Only Child: a review and analysis of the debut album by Sasha Sloan
Sasha Sloan has had a pretty meteoric couple of years and she has been on the scene for about six years, a comparably short time for a new artist to go from a complete unknown to being on a major label with a following. Sloan was only at the Berklee College of Music for a year when she landed a publishing deal at 19 with Warner/Chappell, so she dropped out to pursue her passions by moving across the country to Los Angeles. Sloan would go on to feature on tracks with Kaskade and ODESZA before releasing her solo material and cutting her teeth by writing with artists such as Camila Cabello, Charli XCX, Dua Lipa, and Tinashe. Sloan released a handful of singles before she got signed to RCA Records and released her first EP, sad girl — which established Sloan’s honest, melancholic, and sharply written musical identity. Even since then, Sloan’s career has continued to grow — she’s landed placements with Katy Perry, Anne-Marie, and John Legend and she’s released two more EPs since then. Only Child is Sloan’s first full-length album, which sees her collaborating with her frequent collaborator King Henry — who is also incidentally her boyfriend at this point. Anyone who has listened to Sloan is aware by now of her raw writing skill and the gentle and bittersweet melodies she turns out with her collaborators, but this is a chance for her to show the world her talent and artistry with a full body of work.
The album begins with “Matter to You”, a pensive soft rock banger where Sloan paints herself as an introvert and confesses her feelings of being invisible, especially in situations with large groups of people. However, Sloan has found someone who acknowledges and appreciates her. Sloan finds comfort in this, lingering while singing “you” as she relishes the fact that she has someone who cares for her. “Only Child”, the album’s title track, is a piano-led song that sees Sloan fantasizing about having a sibling or two, bemoaning the loneliness that comes with having grown up as an only child. Sloan imagines a sister she could relate to who has experienced the same childhood events she did, and with whom she could share her heartbreaks. She also imagines a protective brother who would also deal with their father, hinting towards the effects her parents’ troubled marriage has had on her. The almost-acoustic “House With No Mirrors” is another outing in fantasy as Sloan imagines living in a house with no mirrors, though this is also figurative. Sloan is expressing a wish that she could be more confident and that she would not find herself prone to her insecurities. She details how her faults with her appearance have also affected her personality, making her more reserved and distant where she might have been more outgoing and sociable. Sloan picks up the pace with the light synthpop of “Lie”, though Sloan’s lyrics paint a tragic picture as she recognizes the fractures in the relationship with her partner. She pleads with them to salvage the relationship, asking that they pretend things between them are better than they are and to deny the truth of their impending breakup.
“Hypochondriac” relies on acoustic guitar and Sloan’s reverb-affected vocals to sell the ode’s sentiment towards her partner. Sloan reflects on how she lived recklessly in the past, neglecting her health and uncaring of what the effects were. She contemplates on how this has changed, and how her partner has given her a reason to live for resulting in her new fear of ill health and injury, not wanting anything to jeopardize the time she has with them and fearful that if something were to happen to her, she would never find someone like them again. “Is It Just Me?” finds Sloan voicing all the questions she secretly ponders, wondering if other people have the same questions or if her line of thinking is unusual. Sloan has some genuinely interesting opinions to consider and the messaging of the song is relatable, as we all often have unusual questions we think about but are too insecure or cautious to ask aloud. Sloan also sings over a rhythmic guitar track and the song highlights the organic cynicism and authenticity of her writing, allowing listeners to get insight into Sloan’s personality. “Santa’s Real” is a revisit to Sloan’s fantasy-based side of writing as she recounts the unrealistic beliefs she held when she was younger. Sloan laments the loss of her innocence, expressing her wish to live in an idealistic world where none of the problems of reality exist, relating this desire to listeners through familiar concepts such as Santa Claus and superheroes. The production adds a synth that sounds ripped straight from a 1980s Christmas song, riffing on the title and the concepts in the lyrics.
“Someone You Hate” is a lively soft rock tale of one of Sloan’s past breakups. She recalls how she promised her partner’s mother she would take care of them but found that they were outgrowing each other. She marvels at how she was someone they loved and how that completely flipped into her being the object of hatred. Sloan sounds remorseful as she tells of how she realized she would have to break her ex’s heart, but resolute in the finality of their relationship, toeing but never crossing the line towards appearing unlikable as she takes on the role of a heartbreaker. Sloan examines the differences between sympathy and empathy, specifically how they relate to grief on “Until It Happens to You”. She reasons that although one may be able to express their condolences to someone they love who has experienced loss, they cannot comprehend how much it hurts until something similar happens to them. It is a melancholic and angst-filled pop-rock tune that Sloan sings with a mix of wistfulness and bitterness that illuminates the difficulties of navigating grief. “High School Me”, the album’s closing track is another synthpop ode Sloan dedicates to her younger self. She considers how much she has grown since her adolescence and how she wishes she could reassure her teenage self that things would turn out better than she ever dreamed they would. Sloan is realistic as she reflects on her past and her present, noting that everything does not all get better but that the troubles that mattered to her then pale in comparison to her present circumstances.
Only Child is a strong showcase of Sasha Sloan’s songwriting ability and her unique brand of narrative and creative artistic voice. Across the album, Sloan flaunts different aspects of her writing style but retains a keen sense of language, tackling different subjects but constantly finding ways to present them in a relatable yet fresh approach for listeners. Sloan’s sound focuses on intimacy and though she does not push her boundaries musically, this is not a flaw in any way but rather a feature that allows her lyricism to shine. Sloan has a naturally pretty and crystalline voice which she is adept at using to convey the emotions and stories she succeeds in relating to listeners. The production is resonant and clean throughout, capturing the rawness of Sloan’s artistry and emotional authenticity that functions as the album’s backbone. This is a real treat of a debut album that features an artist who innately knows her craft and is not afraid to get real with listeners, and should introduce them to a singer-songwriter who can perfectly musically capture a moment in amber.