What I am used to from Jason Sloan is sound experiments that blend various audio sources with vocal snips, edgy and complex collages tinged with subtle rhythms. What I am not used to from Jason Sloan, but could get very used to based on his new album, Haven, is sequencer-driven, velocity-plus-drift, Berlin School homage grooves that demand and reward a lot of volume. Haven is a sheer delight for analog junkies like me, whose pulses frequently fall into a step-and-repeat motif. I received this album from Jason when I saw him perform in Philadelphia in September 2016. It was the first thing I played on my ride home to Boston…and I played it five times in a row. With three mid-length tracks and one sonic palate cleanser as an epilogue, it clocks in at just over 45 minutes, and every moment is superb. The three longer tracks lay out along a similar path, opening with big, warm drifting chords, slowly allowing a sequencer line to come in and share the space, and then easing back into the drifts to close. “Aleppo” kicks off the album with string pads and piano accents. The sound drapes beautifully, with a mildly mournful tone, and the gently pulsing piano notes give a hint of the sequencer touches to come. When they arrive, it’s on that strident 1-2-3-4 line, down toward the bass end but not low, and their clean, angular energy folds itself smoothly into the flow. “Egress” follows, entering on a hiss of chilly electro-wind. Once it gets going, this track, which was commissioned by the Star’s End radio show, is the one that most strongly pings my Tangerine Dream recognition centers. I am instantly reminded of my favorite parts of Sorcerer; there’s that same sense of tension in the springy, metallic tone of the sequencers, and Sloan works the electronic atmosphere into an underplayed urgency. When this piece downshifts late in the track and brings back the wind sound and its atmosphere, the sense of release is quite real. Starry arpeggios back-light the scene. Throughout the track, he makes the choice to lay some kind of muting over every element —nothing really raises its voice, and everything takes on a hushed, misty feel. Top speed is reached on “Hegira,” which wastes no time in cranking up criss-crossing sequencer lines. Were there a need to put an aural pin in the map for reference, it would be early, Traveler-era Steve Roach, complete with pulsing analog chug and swells of high, symphonic pads. The title track is a fairly straightforward melodic piece, washed through with string sounds that hearken back to the opening tones in “Aleppo” and bringing the piece to a thoughtful close. Across the album, the transition between tracks is flawless, making Haven a focused straight-through listen.
This is a very different side of Jason Sloan than I’ve heard before, and an equally good one. For all its nostalgic analog value, it’s such a strong outing that the references barely matter. This is solid Berlin-style synth EM wrapped around a potent emotional core, and it’s a must-hear.
Available from Bandcamp.