By: Brenna Mata
The Aces are an indie-pop quartet hailing from Provo, Utah that are embracing their most honest thoughts on their sophomore record Under My Influence. It has been over two years since the band released their debut album When My Heart Felt Volcanic, which was praised by critics like NME and NPR Radio who noted it as “massively-appealing pop music.” Each song was accompanied by catchy melodies, guitar riffs, heavy bass lines and brilliant songwriting. The Aces have managed to do the same yet again for Under My Influence, but this time with a different approach.
Alisa Ramirez, drummer and songwriter for The Aces, details in an interview with Billboard that their mission with Under My Influence was to “chase an energy and attitude of being as authentic and soul-baring as possible.” As I immerse into the album, track-by-track I can conclude that those efforts blossomed into a record that is coherent and truthful.
Under My Influence is opened with the band’s first single titled ‘Daydream’ which introduced fans to a new era of The Aces. Lead singer Cristal Ramirez exclaims the hardships of being away from someone you love for but holding on to the future event of being reunited. The track production is dreamy and filled with guitar that resembles the feeling of driving with the windows down, living carefree. Cristal even mentioned in an Instagram live with the band that the song almost didn’t make it on the album. Had she not listened to it randomly one day and decided it was a bop, we wouldn’t have been granted such a summer tune and iconic music video.
‘New Emotion’ is scandalous, as it entails the emotions of catching feelings for someone you probably shouldn’t have them for. Haven’t we all been there? Aces fans have also been speculating the theory that this song is connected to the band’s song ‘Bad Love’ that was featured on their previous album. Listening to the tracks back to back – I have to agree! The rhythm in both choruses are so similar and express the same idea of risking it all for one person.
What’s an album in 2020 if you don’t discuss the frustrations of living in a booming age of social media? Track three titled ‘My Phone is Trying to Kill Me’ speaks for itself. Millennials and Gen Z’ers are growing up in a world where being left on read can ruin your entire day and cause you to feel hopeless (this is too relatable, am I right?). Your phone can really frustrate things and as Cristal explains it, “There’s so much communication that there is ultimately so much miscommunication.” Sure, social media sucks at times but at least we received this anti-smartphone tune in return.
‘Kelly’ takes us through the journey of a back and forth relationship that Cristal caught herself in. What I enjoy most about this song is the sweet electric guitar riffs played by lead guitarist Katie Henderson. The chorus right off the bat is catchy with flowing lyrics like “Please stop playing with my heart, before you tear it right apart” and “Won’t you tell me to come over, let you cry right on my shoulder.” This was also the first released Aces song that included pronouns, a feature that they abstained from in When My Heart Felt Volcanic. Three out of four of the members identify as queer women, so when they decided to be bold with Under My Influence, they knew the lyrics had to truly reflect that idea.
McKenna Petty, lead bassist of The Aces, steadily shows off her talent in ‘Can You Do’ that is stacked with head banging bass lines. The tone is intense as it explores just go check out the lyrics for yourself. Alisa also mentioned in an Instagram live video that she hopes fans will start a mosh pit when they play this on future tours. I am definitely down for that experience.
Lyrically speaking, ‘All Mean Nothing’ is crafted perfectly. You can hear the pain in Cristal’s voice as she recalls a relationship with someone who was too controlling, making her question if any of it was real. With the help of Simon Wilcox, a notable songwriter who has written for artists like Nick Jonas and Carly Rae Jepsen, you can visually see this song through its powerful and clear lyrics. Imagine being so confused about someone that they have you writing “Easy come, easy go, girl you give me vertigo.” Her loss, Cristal.
In ‘801’ the band pays recognition to their hometown in Utah. What started out as just as poem then turned into an outcast anthem for The Aces after a memorable night out at the club in Salt Lake City. I love seeing artists connect back to their roots of where they are from because it proves to everyone there that anything is possible. We all need that inspiration in our lives. ‘801’ also surrounds this idea of never fitting into a society that doesn’t appreciate differences and rebelling against what they think. McKenna also mentions that even though she’s the only one in the band who identifies as straight that she can still relate to the song in terms of feeling guilt or shame.
‘I Can Break Your Heart Too’ is an empowering track that puts people in their place, specifically those who think they are the most important person ever (rolls eyes). You can’t always let someone have an emotional advantage over you, so when Cristal sings “If you’re callin’, I’m ignorin’, cause you’re just not as important as you think you might be”, that is PROGRESS! We support that growth. This song portrays such an clear message of self-respect and moving on from someone who is clearly not worth it. Reality sure can bite sometimes.
Alright, ‘Lost Angeles’ is my definite favorite from Under My Influence. I’ll start by noting that Alisa, Cristal, Katie and McKenna’s musical talents ALL shine throughout the song. Cristal’s vocals are brought to new heights in the chorus as she effortlessly exclaims about her feelings towards Los(t) Angeles. It is hard to live in a city with so many wonderful opportunities yet still having to deal with the adversity that come along with it.
‘Not Enough’ and ‘Cruel’ are both heartbreaking but emotionally raw and honest. When you realize that no matter how much love you give to a person that it is never enough, it hurts. The songs feel intertwined as they both describe the regretfulness of falling for someone who wasn’t right for you. Cristal notes that ‘Cruel’ was tough to record due to the fact that it happened in the heat of a breakup. “I had to take breaks to go outside and cry” she said in an interview with Billboard. After reading things like that, you start to listen to the song with wider eyes. A heartbreak is beyond mentally challenging, but I’m glad that The Aces have an outlet where they can express themselves. Not only do these expressions help them overcome that bump in the road, but fans as well.
Okay, so most of this album has dug through the trenches of love and never fitting into social norms, but what about a track dedicated to a future lover? ‘Thought of You’ is a “love letter to that future person that you haven’t met yet” and radiates an energy of hope. The hope that your soulmate is out there somewhere, waiting to fall into your life at any point in time.
I only have one word for ‘Going Home’ – beautiful. Every musical aspect of this song feels euphoric and makes me want to scream the lyrics from the top of my lungs. I have to give a big shoutout here to Katie for the outstandingly composed guitar chords that tug on your heart. How much more sentimental does it get than “As long as it’s just you and I, it feels like I’m goin’ home”? Wanna get even more emotional about this song? Alisa says it was written over a year ago and inspired by her girlfriend Sadie, who she is still with today.
As we approach the last track of the record, ‘Zillionaire’ is a funky disco-esque love ballad. This one is definitely going to be a crowd favorite on tour because of its catchy rhythm. What a feeling it must be to fall in love and feel like a “Zillionaire.” Did you know that zillionaire is an actual word in the dictionary (because clearly I didn’t)?
Under My Influence was a whirlwind of ups and downs but nonetheless it was an inspiring journey. The Aces have grown their sound into something even greater than before by being brutally honest with their audience, which just so happens to contradict that of their first EP I Don’t Like Being Honest. As Cristal describes to The Salt Lake Tribune, “We’re constantly pushing ourselves to do something that feels kind of nerve-wracking or different or scary, because it’s out of our comfort zone.” Congratulations on accomplishing just that, ladies. If you aren’t jamming to The Aces right now, you need to do so ASAP!