Aly & AJ shine on optimistic new LP

Photo of Aly & AJ record
Aly & AJ Music/Courtesy

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Grade: 4.0/5.0

“Potential Breakup Song” by Aly & AJ was a staple of the early 2000s. Last year, the 2007 single made its way back into our cultural consciousness when it reemerged as a viral TikTok trend. Naturally, sisters Aly and AJ Michalka leaned into the breakup song’s quarantine rebirth, releasing an explicit version in December 2020.

But the maturity of Aly & AJ’s new music extends beyond the mere inclusion of expletives. 14 years after the release of their last LP Insomniatic, the sisters are taking advantage of the creative spirit that populates their Laurel Canyon community — a neighborhood once inhabited by Joni Mitchell and Neil Young, to name a few artists. A Touch of the Beat Gets You Up On Your Feet Gets You Out and Then Into the Sun, released May 7, sees the sisters taking a hint from their predecessors, turning inward and plucking the strings of their singer-songwriter hearts. 

This isn’t the in-your-face pop rock of “Potential Breakup Song,” but it isn’t a faint whisper, either. Aly & AJ channel the sounds of Laurel Canyon as they mix timeless Americana with ever-present pop, layering in hints of electronic synth and country twang. Even as they look back to the 60s and 70s for inspiration, their music feels brand new — they have cultivated a sound that is entirely their own.

Though markedly long, the title feels more than appropriate as we reach for the end of the pandemic. At its heart, the album is an escapist fantasy, harnessing the warm glow of summertime hopes. The sisters walk the winding path of love and loss, guiding listeners out and into the sun. “All the pretty places pull us away from where the pain is,” they sing on glimmering album opener “Pretty Places.” The subtle crescendo of their delicate harmonies floats weightlessly over the guitar-driven instrumentals, flowing like the waves that crash alongside Pacific Coast Highway. 

Throughout the album, Aly & AJ fulfill their promise of taking us to all the pretty places. The sisters bring out their country side in album standout “Personal Cathedrals,” spinning listeners round and round on a sun-soaked desert dancefloor. Synth-driven “Paradise” sees them carving out their own slice of heaven as they reflect on how far they’ve come. The world stops for a moment on quarantine love song “Slow Dancing”; “I don’t need anything fancy/ I just need you and me slow dancing,” they sing during the sweet, stripped-down chorus.

The album’s overwhelming optimism doesn’t prevent the sister duo from diving headfirst into emotional depths. “It hurts my stomach, cuts me like a knife. All these memories, they don’t feel like mine,” they sing on the vulnerable “Stomach.” Closing track “Hold Out” is a heartfelt plea for help, with the sisters clinging onto hope even as it slips through their fingertips. Aly & AJ take their sweet time as they drive a stake through your heart, never missing an emotional beat. 

Aly & AJ openly reflect on the highs and lows of love and life, but the album’s central theme is beautifully simple: Just let go. “A touch of the beat gets you up on your feet gets you out and then into the sun,” the sisters continually chant over the heavy percussion of “Don’t Need Nothing.” It only makes sense that this carefree track gives the album its namesake — the message is clear, and the energy is palpable. The song is pop to its core, and its catchy melody reminds listeners why they fell in love with the duo in the first place. 

Like the light at the end of the pandemic, Aly & AJ have emerged as a ray of hope after 14 long years. Even as the album offers a heavy dose of nostalgia, it signifies the start of something new — these sisters of the canyon have debuted a sound that is authentically their own. The album’s title may be a mouthful, but it contains an undeniable truth: A touch of Aly & AJ’s music is sure to get you up on their feet, get you out, and then into the sun. 

Contact Lauren Harvey at [email protected].