Label: Red Bull Records Inc.
Release Date: 17th July 2020
"Songs like ‘Kelly’ on this album, talking about how the narrator “Spent the night between her thighs”, are the representation of female sexuality, and of specifically female homosexuality, that pop music needs more of."
Four-piece alt-pop group from Utah, The Aces, consisting of Cristal Ramirez (lead vocals and guitar), Katie Henderson (guitar and vocals), McKenna Petty (bass and vocals), and Alisa Ramirez (drums and vocals), released their first single ‘Stuck’ in 2016. Their debut album, When My Heart Felt Volcanic, being released in 2018. Back with their second album Under My Influence, Ramirez believes they have grown as people and musicians.
‘Daydream’, the lead single from this new LP, is a very feel-good opener to the album. Ramirez describes it perfectly as a bridge between the two records as it feels "very Aces". It’s not the most groundbreaking of songs but it’s extremely happy and hopeful, quite akin to their first album. The world may have descended into lockdown for its release in March, and not only does it act as a bridge between albums, but ‘Daydream’ also pulls you out of the grey, monotony of the moment into a more summery state, which is definitely a similar vibe to the rest of the album.
For me, the two tracks that feel like the biggest departure from their first album are ‘My Phone is Trying to Kill Me’ and ‘801’, and for that reason, they are two of the highlights. ‘My Phone’ is an excellent illustration of modern tendencies to be sucked into the world of social media and obsess over being left on read which can cause a lot of anxiety. “On Read, I feel hopeless” is such a bizarre yet relatable reality a lot of us face in the 21st Century. It’s a song I think a lot of people will be able to identify with. The shouting backing vocals chanting the title in the chorus is an angry side that the band definitely didn’t display on the first record, which is probably where the new apparent experimental side of the band that Ramirez describes comes in.
Similarly, ‘801’ is a very low tempo, cruising track, discussing rebellion against hometown expectations. Lyrics such as “Leave your church shoes / And your Sunday clothes / But bring your guilt / And we ‘gon let it go” have a lot more of a controversial air to them compared to the first record. It’s definitely a welcome edginess on a self-described album of musical development.
I wouldn’t necessarily agree that the whole album is a progressive step forward musically for the band. It feels constantly on one high level of busy, up-beat production set off from ‘Daydream’, despite some songs having a darker side to them. Both ‘Lost Angeles’ and ‘Cruel’ are great songs in their own right, discussing loneliness in a new city and really crushing heartbreak, but because they’re surrounded by some forgettable tracks like ‘Not Enough’, they don’t stand out because the album is always at that one level. On their first album, they had slower, stripped back songs like ‘Hurricane’ that mean the album doesn’t constantly feel over-produced. It’s a shame, but without variation, by even the third listen of this new LP, the songs seem to blend into one.
What I do enjoy is the unashamed uses of female pronouns for the love interests that feature as subjects of many of the songs. Whilst this is a lot more common now, female sexuality particularly still feels taboo, and musicians often use gender-neutral pronouns instead as this is often either seen as more marketable by label execs, or it is still very daunting for musicians to explicitly express their sexuality. Songs like ‘Kelly’ on this album, talking about how the narrator “Spent the night between her thighs”, is the representation of female sexuality, and of specifically female homosexuality, that pop music needs more of. ‘Can You Do’ is another example of this. It’s a track entirely about a sexual encounter with a girl: it may not be the most lyrically intricate songwriting you’ll ever hear, but it does show that ‘Kelly’ is not a one-off, and expression of female sexuality could be a direction they follow more frequently in the future.
Criticisms about lack of variety aside, this is undeniably a record full of bops, and it is ideal for summertime. It may not be innovative musically, but it does further the effort to increase LGBTQ+ representation in pop music.
Words by Sarah Jewers.
21st July 2020.