Photo Credit: Red Bull Records
In 1967, a song called “New York Mining Disaster 1941” was released to radio stations but did not list the artist. The DJs listened to it, assumed it was the Beatles, and thus put it into heavy rotation. Even when the actual artist was revealed as a new band called the Bee Gees, people still believed that it had to be the Beatles, since it sounded exactly like them (the assumption then became that “Bee Gees” was short for “Beatles Group,” and that the Fab Four released a song under a pseudonym just to keep the public on their toes).
The take-away here is that there are a number of examples in rock history where after an artist makes it big, not long after another one happens to come along who sounds pretty much exactly like them (Fine Young Cannibals and Londonbeat, Pearl Jam and Stone Temple Pilots, etc). This is the case with Utah four-piece band the Aces: If you were to play their second full-length album Under My Influence for just about anyone, they probably wouldn’t assume that they were listening to anyone other than Alana, Este and Danielle, the three sisters who record under their surname HAIM. The Aces might reflect the ‘80s R&B influenced side of HAIM than that which they owe to classic rock, but the vocal style of both groups is very, very similar.
With that, the most obvious characteristic of Under the Influence out of the way, we can focus on the second most obvious characteristic. Namely, that there really isn’t a single bad song here. The Aces – Cristal Ramirez (guitar and lead vocals), Katie Henderson (guitar), McKenna Petty (bass) and Cristal’s sister Alisa Ramirez (drums) – definitely live up to the band’s name with songs like the ultra-bouncy “All Mean Nothing” (just try not bopping along to that one), “Cruel” (with its sort of ‘60s Beach Boys vibe), and the heartfelt pop ballad “Going Home.” Then there’s “My Phone is Trying to Kill Me” (great title), which admittedly is probably a bit more Halsey than HAIM.
“801” is another synth track, this one an almost torch song-like “tribute” to the Salt Lake City area where the band hails from. The song describes the oppressive nature of the region and the desperate need to escape which is sought (and thankfully found) by those who lived there. The track is also one of several examples of how the band definitely stands apart from HAIM in that the Aces’ lyrics on a number of songs deal quite directly with lesbian relationships. “New Emotion” is perhaps still somewhat ambiguous (“We were friends, now I want more // Would you take it wrong // If I leaned in for a kiss now, babe?”) but from the title alone there’s no mistaking that “Kelly” is a depiction of a romantic relationship between two women (both Ramirez sisters are openly gay, lest anyone try to rationalize that the “girl” songs are being written and sung from a male perspective).
No matter who it’s about, “Kelly”, with its irresistible reggae beat and too-clean guitar riff, also just happens to be the album’s best track and the perfect summer song (even for a summer defined by social distancing and nearly every regular event cancelled). This essentially extends to all of Under My Influence. Album closer “Zillionaire”, not only echoes Prince (or at least one of the songs he could have written for one of his female protégés), but also hints at the tax bracket which the Aces may be headed for if they continue to make albums this good (although they may wish to give HAIM just a small cut).