For the Records is a series of articles by special guest writer Mike McCubbins on his favorite albums of the 2010s. Click here to read the entire series. Photo by Audrey Melton courtesy of Snail Mail’s Facebook page.
June’s glowing red/ Oh strawberry moon/ You’re always coming back a little older/ But it looks alright on you.
I’ve reached the point where most of the new artists I like are younger than me. The first time I had this shocking realization was with Annie Clark of St. Vincent who is only three months my junior, but who my brain has always seen as someone impossibly more mature. 2011’s Strange Mercy is her high point for me. It won’t be making this list, but that’s not necessarily a judgement of its merits as an admission that I don’t really have much to say about it. St. Vincent has made a transformation from songs that feel like some kind of transatlantic folk to self-aware pop. The shift is there in her self-titled 2014 album in the way sculptural guitar passages loom like monuments instead of folding into the landscape, the way her faltering falsettos traded lines with vocal jabs of caustic self-empowerment. With her newest, 2018’s Masseduction, that transformation is complete—gone into the gallery of hard edged self-aware pop music where I dare not tread.
I found St. Vincent singing in the street. A version of “Paris is Burning” recorded for the Blogotheque series, a YouTube series of mostly American artists recording a cappella versions of their songs in the streets, courtyards, and abandoned buildings of Paris. In the Aughts, this was the place to go to find new artists (Fleet Foxes, Beirut, Grizzly Bear, and Arcade Fire recordings among some of its highlights) Here in the Teens, NPRs Tiny Desk Concert series has taken that mantle. Here you’ll find relatively paired down excellent recordings by Angel Olsen, Phoebe Bridgers, and Sufjan Stevens (three more artists with some of my favorite albums of the Teens that deserve a few paragraphs from me, but I’m certain you can find plenty elsewhere). This is where I found Snail Mail doing versions of a few tracks from their album Lush between singer Lindsey Jordan’s charming bits of self-deprecatory banter.
Yes, the headline here is that Lindsey recorded Lush as a 19-year-old. Anyone who has heard Lush is likely to feel its anachronistic power. Not only because Lindsey feels like such an old soul, but because Lush feels like adult indie rock from the early ‘90s a la Sonic Youth or Dinosaur Jr. There’s a Gen-X weariness to her delivery in songs like album opener “Pristine”:
I’ll never get real/ And you’ll never change to me cuz I’m not looking/ Anyways/
There are a few words for us early ‘80s millennials who don’t necessarily identify as such: Xennials, The Oregon Trail Generation, and Cuspers (my favorite) among them. We were old enough to feel the sting of grunge, but young enough to feel native to internet 2.0. But I got a chip on my shoulder because I’ll never really know what it was like to be there with Fugazi or Pixies in the late ‘80s. My special indie rock inheritance includes Neutral Milk Hotel, Mogwai, Radiohead, and other major forces that created the Aughts out of clay and who’s legacy still echoes into our present.
But Snail Mail are a Gen-Z force, a generation removed from Gen-X. On them it just looks cool. Doubly so to me because it feels like the older cool kids and has the urgency of youth. I’m too susceptible to its dry but aching emotional notes. It cuts deep, and it doesn’t help that Lush, a breakup album that falls pretty squarely on the hurt side of the hurt/liberated spectrum, found me in a similar state:
If it’s not supposed to be/ Then I’ll just let it be/ And out of everyone/ Be honest with me.
Suffice to say, an album’s power often gets multiplied in this equation, its palettes bleeding into the greater emotional landscape, its particular sounds, doors into places one would rather not go. I felt more than a little self-conscious attending Snail Mail’s St. Louis tour stop if only to have this 20 y/o sing my busted 37 y/o feelings for me. And as a 37 y/o, I have to roll my eyes a little even as I’m locked in hard to the sentiment on some of “Pristine”’s lyrics:
I know myself/ And I’ll never love anyone else
Ummm, coming from a 20 y/o, neither of these statements are bound to be true. (Neither of them feel particularly true for this 37 y/o either). There will almost certainly be new loves, identity crises, and hopefully more albums describing them from Snail Mail. For them, the future is actually wide open, even if that future sounds a lot like the past. | Mike McCubbins