Aces high

The Aces

For a music journalist, it’s sometimes difficult to find a hook hefty enough to hang a story on. Utah alt-pop band The Aces is a hook emporium.

To wit:

They’re from Provo, within shouting distance of Osmond Lane, a street of mansions occupied by members of the famed entertainment family.

Provo is in Utah, hardly a hotbed of alt (though the band now lives in one: L.A.).

Two of the founders are of Hispanic descent, as well as lapsed Mormons who write and sing about smoking, drinking, sexual orientation and other church and communal stigmata.

The band is all-female, which is admittedly not quite as hooky as it used to be. Regardless, three of the four members are queer and all are passionate proponents of LGBTQ rights.

Their stated influences are insane for this day and age: Weezer, Michael Jackson, Earth Wind & Fire, Paramore, New Order, The Beatles and Depeche Mode.

They were featured on the soundtrack to the NBA 2K20 video game. I’m not quite sure where to file that.

They’re damned good.

The official video for “Stuck” (2016)

The Aces were co-founded by sisters Cristal Ramirez (vocals/rhythm guitar) and Alisa Ramirez (drums). The band is fleshed out by guitarist Katie Henderson and bassist McKenna Petty. On second thought, “fleshed out” seems dismissive.

Petty is a solid bassist who kicks it onstage. Bouncing around like a big blonde bunny, tousled mane flowing in the breeze, she rules stage left. Truly, she’s a joy to watch.

Though raw, Katie Henderson is a phenomenal guitarist. Hers is the lead and often only melodic instrument, and she specializes in harmonics a la Johnny Marr of The Smiths (a comparison of techniques, not accomplishment — yet). Henderson also uses fills throughout the songs, whereas most groups drop them in as filler (thus “fills”) between vocals. Henderson’s like an old-time jazz guitarist, except, you know, she’s young and doesn’t play jazz.

Ramirez sister Alisa is a bone-crusher on drums. When in action, it’s like she’s being attacked by spiders and is trying to get them before they get her. She’s not shy of riding the cymbals like Keith Moon, either.

(Note: I realize I’m using male references — Johnny Marr, Keith Moon — to describe the Aces’ oeuvre. 1. I’m a guy. 2. I’m a guy from the Smiths’ and the Who’s eras. 3. I don’t think the band would much mind. Those comparisons are pretty decent.)

Lead singer Cristal Ramirez is lit, as the kids say. She brings a badass vibe and some righteous moves to the table, but even when she’s static in front of the mic, she commands the eye and the crowd. She’s center stage all the way, and was likely born that way.

“I think your only job as an artist is to be your most raw and open, authentic version of yourself,” says sister Alisa, speaking of recording but also effectively summing up the group’s oeuvre. “When you are making yourself available to the audience – when you’re sharing your niche thoughts and feelings – you realize we’re all kind of the same.”

The Aces remained pretty niche-y until the June 2023 release of the single “Girls Make Me Wanna Die,” the band’s queer coming-out song. Written by the group and Keith Varon, it’s a propulsive beauty that’s more pop than alt, musically at least. It was released on the album I’ve Loved You So Long from Red Bull Records, the band’s label since 2016.

The official video for “Girls Make Me Wanna Die” (2023) and a sample lyric below

On a beautiful Sunday

We’re laying in sun rays

She’s wearing my beat-up jean jacket so damn well

One swipe of a finger

She leaves and I linger

She’s killing me with desire for someone else

The song has earned plaudits from fans and the sort of industry folks you’d like to receive plaudits from.

Another good push and The Aces might be that rare all-female band that crosses over from alt to the mainstream — and stays.

There’s your hook.

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