by Rachel Saywitz
In a year that has been filled with powerful women in entertainment sectors speaking out and standing up in the face of male abusers and oppressors, it’s unfortunate to notice that the music industry has continued to remain largely unaffected. Just last month, rapper XXXTentacion hit #1 on the Billboard Hot 200 despite facing domestic assault charges from a former girlfriend. On the charts last year, it took nine months for a woman to reach No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100; that so-called “honor” belongs to Taylor Swift, who hit No.1 on September 5th, 2017.
It’s easy to look at these occurrences at face value and feel somewhat hopeless for the state of women in the music industry; it’s true that in 2018, the mainstream music scene is still only allowing a select amount of women to achieve major success. However, it’s important not to overlook women who are achieving success in other areas of music – charts aren’t everything after all, especially not for indie artists.
Take, for example, The Aces, an indie rock band that just released their first full-length record, When My Heart Felt Volcanic, last week on Red Bull Records. Composed of four childhood friends who have played together for over a decade, The Aces are part of a female resurgence in indie rock that has been long overdue, and their debut has the band triumphantly making their presence known, not as a “girl-band,” but a pop-rock band.
This triumphant sound is apparent in just the first few seconds of the record; ‘Volcanic Love,’ a song that details a toxic relationship, starts off with a bright, shimmering guitar line before moving into a groove that sounds more pop than rock. Glimmers of pop have defined The Aces since their first EP, I Don’t Like Being Honest, dropped early last year, but the quartet isn’t afraid to prove that melodic hooks aren’t their only strong suit. That much is apparent on the next track, ‘Stuck,’ which was originally released in 2016 but comes into this record sounding fresh and updated, featuring a fleshed-out instrumental and polished production elements like reverb and additional vocal harmonies. In many ways, its evolution represents the indie mentality that The Aces have stuck with for the past few years – indie label Red Bull Records signed the band just six months after ‘Stuck’ was first released.
The record continues on a vein of shimmering 80s pop with ‘Fake Nice,’ a funk-driven song with a groovy bass line paired with sentiments on two-faced personalities and ‘Lovin’ is Bible,’ a joyous celebration of the honeymoon phase of love, and my personal favorite off the record. “Well you know I’m not religious but / Your lovin’ is bible,” lead singer Cristal Ramirez sings over hand claps and hard guitar strums, before moving into a call and response with Ramirez’s voice and Katie Henderson’s sugary-sounding guitar licks. It’s a perfect example of pop that doesn’t feel stilted or formulaic, yet makes for an easy summer listen. Other songs focus on the emotional aftermath of a breakup (‘Just Like That’) and attempted to end an unrequited crush (‘Last One’). Despite each song focusing on different moments of being in love, they all have a sense of being strung from the same musical cloth.
It’s somewhat remarkable to that kind of cohesiveness between the songs of When My Heart Felt Volcanic, as debut records can tend to feel a little lost in terms of finding an exact sound that works for the band. However, considering that The Aces have been playing together since they were in middle school, it makes sense that they’ve already honed down a pop-sensibility in their music. However, the record is still able to contain some musical surprises, most notably in ‘Hurricane,’ a toned down, piano-driven ballad about a fading relationship. While it’s the first slow song that the band has released, The Aces make it sound like slow is familiar ground for them. Ramirez’s voice is intimate and up close as she sings over piano and softly-played strings, “How you’re pullin’ makes me push away, push away / Oh, you love me like a hurricane, hurricane”.
The Aces have only just started to make waves in the industry for the past two years, but their music shows that they’ve been together for much longer than that. To hear a band this tight and cohesive in terms of writing musically and formulating a clear sound this early in their professional career makes me excited to hear how the rest of their musical journey will sound like over the next couple of years. Not only that, but the band’s confidence in proclaiming themselves as a band with musical talents makes me hopeful in the idea that women are, and will continue to, put out amazing music in the indie scene.