“It’s so nice to not be at a bar.”
Midway through Snail Mail’s set, lead singer/guitarist Lindsey Jordan took a moment to appreciate the beautiful space of the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit (MOCAD), the venue when she — alongside Ought and Fred Thomas — performed at on Mar. 8th. While the space did feature a fully stocked bar, it was far from a dive — soft yellow incandescents hung staggered from the ceiling, wall flags displayed messages like “A HORROR MOVIE CALLED WESTERN CIVILIZATION” and the stage was backed by a glass paneled garage door for those passing on the street to peer through. The venue itself wasn’t huge, but the room felt big and spacious, enough for groups of people to cluster either near the bar or in different locations in front of the stage.
Regardless of MOCAD’s unique intricacies, Snail Mail, who preceded Ought, put on an absolutely stellar performance. Aged only 18 and already set to perform at Coachella this year, Jordan and company have been turning heads since 2017. The band’s brand of indie punk is magnetic and bareboned; watching Jordan play guitar — stunning control and precision already evident at such a young age — is mesmerizing. According to her interview with Pitchfork from a year ago, she has been playing since she was five-years-old and one of her guitar teachers, Mary Timony of the band Helium, said, “The first time she played me songs she was writing, I was totally blown away. There is this real timelessness and maturity and depth in her music.” The sentiment absolutely translates in their live performance.
During and in between songs, Jordan cast mischievous smiles at her bandmates, fully aware of their penchant for captivation — from my spot in the crowd, everyone was nearly silent for Snail Mail’s entire performance except for raucous applause. They surprisingly slipped their hit song “Thinning” into the middle of their set, eliciting resonance from the crowd that echoed Jordan’s tight, honest lyricism. “Dirt” lilted over the crowd, swaying guitar rhythms exited the speakers and enraptured the listeners. Jordan’s voice has a nuanced depth, creating a sense of resignation and self-understanding in her music.
To Ought’s misfortune, about half the crowd left after Snail Mail’s set (possibly due to how late the show was running on a Thursday night). Yet, the post-punk group’s music still cast a spell over the rest who remained. In performance and on record, the band comes off like a hybrid between DIIV and Parquet Courts, wielding deep, repetitive basslines and dissonant guitar melodies and splitting a chasm in the atmosphere of the room, only to have that space filled with cavernous and staccato vocal deliveries from frontman Tim Darcy. On their new wave tinged 2018 release Room Inside the World, Ought sprinkles a little more melody and pop into their tried-and-true songwriting, getting into a more digestible groove with “These 3 Things.” However, they didn’t shy from their roots, returning to their 2014 debut album More Than Any Other Day with the sparsely delivered “Habit.”
If there’s anything to take away from the show, it’s that 2018 may be the year of indie rock (especially for women). Between stellar releases from Ought, Camp Cope and Soccer Mommy, the year has already been off to a fantastic start for the genre — hopefully even further improved with the addition of new music from Snail Mail. And if last Thursday’s show is any indication, Snail Mail may just be the year’s biggest breakout artist.