Snail Mail – Lush

It’s all too easy to approach the work of younger musicians with scepticism. It’s easier still to dismiss the art (and more broadly, the existence) of teenage girls. One recalls the collective critical shock in 2013 that Lorde’s ‘Royals’, with its forward-thinking production and sophisticated themes, could’ve sprung from the mind of a 16-year-old. Lindsey Jordan was also just sixteen when she and her band Snail Mail released their debut EP Habit, and its diaristic lyrics, distinctive structures and winningly rugged production quickly turned heads.

Soon after graduating high school, Jordan inked a contract with indie-rock mainstay Matador, and set to work on her debut LP. While some might be tempted to approach Snail Mail’s as an overnight success story (particularly as the accolades begin to roll in), Lush stands as evidence that Jordan’s victory is hard-won; the product of a huge amount of hard work, smart decisions, and personal insight.

While Snail Mail’s sound is partly indebted to their 90s indie-rock forebears (Jordan’s appreciation for labelmate Liz Phair is well-documented by now, and it’s hard not to hear hints of Sonic Youth and Pavement in her intricate guitar parts), the band has a distinct style of their own. You never get the impression that they’re imitating their heroes – moments when a guitar part recalls Mark Kozelek, or a vocal melody sounds a little like Beach House, feel more like hat-tips to contemporaries than a band copying off the older kids’ answer sheets.

Watch: Heat Wave. 

The record’s clear-sighted production and absence of intrusive gimmicks lend Lush a timeless quality. In resisting the temptation for a more maximalist approach to their full-length debut (which one might infer from its title), Jordan and band find a warm and rich happy medium. The rhythm section is lively without being overbearing, while Jordan’s guitars are lightly effected with reverb and chorus but predominantly clean and clear, even when the trio are really rocking out.

This foundation of restraint makes the nuances in these songs’ instrumentation all the more meaningful – it takes just a few aching notes from a french horn on ‘Deep Sea’ to elicit a very tangible sense of longing, while the gorgeously washed-out backing of organ and guitar feedback on ‘Anytime’ reinforces the closer’s quiet optimism, as Jordan sings “In the end you could waste your whole life anyways, and I want better for you”.

The focus of this LP is squarely on Jordan, whose clever songwriting, built on candid yet confident lyrics and memorable, idiosyncratic melodies, is just as refreshing on the fist-pumping ‘Pristine’ (whose cathartic chorus of “I know myself, and I’ll never love anyone else” feels revelatory) as on the stripped-back ‘Let’s Find An Out’. Jordan is defiant, insightful, and her debut LP consistently plays to her strengths, not least her canny ability to deploy her vulnerability.

While much of the conversation around this record will inevitably be around Jordan’s age, it’s an album with a rare self-awareness that other artists could spend a career pursuing, and a collection of songs that anyone would be proud to have made. It’s one of the most distinctive guitar records of the year, and a supremely confident statement of purpose from a songwriter whose skills will only become more finely honed.

Lush is out now via Matador.

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