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Snail Mail Delivers Sturdy Guitar Riffs And Soaring Vocals On 'Lush'


This is FRESH AIR.


GROSS: Our rock critic Ken Tucker has a review of the new debut album by the 18-year-old singer-songwriter Lindsey Jordan who records under the name Snail Mail. Her album is titled "Lush."


SNAIL MAIL: (Singing) Don't even want to fix it now, should know better than to wait around. All in a haze, couldn't shake it for the rest of the day.

KEN TUCKER, BYLINE: Lindsey Jordan is 18 years old, and she's been playing guitar for 13 years. This combination - youth plus experience - equals a highly distinctive sound. Jordan uses Snail Mail as both a stage name for herself and as the name of her band. She recently told The New York Times, I have a lot of self-awareness and not a lot of shame. That already places her ahead of an awful lot of adults I know.


SNAIL MAIL: (Singing) Swirl in the white evening sun. Tell me that I'm the only one. And I hope I never get a clue. Green eyes, I don't know what to do. And I hope whoever it is holds their breath around you 'cause I know I did.

TUCKER: You can get a good sense of the full Snail Mail experience by listening to "Pristine," the album's first single. Built with a sturdy guitar hook, the song achieves liftoff with Jordan's soaring vocal. Addressed to a lover who's not paying her much attention now, she asks, is there any better feeling than coming clean? She asks it in such a way that you begin to suspect the narrator didn't get the positive reaction she hoped for, that for some people, coming clean may be too much information.


SNAIL MAIL: (Singing) Same night, same humility for those that love you. Anyways, anyways, and if you do find someone better, I'll still see you in everything tomorrow and all the time. And don't you like me for me? Is there any better feeling than coming clean? And I know myself, and I'll never love anyone else. I won't love anyone else. I'll never love anyone else.

TUCKER: Given the length of time she's been playing it in her young life, you have to figure the sound of her guitar is as important to her as the content of her words. And it's worth listening closely to the way Lindsey Jordan deploys her instrument. Working with a band that's just a bass-drums-rhythm section, Jordan makes her lead guitar lines shimmer and squawk depending on the mood of the song. She also does the useful thing of making her rock guitar do the work of a folksinger's acoustic one on a song such as "Let's Find An Out."


SNAIL MAIL: (Singing) June's glowing red. Oh, strawberry moon, you're always coming back a little older, but it looks all right on you. Let's find an out.

TUCKER: Looking through some of the early reviews of Snail Mail, some have zeroed in on the heartbreak in Lindsey Jordan's lyrics. But what strikes me is how elusive and elliptical they often are, how frequently they resist easy interpretation without a trace of pretension. Three short lines in the song "Anytime" - carved your name in the white dulling day - well, that is lyric verse that any print poet would be pleased to have written.


SNAIL MAIL: (Singing) And I carved your name in the white dulling day. Couldn't believe you were gone. Do you love me? In the passing...

TUCKER: Lindsey Jordan emerged from a suburb of Baltimore where she started applying her classical guitar education to influences such as Liz Phair and Waxahatchee's Katie Crutchfield. Snail Mail has been an opening act for the latter. This debut album, "Lush," isn't lush exactly. The music is too hard-nosed for that adjective. But it does have a luxurious sprawl. Most of the songs hover around the five-minute mark, yet they rarely seem too long. For someone so new to this album game, Jordan is impressively, almost unnervingly, good at it.

GROSS: Ken Tucker is critic at large for Yahoo TV. He reviewed Snail Mail's new album, "Lush." After we take a short break, film critic Justin Chang will review the sequel to the animated film "The Incredibles." This is FRESH AIR.


Ken Tucker
Ken Tucker reviews rock, country, hip-hop and pop music for Fresh Air. He is a cultural critic who has been the editor-at-large at Entertainment Weekly, and a film critic for New York Magazine. His work has won two National Magazine Awards and two ASCAP-Deems Taylor Awards. He has written book reviews for The New York Times Book Review and other publications.