Much of 2020 was awful but the new music released in this Year of Endless Sorrows™ wasn’t. To celebrate, rather than posting one single article about the year in music, I’m going to post a new piece each day this week. Monday through Thursday will cover my four favorite albums of the year and Friday will provide a list of additional new releases that I’ve enjoyed in 2020, a year that—despite one or two really great moments—can go ahead and just end already.
From its first moment to its final chord, Under My Influence, the sophomore LP from Utah quartet The Aces, is an awful lot of fun. In 2020, that’s a small miracle. There’s much to be said for the novelty of that fun and the unimpeachable hooks that often define it but what makes it so memorable is how personal it feels. Under My Influence lovingly wanders through an expansive catalog of pop music past, a past in which I have long been heavily invested, and I couldn’t be happier about it.
“My Phone Is Trying to Kill Me” seems set on reminding everyone of how energetic pre-folklore Taylor Swift was. A few tracks later, “801” hearkens back to sun soaked mid-’90s summers when everyone I knew spent all day listening to Sublime and playing Goldeneye. More embarrassingly, every time I hear “Thought of You” I’m brought back, with a smile, to all the terrible renditions of Boyz II Men tracks that my middle school boys’ choir performed. (We routinely butchered classics like “It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday.”) And album finale “Zillionaire” ably apes Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky,” a song that played endlessly during a bachelor party in Vegas, a repetition that somehow didn’t make me hate the song but instead only makes me fondly remember a weekend that, despite the $10 Heinekens and getting cleaned out at the roulette table, was an all-timer.
Under My Influence channels all that nostalgia while also building its own space in the pantheon of great pop. It’s remarkable how The Aces have been able to borrower from so many genres and iterations of pop’s past and merge them with decidedly contemporary hooks and production such that each listen contains a verve of nostalgia while also bearing the sheen of the zeitgeist. For all that homage, the result is something entirely new and one of the most purely satisfying experiences that 2020 put on offer.