Sincerity is Lindsey Jordan’s superpower. The moody guitar confessionals she creates as Snail Mail contend with suburban teenage ennui—the angst of feeling like you’re the only person who’s truly alive in a dulled world. But unlike so many other disillusioned 18-year-olds with a Fender and a microphone, Jordan does not whine or wallow; she transcends. She articulates the self-conscious shame of youth with a startling clarity, but she also knows that these things too will pass. Her sorrowful pleas—of disappointment, of confusion, of unrequited queer love—often turn into triumphs upon hitting open air. When she claims “I’ll never love anyone else” on her debut album, Lush, she is not moping—she sounds psyched, turning the sad sentiment into a singalong, as a rush of bass, drums, and jangling chords raise her up high.
With Lush, Jordan earns her place as a leader in the next generation of indie rock, the ones who are keeping the genre’s honorable ideals alight while continuing to expand its purview beyond straight white dudes. She was born in June 1999, the same month Napster started, and by the time she was in her early teens, the once-sturdy walls that separated mainstream and underground music were all but rubble. So while Jordan is indebted to the ethos of ’90s indie rock, she bends it to her will and her moment. There are echoes of early Liz Phair in Lush’s stark guitars and its tightrope walk between despair and enlightenment, but there are also flashes of the Replacements’ Paul Westerberg at his most wrung-out, and Paramore’s Hayley Williams crinkled emo soulfulness, and Fiona Apple’s ferocity, and Taylor Swift’s savvy heartache, and the solemn quietude of Frank Ocean’s Blonde. Jordan doesn’t make a big show of her eclecticism on the album—on its face, it is a collection of slow and mid-tempo guitar rock songs—but there are details that separate it from the tried-and-true indie of yesteryear, that make it feel born into her era.
For one, Lush lives up to its name; “I never wanted to make a lo-fi record,” Jordan recently said. All 10 songs go down clean, every note is heard, every part delivered with both verve and poise. As a classically trained guitarist who began playing at age 5, Jordan colors many tracks with layers of pleasingly sour chords kissed by reverb, her clean tone in concert with her emotional transparency. Her guitar work helps Lush achieve a sidewinding spell that invites obsessive listening. It also opens up plenty of space for her bandmates to add unfussy accompaniment and, most importantly, for her voice to ring out unencumbered. Whereas her vocals were buried on 2016’s Habit EP, they are gloriously exposed on Lush, and we really hear Lindsey Jordan for the first time.
As a singer, she embodies the chaotic changes that teenagers quickly cycle through in a given month, day, minute. She is bored. She is defeated. She is bratty. She is jubilant. She is blunt. She is elliptical. These shifts occur from song to song, but also from line to line, or even word to word. On “Pristine,” she reels off lines of devoted romantic poetry before immediately dismissing them with a tossed-off “anyways,” pumping up and deflating her own crush in a single breath. Throughout the record, each line is given its own story. Every vocal feels deeply considered and felt, yet nothing is over-rehearsed. She knows precisely when to dial in and when to dial back, when to fully commit to her longing and when to step back and shake her head at it.
There’s a ragged grit to Jordan’s voice, and she can make it growl or tame it into a rasping lilt in order to make her point. “Heat Wave” begins warily, with Jordan pining in yesterday’s clothes, her voice a groggy croak. As the song picks up pace, it sounds like she’s gaining confidence with each verse as she considers a particular flagging relationship. Finally, after an invigorating guitar spasm, she snaps out of her funk, sets her feet square on the ground, and lets it rip: “I’m not into sometimes,” she decides, her throat full, her delivery resolute. The song is an entire Greta Gerwig coming-of-age film in about five minutes.
Several of the most disarming moments on Lush come in the form of a question: “Do you love me?” “Don’t you like me for me?” “Who’s your type of girl?” “What could ever be enough?” “Did things work out for you?” These are intimate appeals, the kind that often come with watery eyes and trembling chins. But when Jordan sings them, it’s as if she’s staring directly at the person in question, commanding in her vulnerability. This attitude defines Lush, and Jordan turns it into a mantra on “Full Control.” The song finds her moving past the bullshit of another failed romance, done with waiting for someone to love her back. The strident verses coalesce into the album’s most cleansing hook: “I’m in full control/I’m not lost,” she attests, her voice soaring. “Even when it’s love/Even when it’s not.” Lindsey Jordan does not have all the answers. But, in music and life, she knows what she wants, and she’s unafraid to ask for more.