It has been 14 years since Aly & AJ released an album, but they are back and ready to soundtrack your summer. Thanks to their music as well as various acting gigs, Aly & AJ secured their place as pop culture staples in the 2000s. Their last album Insomniatic included the iconic “Potential Breakup Song,” which the sisters recently reimagined with more explicit lyrics.
Now, Aly & AJ have released their newest album a touch of the beat gets you up on your feet gets you out and then into the sun. The title comes from the lyrics of “Don’t Need Nothing” and sets the carefree and self-loving vibe that encompasses the entire album. California natives Aly and AJ Michalka wanted this album to make listeners feel the way California makes them feel. With energetic guitar riffs and mellow synths that scream West Coast, there is no question that these songs deserve to be on your best summer playlists.
More than that, the lyrics and emotions embedded in the songs are reminiscent of the universal human experience. The album touches on topics such as adolescence, depression, anxiety and relationships, treating each topic in a raw and relatable manner. This isn’t surprising from Aly & AJ, since both have been vocal supporters of mental health, feminism and LGBTQIA+ initiatives for many years.
Kicking off the album is its longest track “Pretty Places,” sitting at just over five minutes. Its timeless melody is a testament to the artists who have shaped their sound. It is noteworthy that the sisters both currently live in Laurel Canyon, Los Angeles. This iconic neighborhood was home to many influential musicians in the ’60s and ‘70s including the Byrds, Jim Morrison and Joni Mitchell. The impact of these artists can be heard throughout a touch of the beat gets you up on your feet gets you out and then into the sun. “Pretty Places” in particular is a yearning call to forget the past and find yourself while romanticizing the thought of getting in your car and driving across the country.
In contrast, the next two tracks are all about being aware of your past and desperately wanting something new. The first verse of “Lost Cause” says it all: “Don’t tell me what I wanna hear/I don’t wanna hear you going on about it/Just Save me from another year/Looking through my rear view mirror/No, I don’t want that.” In “Break Yourself,” the duo are even more ready for change. They tap into the emotional situation of always having to hide who you are but not wanting to tame your true self anymore.
“Slow Dancing” is like a comforting hug on a warm summer night, with silky smooth instrumentals and hushed vocals. Compared to the first three songs, “Slow Dancing” has a more positive, rose-colored tint on love. “I don’t need anything fancy/I just need you and me slow dancing” explains that they don’t need any over-the-top displays of affection to stay in love. Sometimes the simple things, like a kitchen table in your lawn and a stereo, are all that you need to be content.
The next two songs are reminiscent of Ten Years and Sanctuary, the experimental synth-pop EPs the sisters released a few years agos. They are like flip sides of a coin even though both share the same core sounds. “Paradise” is a sunlight-infused, driving-with-your-windows down track, while “Symptom Of Your Touch” is a euphoric, dancing-in-your-room-at-night vibe.
“Lucky To Get Him” is a warning about the unpredictability of love. They sing, “Don’t be foolish/One second can turn into a lifetime.” Referencing shooting stars and striking gold, Aly & AJ reveal a more upbeat outlook on relationships through this song. The stand-out feature, though, are the shimmering notes from the keys. It perfectly transforms the song into the musical embodiment of the moon and stars.
The duo joined forces with Nancy Wilson of Heart for “Listen!!!,” which is evident in the heavier rock sound. Lyrically, the song is also edgier, expressing dismay at the way someone acts. “Night after night/I express what I feared from the start/That your heart would never listen/I’m feeling like I’m a hostage here/It’s clear something went missing.” However, there is a hopeful tone that the future might be brighter than the present. “I might be lost but I know my way out”).
The chorus of “Don’t Need Nothing,” which is the phrase from the album name, is repeatedly chanted in a melodic and sunny manner. This song is all about shedding your anxieties and letting the sun brighten your day. With COVID-19 keeping people indoors and hunched over their computers, it is more important now than ever to care for yourself. Even the simplest task of going outside to breathe fresh air can have a positive impact on your mental health.
“Stomach” is an introspective song about growing apart from someone you love. The title references having a stomach ache because of your emotions. They sing, “It hurts my stomach, cuts me like a knife/All these memories, they don’t feel like mine.” While “Stomach” is a melancholy ballad about losing love, “Personal Cathedral” is a commentary on the way much of society navigates love. They sing, “They treat these lonely dance floors/Like personal cathedrals/Even diamonds here don’t shine.” They even draw comparisons to cattle, that society is all about following the herd.
To wind down the album comes “Hold Out,” with Melissa Etheridge lending her skills on the guitar. It perfectly brings together every song that came before it, and also signifies the overall tone shared across the album. The ballad touches on the topic of mental health and asks a question: “Will you catch me?” Like most people, Aly & AJ want to know they have someone who can be there for them when they are struggling. This song is motivation to allow yourself to reach out when you need help and to remind you to never lose hope.
a touch of the beat gets you up on your feet gets you out and then into the sun dropped May 7, and you can listen to it here.