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Music

Acing the New Normal

Provo's The Aces get real in their new music and their new activist sensibility

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RED BULL RECORDS
  • Red Bull Records

For The Aces, the "new normal" goes beyond the challenges of the pandemic—a fact that isn't stopping them from releasing the follow-up album to the pop smash debut that was 2018's When My Heart Felt Volcanic. The four-piece band—which is half-way anchored in Utah by guitarist Katie Henderson and bassist McKenna Petty, and half-way anchored in Los Angeles by the sisters of the group, vocalist/guitarist Cristal Ramirez and drummer Alisa Ramirez—has spent the last few months navigating what it means to be growing artists, while also learning to fuse their art with activism.

Released on July 17—and streaming on all platforms now—the new album Under My Influence is as introspective as it sounds, with narratives that fill out the pop-perfect tracks veering into more specific lyrical territory than ever before. "We're being very, very candid about our experiences in our lyrics, and there is gender pronoun usage," says Cristal Ramirez, in reference to the fact that she, her sister Alisa and Henderson have not just come out as queer, but are letting that reality into their music for the first time. "I think it just influenced the music to be more vulnerable and honest, just because we're getting really down to the root and of the true raw honesty of what happened in those stories. It's just allowed it to go deeper."

The new self-ownership comes out not just in the title, but in the style and attitude of the songs, which—alongside their signature jangling guitar hooks and Hollywood-powered pop production—fret over and lust after crushes like "Kelly," or the blue bikini-clad babe in the oh-so-millennial "My Phone is Trying to Kill Me." The songs join other lovesick and angst-struck tracks, and odes to home: the beachy "801," the hooky and forlorn single "Lost Angeles" and the melancholy standout "Going Home," some of the strongest songs on the album. Throughout, even at their most stormy, the bright production often calls to mind the bouncy banger-isms of Carly Rae Jepson.

However, the 14 songs on Under My Influence also fell under the influence of the times, namely the protests that erupted nationwide over the death of George Floyd. Cristal Ramirez points out that it felt obvious to all four of them that they needed to pause the release of their album, which was originally due out June 12. "We didn't wanna steal any of the attention from what was going on and what we wanted to use our voice for. ... It just felt like it would be better to push the record so we could adequately be a part of the movement and do our part," she says.

Since then, they've been keeping busy on their social media by participating in calls for justice, selling rainbow merch to benefit the National Black Justice Coalition, hosting Instagram Live sessions with guest experts on the topics of empowering Black LGBTQ+ community members as well as justice and prison reform, and teaming up with Amazon Prime Video for a Pride performance. In considering how to move forward with promoting their music while not losing their activist steam, they're not worried, though.

Henderson points out that it feels many people, themselves included, have gone into an activist mode that hopefully has staying power. "I think activism is becoming a very active part of what we do as a band now, and I don't want it to ever go away. I think that's how it should be," she says. "Everyone should learn how to do both. I think for so long, there wasn't enough activism, there weren't enough people talking about what's happening in the world. This is what 'normal' should have always been—which is shedding light on what needs to be talked about while simultaneously going about your own life, kind of tying the two together."

Their music, though, also has power on its own to give something back to this weary world. The new record, after all, builds on their already strong presence in the realm of glittery, feel-good pop. Infused as it is with sunshiny, swinging tropicalia at some points and steely-hearted pop bops at others, the album finds a perfect closer with "Zillionaire," which is rooted in love and devotion over anything else.

Cristal Ramirez says of that song, "You can get caught up in the details and the material things of life when things like that don't really matter. I think that right now during this time, that's been reiterated more and more."

While dealing with a pandemic, three-fourths of their group coming out, getting involved in a global movement towards liberation and releasing new music on top of it all, The Aces have had the time to pinpoint what matters—and hopefully their music influences others to, too. Ramirez reduces it to this: "What really matters is the people around you and the love you feel and the love you give."

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