Massachusetts Daily Collegian

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A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Aly and AJ show their most authentic side yet with album ‘With Love From’

With a new genre change, Aly and AJ release their fifth album
Courtesy of Aly and AJ’s Facebook page

Ask anyone who was born in the 2000s to list music that defined the decade, many of them will list songs like “Potential Breakup Song,” “Like Whoa” or “Rush.” All of these songs come from the early discography of sister duo Alyson and Amanda Joy Michalka — better known as Aly and AJ — who are former child actors and singers for Disney Channel. Although many remember these classic songs that shaped their childhoods, those same people haven’t kept up with their everchanging discography.

After coming back from a 10-year musical hiatus, they released the aptly named “Ten Years” EP with the same pop flare. As they’ve produced more music and done more self-discovery, their music has evolved as well. Having been known for their pure pop, the departure into folk with “With Love From” came as a surprise for most, but not for long-term fans.

“Aly and I come from pop songwriting, that will always be an underbelly to our writing,” AJ said in an interview with Nylon. “But I do think opening up into an Americana kind of folk fits Aly and I really well. It’s something that we wanted to pursue when we were younger. We also grew up listening to a lot of music that fell into that category.”

The duo pre-released their song “With Love From” on Nov. 2 to a positive reception. Starting with a somber tune and feel, the low hum of the guitar finalizes their push into the folk genre. Using a play on words (and places), Aly and AJ showcase how changing locations does not expedite the feeling of loss and grief.

This is seen in the song’s final line: “That’s why I wrote you with love from Missouri,” playing on the wording of “Missouri” in tandem with sounding like “misery.” Another reference to this is the inclusion of “Las Vegas,” which sounds like “Loss Vegas” in the approach they sing with. Holistically, the pre-release was a great hit, currently sittingat 1.5 million streams.

Following this, “Baby Lay Your Head Down” released on Jan. 25 and finally “After Hours” on Feb. 15. In relation to “After Hours,” the sisters featured two groups of fans in the song’s visualizers. Besides their main fanbase, they had Aimee Carrero in the video, who was the romantic lead to AJ’s character in “She-Ra and the Princesses of Power” on Netflix.

Their fifth studio album was finally released on March 15. With a total of 11 songs, each feels distinct and deliberate but still makes it cohesive with their new sound. Starting the album with “Open to Something and That Something Is You” gives the album a warmer and youthful feel with the help of the guitar and chimes. The lyrics also feel comforting with the chorus repeating the title’s sentiment about wanting to try a new relationship with romantic interests. In a way, the sentiment is aimed towards the listener in their reception to the duo changing musical genre.

When first listening to “Blue Dress,” it felt reminiscent of Fleetwood Mac’s slower tunes. Having some time with the album’s fourth song, I can still hear the homage, but it elevates the song rather than tearing it down. Both lyrically and technically, “Blue Dress” feels like a very careful story adorned with lullaby-humming and a higher register. In contrast, the next title, “Love You This Way,” is more upbeat and hyper with the drums and guitar. Emphasized in the song is not caring about whose watching or taking note of them, but just caring about showing your unique love language.

“Way of Nature Way of Grace” is the only featured collaboration on this album, that being with singer Joy Oladokun. Their backing vocals are hushed, but leave a large impact on the listening experience. Oladokun gets their own verse, giving a tender and raw voice a chance to stand on its own. The composition of the song grows with additional instruments, along with the vocals ebbing and flowing in a gorgeous manner.

Another upbeat song, “Tear the Night Up” gives the illusion and feeling of summer road trips with its ever-presence drum and guitar duo. The song even mentions the season in its opening line, further emphasizing the happier atmosphere it creates. The chorus is relatively simplistic, stating, “Gonna tear the night up (Ooh-ooh)/ ‘Til it all comes down (Ooh-ooh)/ I’ll take two shots, giddy up (Ooh-ooh)/ No stoppin’ now,” then repeating it twice over. However standard this song may seem on the surface, the underlining guitar solo and electric energy are not to be ignored.

Although each track is fantastic in its own right, the two standouts are “Sunchoke” and “Talking in My Sleep,” the ninth and tenth tracks on the album. One facet that Aly and AJ excel at is taking a seemingly straightforward experience and making it vivid. Their lyrical strength shines through on this album, directing the listener to remember what it’s like to bask in the sun’s rays while feeling the warmth and  energy of life.

In tandem, the composition is also stellar and adds a cool tone to their fiery message. For “Talking in My Sleep,” there are many folk sounds and instruments at play, which in contrast to “Sunchoke,” alludes to a sleepless summer night. The lyrical structure of the dream feels like a restless night, posing unanswered questions and creating midnight imagery as a result.

“6 Months of Staring Into the Sun” is the closing song and the longest one at that. It is definitely one of the slowest songs on the album, taking its time and concentration to get to a crescendo ending. Although for most this finishing track may need to grow on first-time listeners, it perfectly wraps itself back up for the opening’s beginning. This album is a perfect listen for summertime drives, sleepless midnights, or whenever you want to give the more genuine Aly and AJ experience a try.

Sierra Thornton can be reached at [email protected].

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