An opening song can tell you a lot about a project. A stirring orchestral track can get you excited for a grand fantasy movie, a pixelated little tune can get you ready to button smash through your favorite video game, and I’m sure you know all the words to the song for your favorite sitcom.
When it comes to an album or EP, the opening track is there for a couple purposes: It can introduce you to the idea of the rest of the material, and it needs to stand alone as its own entity. ACES, the performing moniker of Alex Stewart, clearly knows this. “If I Could Be Your Girl,” the first song from her new three-song EP Stranger, showcases the excellence of her dream pop ways. Rest assured, the rest of the EP lives up to this lofty first track.
Let’s dig into that first song. “If I Could Be Your Girl” starts with two of the components that impress the most on Stranger–a slow, pulsing synth and Stewart’s voice. Production by Ian Miller is well done, as the song becomes thickly layered without ever delving into muddiness. While the title might be construed romantically, the track is actually about a mutual attraction doomed to fail. Stewart switches from wistfulness at what might be to the pained pleading to break things off before the hurt gets worse in a way that is completely believable and moving.
If “If I Could Be Your Girl” is pain, then second track “Baby, I Don’t Mean To Ignore” is the embodiment of the warm, fuzzy feelings that come with love. I loved this song when I first heard it in March, and I love it even more now. As someone who is incredibly awkward in all things, I relate to Stewart’s tale of liking someone so much that you can’t stand it and then inadvertently end up just not talking to them. While it by no means is perky, it’s also the most upbeat song on the EP, a nice emotional variation. The drumbeat gives the track a nice heart, and the song is just as tightly produced as the first. One small detail I didn’t notice the first time I listened is the sound of crickets at the end, which is a nice little touch for the silence ACES sings about.
The EP closes with the titular track “Stranger.” This track shows off Stewart’s voice the most, as she dips into both the high and low end of her vocal register, singing of seeing a former flame who now might as well be a random person on the street. The reverb on the synths as the track builds is superb. It’s billowing and large, but never loses the sadness, intimacy and isolation of the lyrics. None of the songs are written poorly, but “Stranger” is clearly the strongest track in terms of songwriting on the EP.
Taken as a whole, Stranger is a good showcase for everything that ACES can do. The lyrics are well crafted and emotionally resonant, the synths are expressive and rich, and the songwriting shines. When it comes to beginnings, Stranger serves as a strong start to a hopefully long musical career for ACES.