The Aces have been vocal about their disdain for the “girl group” label. In part, it’s because the moniker can be tokenizing, as other bands like HAIM have pointed out. But in the case of The Aces, the label diminishes the other distinguishing factors of their music. First, the group sings about queer relationships and heartbreak; although band wrote on Twitter that recent single “Kelly” was the “first time we have openly expressed in our music the diversity in sexuality within our band,” queerness has been a staple in their lyrical universe since their debut.
The girls (sisters Cristal Ramirez and Alisa Ramirez, Katie Henderson, and McKenna Petty) also hail from a unique spot as far as hometowns of LGBTQIA+ musicians go: Provo, Utah. These complexities are the foundation of their sound, but in pop music, it can be difficult to address experiences like these without pandering or watering them down. Regardless, The Aces have successfully asserted themselves and their distinctive background on the sophomore album Under My Influence. It’s a sleek record that cherry-picks the best of recent pop production and unpacks the queer experience with an earnest, casual charisma.
The sound of the album fits squarely into the biggest moments in the woman-driven pop of the past year. “New Emotion” sounds like an edgier version of Dua Lipa’s “Break My Heart,” and the slinky production of “801” is reminiscent of Lana del Rey’s cover of Sublime’s “Doin’ Time.” But there are more retro references as well. “Can You Do” calls Depeche Mode to mind, and “Kelly” features a Santana-esque guitar riff after the chorus. Other tracks have a pop-punk edge, a’ la Paramore or Avril Lavigne. But although the assortment of influences might suggest otherwise, The Aces refuse to let experimentation threaten the album’s cohesiveness.
The album is bookended by “Daydream” and “Zillionaire,” two sugary bangers that are much airier than the twelve in the middle. Driven by Petty’s thumping bass, the rest of the album is gloomier and embraces the subtleties of queer relationships. “Kelly” and “All Mean Nothing” are highlights from the top half of the album; Cristal Ramirez’s vocals especially shine on the latter. “My Phone Is Trying to Kill Me” is a song Katy Perry might have made if she was in her early 20s in the age of Instagram, and “New Emotion” injects groovy confidence into the anxiety of falling in love with a friend.
The heart of the album falls squarely in the center at track seven. “801” might be the first Salt Lake City party anthem in history, and it’s the kind of story only The Aces could tell. The song is well aware of its irony, but lyrics like “being ourselves could never be a crime” hint at a deeper cultural conflict at play. It’s the perfect storm of a song, and The Aces are incredibly believable narrators.
In the second half of the record, the gothic edge softens a bit. “I Can Break Your Heart Too” is a response to the bedroom pop trend, and the production of “Lost Angeles,” a classic “I’m-lonely-in-LA” anthem, is more upbeat than its subject matter. The most somber lyrics on the album are found on “Cruel,” which ironically plays like a classic pop song. Throughout the album, the band experiments with the interplay between production and lyricism, confusion and confidence, and melancholy and exhilaration. Each track has a unique relationship to each binary, resulting in a set of diverse yet cohesive songs that present The Aces in a thoughtful light.
On Under My Influence, The Aces navigate through the gray areas of love, heartbreak, and miscommunication with certainty. It’s an accidental album for the current times; it’s dark but not heavy and welcomes nuance, confusion, and authenticity. By integrating their distinct lyrics with a diverse array of influences from Lana to Avril, The Aces prove that they are no longer just students of pop; they can be teachers as well.
Under My Influence is available to stream everywhere.