Utah natives The Aces are playing all their cards on their gritty and introspective second studio album, Under My Influence.
When the quartet started gaining attention in 2017 for their summery indie-pop sound, the HAIM comparisons were unavoidable. They both had that laid back, cool-girl edge, complete with smooth basslines and magnetic energies that had you wanting to book a one-way ticket to the West Coast just to breathe the same air as the bands. But on Under My Influence, the band dig deeper into an angsty alt-rock groove with an emotive, more robust sound that’s less HAIM and more Avril Lavigne as a representation of their most authentic selves.
Under My Influence starts strong, with the previously released track ‘Daydream,’ a catchy and breezy tune that sounds like summer. There’s little not to like — bubbly, sleek guitars and anthemic lyrics about long-distance dating that’s all wrapped up in a blanket of hope and rose-coloured emotions. The warm, nostalgic emotions with sparkling synths are the band’s quintessential sound, but on the rest of the album, the quartet introduces deeper, alt-rock and emo-pop tracks.
The Aces are no novices to curating a genre-bending sound. On their first album, When My Heart Felt Volcanic, the band captivated listeners by incorporating synths, R&B influences, and even at times, cowbells, and played with the notion of what it means to be an indie-pop band. On their debut, the influences melted together and told a story, but it feels lackluster and confusing on their latest drop, diving too far into the realm of pop-punk that would appear on a noughties Disney Channel Original Movie soundtrack.
A vibrant guitar riff introduces the transition track ‘New Emotion,’ which brings more honest and personal feelings to the surface. Well-crafted lyrics tell a story of trying to understand confusing and exciting sensations when you begin developing a crush on a friend, sharing, “You’re my friend and I shouldn’t be thinking about you like that / But I’m thinking like that.” The song still stays rooted in indie-pop, but its strong rock and alt influences bring out a more emotive side.
The grittier sound continues in anthemic punk-pop tune ‘My Phone Is Trying To Kill Me,’ sultry ‘All Mean Nothing,’ and R&B-infused heartbreaker ‘Kelly.’ To be more transparent and authentic with their music, and since two of the band members identify as queer women, the quartet released ‘Kelly’ for Pride, and for the first time, included pronouns in a song. It celebrates sexuality and unravels a rocky relationship, as the frontwoman Cristal Ramirez sings “Met a girl with a smile that I liked / And her name was Kelly / Golden hair and her eyes are that kind / Make you feel like heaven / Spent the night ‘tween her thighs.” While the track has the protagonist getting hurt, ‘I Can Break Your Heart’ is all about moving on and finding self-love and worth with some of the best lyrics of the year, “You can’t have your cake and eat it too / My life isn’t always about you.”
There are some great tracks on Under My Influence, but overall, it combines too many elements that confuse the listeners. ‘Can You Do’ has a Dua Lipa ‘Hallucinate’ likeness to it whilst ‘Going Home’ is a full-on pop tune and closing tune ‘Zillionaire’ is a sparkly R&B/pop infusion. The record incorporates some dancey tunes and laid back tunes as well, but it doesn’t pack a punch as a full listening experience. Aces might be a powerful tool in poker, but this album isn’t a royal flush.
The Aces’ Under My Influence is released this Friday, July 17th via Red Bull Records and is available to pre-order now.