Even when they were one of Disney Channels prize talents, there was a unique edge to Aly & AJ. Their biggest hit to date remains the ever brilliant ‘Potential Break-Up Song,’ a track that has aged beautifully, feeling just as fresh and relevant for their fans as it did over a decade ago. The duo has retained their edge, pushing beyond the groups of ex-Disney stars that ended up either becoming mainstream stars or faded into the crowd. Instead, Aly & Aj quietly built themselves into formidable indie-pop stars, returning in 2017, a decade after their last major LP, with the lush synth-pop EP Ten Years. This was followed up by a string of the most underrated pop releases of the last four years. Now, on their first full-length record in 14 years, they push themselves even further, proving that their status as underrated is borderline criminal.
With their return comes with a newfound creative freedom. That freedom can be felt in every inch of their new record, even its title, a touch of the beat gets you up on your feet gets you up and then into the sun. The title, while extremely long, speaks to that artistic freedom in both its rebellious length and its message. There is an openness to the music Aly & AJ have chosen to make, continuing to draw influence from 80s pop, but also 70s folk-rock, focusing on instruments rather than just synths, giving the entire record a more intimate feel.
The influence of the sister’s home state is all over the album, full of sonic references to California and the open road. Opener ‘Pretty Places,’ which the duo say is their favourite song they’ve ever written, is the perfect road trip track. It swells with twinges of country and rock, harkening back to the sound of Fleetwood Mac. “Go anywhere/doesn’t matter how far,” they declare on the track’s feverish bridge, “Go anywhere/all I need is you.” Much of the record’s glow comes from its subject matter, which delves into love and marriage. Lead single ‘Slow Dancing’ is this gorgeous simple acoustic number, reminiscent of Taylor Swift’s recent hit ‘Lover,’ and seems destined for a similar fate as a first dance staple.
‘Paradise’ kicks off a trio of more 80s inspired tracks, all rolling drums and pretty synths: “Went through the fields and walked through the water/To find a place unlike our own.” ‘Symptom of Your Touch’ follows and is the album’s big pop moment, feeling much more like a track from 2019’s Sanctuary. It’s a wonderful nod to the sound that defined their comeback, a nod to their artistic past.
In fact, there are a number of nods to the various iterations of Aly & AJ. ‘Listen!!!’ is all dressed up in a mature take on the same pop rock that marked their releases as Disney stars, while ‘Personal Cathedrals’ pays to ode to the duo’s brief rebrand as 78violet and what could have been. The track, which is most certainly a highlight, has the same ominous folk-rock sound of 2013’s ‘Hothouse.’
The record is not without its sadder moments as the duo work to present a very realistic take on love, taking the good with the bad. ‘Stomach’ is a quiet ballad about how love turns sour, offering some of the girls’ strongest and most heartbreaking lyrics: “It hurts my stomach, cuts me like a knife/All these memories, they don’t feel like mine/I just can’t stomach being your ex-wife.” Its an utterly heartwrenching portrayal of a relationship’s demise; the deperation to try to fix it and the anxiety when you realise you can’t.
If there was any doubt that Aly & AJ were among the most talented Disney alumni, a touch of the beat gets you up on your feet gets you out and then into the sun dispels it entirely. There isn’t anything close to even a mediocre song among the tracklist, which is full of wonderfully original takes on sounds that have been done over and over again. The only question that remains to be answered as this album’s final notes fade is how a duo this talented continues to remain so underappreciated.