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The Embryonic Beauty of Snail Mail’s ‘Lush’

Nineteen-year-old Lindsey Jordan has just released one of the best albums of the year

Lindsey Jordan Getty Images/Ringer illustration

There’s a circularity to Lush, the tremendous first album from the Maryland band Snail Mail—a quality that becomes especially poignant when you take the record as a whole. Frontwoman and guitarist Lindsey Jordan unceremoniously titles the first track “Intro,” and it’s a deadpan little shrug of a song, just some muted guitar and a melody sung as if behind a fogged pane of glass. But about 30 minutes later—after Jordan has pulled you through a series of epic hooks and fluctuating emotions that crest and crash as tall as tidal waves—that melody will recur, although this time without the protective glass. She gives the song a real title this time, “Anytime,” and the once modest tune now has these hi-fi depths that engulf you in its world. The song is more powerful because it is predicated by that false start—you know the struggle at stake for Jordan to express herself so completely. But the previous songs have warmed her up, and she’s now opened her heart wide enough to finish the thought. “In the end, you could waste your whole life,” she sings to someone she loves, which by the end of this journey could easily be herself, “Anyways, and I want better for you.”

“The songs all had to have that moment for me where I feel like when I was playing [them] live I could cry,” Jordan said in a recent, giddy interview with The New York Times. That’s quite a standard to hold oneself to, but it also explains the huge, operatic, and utterly contagious honesty of Lush. Jordan favors loud, strange, dirgelike chords, and there’s something primal about the songs she makes out of them, an oceanic immensity to their force. As a songwriter, Jordan’s perspective is alive to a wide-open sense of possibility, the terrifying and exhilarating empty space that exists in front of youth. Take, for example, the bridge of the album’s first proper song, “Pristine”:

If it’s not supposed to be, then I’ll just let it be
And out of everyone, be honest with me
And who do you change for?
Who’s top of your world?
And out of everyone, who’s your type of girl?

We can be anything
Even apart
And out of everything, it doesn’t have to be this hard
I can be anyone when I’m so entwined
And out of everyone, who’s on your mind?

What a perfect expression of the awe of early love, the ordinary miracle of being chosen by someone out of everyone in the whole world. And yet in the same breath, she shrugs, it would be fine not to be chosen, because given all the people in the world seriously what are the odds. Plus, anyway: I can be anyone. Jordan’s got another year left of being a teenager. There is still time to become so many different things.

Jordan has a voice that grazes the sour side of sweet, which means that Snail Mail’s music has something to do with emo, although it’s big and universal in a way that transcends genre. (I challenge anyone to write a better rock chorus this year than the fist-pumping eighth song on this album, “Full Control.”) Jordan has said that, along with Liz Phair, one of her inspirations is Hayley Williams of Paramore: Before listening to her, she’s said in a recent New York Times interview, “I actually didn’t know women were allowed in bands.”

An adventurer up and down the fretboard, Jordan has been playing guitar since she was 5 years old, and she took some of her lessons from Mary Timony, the frontwoman of the legendary and yet still somehow underrated indie band Helium. Jordan’s music doesn’t exactly sound like Timony’s—Helium’s vibe was defiantly scratchy where Snail Mail’s is glisteningly clear—but they share a sensibility and a certain young, female perspective, the kind you have when the world sees you as small, but inside, you’re overflowing with feelings, experiences, and bold proclamations. “I’m small, like a superball,” Timony sang on one of the singles from Helium’s fantastic first album, 1995’s The Dirt of Luck. But the song also exuded this sense of excess, of overflow, of there always being more more more than meets the eye. “Everything I say,” she sang, “ends with ‘and.’”

Will you think me a human Steve Buscemi meme if I admit that I sometimes get jealous of the youth? Not in a creepy, I-want-to-suck-your-blood Peter Thiel way, but more in a sense that I wish I could have experienced some of the acceptance and open-heartedness that seems, at least from a distance, endemic a generation below mine. Most days, I am incredibly grateful to have gotten through high school before social media existed, and there is a looming fear now inherent to the American high school experience that I do not envy. But also, the kids coming up behind us Old Millennials are free of some of the limitations that defined and may have stunted some of us. Girls don’t have to be girls so simply anymore, just as boys don’t have to be boys. I’m sure I’m seeing it all through rose-colored lenses, but sometimes I think that had I been born in Generation Z, or whatever they decide to call it when they’re old enough to take control of the narrative, I would have saved a lot of money on therapy.

But music, especially when it’s as inviting and emotionally intelligent as Lush, has this fountain-of-youth quality about it. Snail Mail’s songs grant the listener this huge embryonic space of feeling—the kind that is timeless, ageless, and without gender. Timony and Phair are in there somewhere, as young as they are in their most famous songs, and so are Frank Ocean and Lorde and Waxahatchee and also, if we’re extending it to fictional characters, maybe Elio from Call Me by Your Name. The ones who understand that love, whether or not it is requited, can be a vehicle for self-knowledge. Jordan is a new, worthy member of that club.

Lindsey Jordan only just turned 19, but her songs are an unconscious rebuttal to the idea that a teenage girl’s experience of the world must inherently be small, diminished, palm-muted. I sometimes think about a perceptive line from the comedian and writer Jessi Klein’s essay collection You’ll Grow Out of It, in which she writes of her formative years as an American girl, “[W]hen I looked at what it would mean to become a woman—one of those standard grown-up ladies, like the ones from commercials for gum or soda or shampoo—it all seemed to involve shrinking rather than growing.” Not so, says Jordan, at least not anymore, her voice and body and heart expanding like Alice post-mushroom. I can be anyone.