Soundcheck: Alison Sloan - Fate 

The OKC alt-pop artist unspools a new thread of tangled vices on her smart, concept-heavy third album.

click to enlarge Album art for Fate by Allison Sloan.

Photo provided

Album art for Fate by Allison Sloan.

With wine bottle, cellphone, guitar and more sprawling out from her being in swirls of Blue Willow china inkwork, a hand-drawn Alison Sloan rests comfortably on the cover of her new album. If her eyes were open, she would be looking directly at the viewer, but her mind is elsewhere, finally finding an inner peace that she desperately hunts for the entire record. How does she find it? The answer is in the title, or rather her specific definition of it.

Fate, the third album from OKC singer-songwriter Alison Sloan, continues her penchant for clever concepts and mental health-aware takes on modern life’s tribulations. This new chapter laces a seven-song release with a throughline of postmodern biblical references and game symbolism. The track count is intentional, as Sloan bounced her songwriting off of each of the proverbial seven deadly sins to create it.

While it doesn’t kick into gear as forcefully as her last major release — the industrial power tool rhythms of 2020’s Headspace are nowhere to be found here — Fate has its own way of ensnaring attention. Opening track “GFY” is an unapologetic acronym for “go fuck yourself,” and the phrase crashes the party within the first 30 seconds of the record. It then proceeds to sting the end of every chorus with a catty, swing-time attitude, but the song isn’t as shallow as it might seem. The structure leaves plenty of space between its venomous barbs for witty wordplay, and Sloan does plenty with it, spinning metaphors from Christian concepts and Monopoly gameplay alike to berate her subject. If it isn’t yet clear, this is the song inspired by wrath.

Not all of the tracks are as overt in their sinful connections, though, so mileage may vary per listener. For example, the derelict shambles of lead single “Alive” are a lyrical dead ringer for sloth, while the suburban imperfection of “We Don’t Talk” is much more subdued and distant in how it ties to gluttony. Musically, they are almost swapped siblings, with gluttony sounding like the soft buzz of a lounge cocktail and sloth given the upbeat show tune treatment. Closer attention, though, shows that these takes were likely picked for the delicious irony they reveal.

Fate is full of bops, and at a brisk runtime of less than a half hour, its replay value is high. Featuring production work from Oklahoma’s ivory-pounding son, Johnny Manchild, every track is given its own unique, fully fleshed personality to reflect its thematic angle. Paired with Sloan’s jazz-tinged pop vocals, the music is as much a storyteller as the lyricism.

These stories do not fit conventional narratives, however, and that’s part of the brilliance of how Fate functions as a concept album. Sloan, while frequently referencing the polar ends of good and evil, is grounded deeply in the messy middle ground of the everyday earthbound human. In trying to piece together broken arcs, she finds more questions than answers. Furthermore, she sometimes plays the unreliable narrator and pulls from her musical theater acumen to spin threads that tell on themselves as much as they tell on others. It’s complicated.

Sloan clearly brings a lot of personal baggage into these songs, but the album is such an evasive Tilt-A-Whirl of a baggage claim that listeners aren’t expected to navigate them cleanly. If anything, Sloan encourages them to throw up their hands and enjoy the ride.

As a basic concept, fate implies divine guidance, but Alison Sloan plays with the edges of this definition on Fate. In all of her references to sinners and saints, a secular realism muddies the holy waters of their supposed morality. Fate, Sloan concludes, is the last resort to understanding the universe, a catch-all for the fringes of meaning itself, but it is also functional. Is it passive? Reductive? Sure, but until there are better guidelines for living that produce better results, processing mixed feelings in this way provides a stopgap sense of comfort. Sometimes the easiest answer is that there simply are no easy answers. Besides, some of the all-time greats agree. Call it fate. Que sera sera. Let it be.

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