on the Habit EP, the band takes their sound to its most vivid realization thus far. The song is a soaring ode to the highs and lows of first love, as Jordan sings “I know myself, and I’ll never love anyone else” on the song’s chorus, unafraid of how her lover may respond. It is a cathartic, thrilling highlight off of the album that shows the band at their best.
What is most remarkable is the confidence Lindsey Jordan shows in not just “Pristine”, but throughout the entire album. Take for instance the album’s closer, “Anytime”, an emotional ballad featuring Jordan solo on guitar. Unlike on the Habit EP, where Jordan’s vocals were less pronounced, her vocals here are front and center. Jordan is done hiding in the background of her own music; she becomes the music’s focus. The song has become a fan favorite for its unabashed honesty about the emotions of lost love. Casey Morton, freshman at Ithaca College, notes: “I think my favorite song by her is “Anytime” because, even though it’s such a sad song, it’s so raw and emotional and is truly an experience to listen to.”.
Following the release of Lush, Snail Mail grew to become an internationally lauded band, covered by publications like The New York Times, The Washington Post, and Rolling Stone, who called Jordan an “indie-rock prodigy” and an “artist you need to know”. They recently embarked on a world tour to promote the album, playing everywhere from local venues like The Sinclair in July, to shows in Japan, Iceland, and Indonesia. Max Besser adds his experience with seeing the band this summer on their stop in Dallas before coming to Emerson this year. “It was a really great performance. [Jordan] had a cold during the show, but persisted through the whole set. The crowd was very supportive of her and it was good to see that happening.”.
Snail Mail stands as a unique voice in the indie scene because of how successful Lindsey Jordan has become at such a young age. So often, the voices of young women are silenced or ignored, especially in indie rock, where the “stars” of the genre are typically older men. However, Jordan is breaking the rules of who can be considered as part of the upper echelons of the genre. “I think what I like about Snail Mail so much is how she’s basically the same age as me”, says Elle Hodges, a freshman at Emerson. “I’m a musician myself, so its so exciting to see someone like me be successful at such a young age.”.
Art by Eleanor Hilty