Sasha Sloan, and the powerful beauty of her debut album, Only Child
On her debut album, one of music's most brilliant and in-demand songwriters finds her time in the spotlight, and what a moment it is.
There's a real power in songwriting, often felt both by the musician and anyone who listens in. As a musician, writing music allows reflecting. It's something you can bury yourself into for escapism, or contrastingly, use to tackle your emotions head-on with the hopes of processing them through music, the associated creative release often cathartic and therapeutic in doing so. For those listening at home, it can provide the same feelings alongside the warm comfort of relatability and familiarity - it's easy to feel less alone when you have someone you feel like has gone through the same, even if you don't know them personally.
It's a broad, general and quite obvious statement to say that there's a power in songwriting. Still, it's something that's often not emphasised enough in current listening habits, where streaming has pushed forward so much music at one time that it's often hard to digest something properly. However, despite trends moving towards quicker and more bright-eyed pop songwriting particularly in 2020, that hasn't stopped some of the recent years' most potent work arriving throughout the last ten months, especially amidst the chaos that is 2020.
Someone central to this year's musical potency - and many of the years' before it, too - is US songwriter Sasha Sloan. She's someone we've talked about before - specifically in a feature emphasising the trend of songwriters and producers behind-the-scenes making their way into the spotlight - and since then, she's only doubled down on her craft for heightened songwriting, most publically visible through her work alongside Katy Perry, LANY, Charli XCX and ODESZA throughout the last few years.
However, it's also something that particularly shines - if not more-so - within her own work, which has slowly built itself up over the last few years to reach its climactic peak today, with the release of her debut solo album Only Child.
The record is a culmination of years spent honing in on her craft with some of music's best, mixed with the creative control and storytelling freedom that comes with having a solo project in which you can write for yourself. Together, they form ten tracks that will pull you every which way, dissecting Sasha Sloan in a way that opens her up to bring you into her world, but also in a way that makes it feel like she's entering yours too - this aforementioned embrace of relatability coming through in a way that makes you feel less alone, even in a time that keeps everyone as distant as ever.
That's something that shines throughout Only Child, and something that makes it an impactful work of art needed at a time like now, where many releases like this have been delayed due to whatever factors. Only Child is rich with moments of confession and boldness, featuring Sasha dive deep into herself to dissect the intimate moments of her life that come together in a way that centres maturation and growth; the album feeling like a transformative moment in that way.
On the album-opening House With No Mirrors, for example, she sings about acceptance and self-adoration in a way that captures the journey many have sung before through a different lens: "I'd be louder, I'd be honеst, probably wouldn't be self-conscious / I'd go to a party, not care who was there, not spend an hour pickin' what to wear," she sings. It's a song that aches with this intimacy; one that breaks down this particular journey in a way that actually feels representative of how it actually is, with a delivery that encourages you to pull apart every word.
It's one that people can find comfort in, but there's still a heaviness to its release, even throughout its roll-out. "When House with No Mirrors came out, I had like a panic attack for four hours afterwards because of course I'm questioning, 'Am I the only girl who's ever felt this way?," she told EW with the album's release. "In today's culture, there's a lot of empowering music out there for females and I'm just not doing that, and that is a little scary. But I think vulnerability is empowering too. So yeah, it's an emotional roller coaster."
It's easy to understand the anxiety in releasing such reflective and vulnerable snapshots of your life, but they have a lasting effect. As Sasha debated her place in the musical canon, people began to reach out in the wake of the song's release. "I think there are many of us who feel the same; there is no reason to bite your tongue," wrote one on social media. "Your songs have changed my way of thinking a lot," writes another. It's clear something is connecting, and that something is the empowerment of vulnerability, and how it makes people feel less alone.
Is It Just Me? provides a similar sense of familiarity but with a light-hearted edge - "Modern art is boring, politicians are annoying / I don't think love lasts forever and old music was better / Am I just high or am I kinda right?" - while something like Until It Happens To You directs it through a darker lens; an intimate moment that reflects the end "goal" of the album to bring you into her life, and the stories that have defined her growth both musically and personally.
However, while Only Child is a darker record laden with these moments of vulnerability, it'd be a crime to dismiss Sasha as someone who only aligns herself with the more solemn moments in life. Throughout the record, Sasha Sloan moves within her songwriting's natural ebbs and flows. For every grim-lit valley, there's a soaring peak that makes you clench your fists and wave them around, whether it be on a surface-level through the music, or with the empowerment and comfort that comes with having yourself feel seen.
Lie brings one of those high peaks on a purely aesthetic moment, as she taps into the hook structures and songwriting that she's used to benefit some of pop's now most-adored names. There are moments throughout the album too - like Is It Just Me? - that captures her particular sadness in a way that almost makes you laugh about it, or in a way that centres itself around empowerment - particularly the charge that comes with cathartic songwriting.
However, the way that Sasha Sloan's Only Child feels its brightest is in its comfort, and how it's a record that makes you feel seen - whether you're someone like Sasha in her exact circumstances, or whether you're someone hundreds of kilometres away going through a completely different thing, but still able to latch onto her emotions as a source of relatability that makes you feel less alone.
In a time like now, it's essential that you have the indulgence that can give escapism and pluck you away - "Like WAP is kind of my favourite song right now," Sasha tells American Songwriter. "I’ve also been watching a lot of 90-Day Fiance and The Office reruns." - but it's also important that you have something there to wallow in throughout a time of need, and we don't think there's anyone more perfect for that than Sasha Sloan.
Sasha Sloan's debut album Only Child is out now via RCA Records / Sony Music AU.
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