Grade: 3.5 / 5.0
After postponing the release of their sophomore album to show solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement, the all-girl, alt-pop band The Aces released Under My Influence on July 17. The Aces first established their presence in the music industry with their single “Stuck” in 2016, releasing their feel-good debut album When My Heart Felt Volcanic two years later. Shifting from the band’s originally summery and soothing take on love, Under My Influence explores relationships more deeply and soulfully. The Aces take on more fiery, passionate lyrics and experiment with more hypnotic rhythms while staying true to their softer, endearing sound.
Though some songs entertain generic lyrics about love and heartbreak, The Aces successfully return to their signature punchy guitar riffs and earworm choruses to captivate listeners. Intense “Can You Do” and sassy “New Emotion” stand out with their subtly sensual lyrics sung to heavy drums and tight electric guitar, capturing the butterflies at the beginning of a passionate relationship. Similarly, the addictive singles “Daydream” and “Lost Angeles” flourish as adventurous pop anthems that capture comfort and loneliness simultaneously — they’re bold and charming, carefree and nostalgic.
Alluring nostalgia continues with “801,” an open love letter to one of the few gay clubs near the band’s hometown. Though three of the four band members identify as queer, The Aces originated in a conservative town in Utah, where it was difficult to be open with sexuality. Calm and refined, “801” is a wonderfully dreamy song about acceptance that echoes “Leave your church shoes/ And your Sunday clothes/ But bring your guilt and we/ ‘Gon let it go” in the chorus. Reminiscent of “Lovin’ Is Bible” from the band’s debut, the clever religious imagery in “801” is both a nod and a farewell to the band’s hometown.
Previously, The Aces steered clear of gendered pronouns in their debut due to pressures in the music industry. “In the music industry, you have people in your ear telling you, ‘Change the pronoun, don’t say that, don’t do that, it won’t sell,’ ” said drummer Alisa Ramirez in an interview with BBC.
In Under My Influence, however, The Aces open up about queer relationships with newfound confidence, and the use of pronouns allows them to be more authentic than ever. This is most visible in the synth-heavy single “Kelly,” which lead vocalist Cristal Ramirez described in an interview with Gay Times as a “story of unrequited love” that “everyone can relate to.”
Under My Influence also reflects on falling out of love. “Cruel” exudes magnetic melancholia as the most vulnerable song on the album. The slow, steady beat picks up speed and launches into a sincere, plaintive chorus of rhetorical questions: “Why’d I have to love something bad?/ Can’t you go and hurt someone new?” The song subtly shifts from sorrowful to hopeful in the bridge, signifying an ongoing journey of recovery.
This sanguine sentiment echoes in “I Can Break Your Heart Too” and “Thought of You” — both sweet, gentle songs reminiscent of the heartfelt ballads from When My Heart Felt Volcanic. While they do fade into the background of the album, they provide a necessary, serene contrast to the more bitter songs. The tender love song “Going Home” continues this placidity, a polished personification of being welcomed into a warm home after being out in pouring rain. The well-titled song is comforting with its simple but intimate lyrics, as well as memorable with its crisp, clean production.
Unfortunately, the album isn’t without forgettable tracks. “All Mean Nothing” has little to offer — bitterly wondering, “Did it all mean nothing/ All mean nothing to you?” — and is redeemed only by its catchy bridge. Elsewhere, the electronic undertone struggles to carry “Not Enough” through an anticlimactic chorus. And the last track, “Zillionaire,” entertains a series of lyrical cliches, making it a strong yet slightly misguided end to an overall excellent album.
Despite some lackluster lyrics and disorganization, however, Under My Influence ultimately survives as a triumph for indie pop that showcases the band’s growth. Genuine, charismatic and confident, The Aces smoothly capture honesty and sensuality with this sophomore album.
Contact Taila Lee at [email protected].