Snail Mail at Oslo: ‘endearing sloppiness’
More often than not, being the recipient of ‘critical acclaim’ too early in your career ends in disaster. There’s nothing the music press loves more than heralding an act as ‘the next big thing’, listing a string of successful artists who that one early single may strike a passing resemblance to and inflating the bubble before stepping back and watching it burst, quickly side-tracked by another ‘big thing’ doing something equally ‘pioneering’ somewhere else.
This threatened to be the case with Snail Mail, the moniker of Baltimore-based singer-songwriter, Lindsey Jordan who performs her own brand of heart-on-sleeve indie rock. Having found an unexpected audience in 2016 off the back of her lo-fi debut EP Habit, and its youthfully buoyant lead single ‘Thinning’ (a quiet success story that has already accrued over 2 million listens on Spotify) there was always that risk of fame arriving too fast for the teenage star. Unlike other casualties of such ‘hype-band’ status and the intensified spotlight that comes with it, Jordan took time to collect her thoughts and focus on her songwriting process. It wasn’t until earlier this year that we got a whiff of any new material. Her music has benefited, and so far critics have been quick to praise her collection of well-observed, personal anecdotes that sit rests nicely alongside the emotionally-charged indie rock chord progressions that have come to define Snail Mail.
Which leads to a sold-out Tuesday night at Hackney’s Oslo – part hipster gastro pub, part top class venue, and rite of passage for many a hip band in ascension. A palpable sense of anticipation could be felt in the air as Snail Mail stept afoot a London stage for the first time as part of her own tour. Jordan began with the low-key yet poignant ‘Stick’. Cutting a lonely presence, Jordan’s purposeful vocals and sparse guitar strums had the audience clinging on to her every word, before bursting into the explosive, mournful lament of ‘would they stick around?’. Joined by the rest of her backing band, Jordan and co. weaved through a strew of tracks catering for both the acquainted and the curious. From the anthemic power pop of newbie, ‘Heat Wave’, forlorn fuzz of ‘Slug’, to the empowering ‘Thining’, a song in which Jordan discusses regaining her health after suffering from eight-months of bronchitis and whose noodling guitar hook was a particularly crowd-pleasing moment.
There’s an endearing sloppiness to the band’s live performance. Jordan’s enthusiasm saw her accidentally disconnect her guitar a handful of times (no thanks to an unhelpfully placed plug socket precariously positioned mid stage) yet this did little to disrupt the overall performance. Snail Mail may not be the most technically astute band you’ll catch on the live circuit right now, but that is by no means their USP nor what the fans are selling out venues to see. It’s the finely crafted pop hooks, satisfying song structure and Jordan’s enigmatic and wistful lyricism that has made Snail Mail such a word-of-mouth success story. It’s rare to watch a pre-album act and be surrounded by fans who know every word to every song, including the deeper cuts off their six-track, debut EP. I was half-surprised the audience didn’t join along as Jordan debuted the rootsy, Americana leaning new single ‘Let’s Find an Out’, proof that the band have their sights aimed further than the indie pop they have made their name with.
“This one’s about love,” whispered Jordan, visibly taken aback by the positive reception her band was getting from the packed out room, as she introduced more recent single ‘Pristine’. “Shock!” was the somewhat tongue-in-cheek reply from an audience member to which Jordan wryly smiled. There’s no secret that much of the content covered in Snail Mail’s body of work is the theme of love and what it means to be young, unhappy and unsure of your place in the world – something that Jordan confronts with honesty and certain defiance.
With such a small selection of songs to draw upon it was no surprise that the setlist only stretched to thirteen songs. A brief encore saw the band re-join Jordan after the ethereal balladry of ‘Anytime’ to perform the lo-fi epic, ‘Static Buzz’. The well-crafted song transporting the crowd from a weary afternoon slacker haze to an impassioned crescendo via the intensity of Jordan’s vocal. It’s this sense of purpose and Jordan’s ability to find a certain simplicity in the emotional density of adolescence that elevates Snail Mail above the sea of US indie pop bands. Eloquent yet ferocious, with a strong ear for a hook.