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  • Writer's pictureBenjamin Kassel

"Valentine" excels as an album opener

Snail Mail's superb second record begins with a tone-setting build-up and bang.

Loving music means I love Fridays.

The industry's standard day for releases for the past seven-plus years, Fridays always greet me with plenty of new music to enjoy, particularly new albums. While I inevitably sometimes hear singles before the full albums off of which they come are released, I usually try not to do so, in order to be able to truly experience the album as a connected whole.

I managed to succeed in the above when it came to today's Senior Year Soundtrack selection, as it's a single which was released in mid-September from an album which came out today. "Valentine" is the lead single and opening track of Snail Mail's new album of the same name. Having first encountered Baltimore-area native Lindsey Jordan and her solo indie project through her impressive debut album Lush (2018), it was difficult for me to restrain myself from listening to "Valentine," when it was first published. After finally hearing it and the rest of her new album today, I can confidently say I'm glad I did, because "Valentine" is an excellent album opener in two major ways. It captures a transition from her guitar-driven Lush sound to the more synth-heavy style on her new record, and it introduces the album's thematic profile with energy befitting its place at the top of the track listing.

Jordan wastes no time in getting "Valentine" going, opening the track and the album with a high synth that has an air of foreboding to it. Instantly, one gets a sense that this synth primacy will be a sonic theme throughout the album, especially compared to her previous record. Over the synth, she begins to sing, "Let's go be alone / Where no one can see us, honey," matching the synth's dark mysteriousness with a depiction of an illicit romance. Just when we think we know how the album will take shape, though, comes its first twist: the key implied by the opening synth is not actually the song's key. While the high synth suggests B minor, the bass and mid-range synth then enter and solidify a key center of C. It's a jarring, but simultaneously welcome way to begin a record, shaking the listener from any expectations they may have about the music to come and thus making Jordan's musical decisions and changes of direction all the more gripping when they take shape.

Over the first two verses, Jordan builds up the dynamic of the focal affair. Her narrator describes the attraction through her love both having a 'spotlight' on her and apparently desiring to end the romance, while the narrator herself can't comprehend why that is. The song's video seems to provide greater context, with Jordan playing a chambermaid and private lover to a Victorian-era aristocratic lady, whose public love to a man is on full display in the middle three fifths of the video. Adding this side to the hidden love narrative exponentially augments the depth of the song's romance, tying the conflict within it the historical underrepresentation of queer love and the need for the lady of the house to maintain a façade of 'normalcy' above her deeper feelings. Jordan has never been afraid to breach the topic of queer love, likely empowered by her own experiences as an out lesbian, and the topic proves to be a important facet of the album's overarching heartbreak narrative.

Perhaps, then, the 'erasure' toward which Jordan's lover is trending is not meant to be against her, but rather for the lady to maintain her status out of fear of their trysts becoming public. That doesn't matter or register to Jordan in the moment, as her immediate feelings of disappointment supersede all other emotions or understanding. It's at this moment that the song finally changes direction explodes into its chorus: "So why'd you wanna erase me, darling valentine?" After a minute of exposition and buildup, here's the guitar-driven, album-opening energy we've been expecting in all its glory.

Yet it isn't one hundred percent damnation or doom and gloom in the narration, hence why I didn't call the displayed emotions 'betrayal.' Rather, Jordan leaves the door open for the other party, expecting she'll come back around to her true feelings: "You'll always know where to find me when you change your mind." That's when, not if. Jordan has confidence that their deeper connection will be the one to survive in the end. Is this point of view overly optimistic? Perhaps it's the only way she can rationalize having "ruined herself" for the other woman. Jordan gorily gets her way in the music video, but to me that climax feels more like a dream in which she's trying to process her heartbreak, a reading which falls in line with the rest of the album's lyrics more than the others — especially as the song ends with Jordan repeatedly singing, "I adore you."

For everything it accomplishes in terms of setting a theme and soundscape for Valentine, its title track is one of the most complete and fitting album openers of 2021. In a music industry which continues to be focused on the single, it's so refreshing to hear an up-and-coming young artist such as Lindsey Jordan (once again) capturing the essence of her album in its opening minutes through hard-hitting world- and sound-building.


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