A Touch Of The Beat Gets You Up On Your Feet Gets You Out And Then Into The Sun

Aly & AJ

Aly & AJ Music/AWAL, 2021

http://alyandaj.com

REVIEW BY: Peter Piatkowski

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 06/17/2021

It’s been 14 years since Aly & AJ’s last studio LP. In that long hiatus, the duo put out a series of singles and EPs and AJ Michalka had a recurring role on the ABC sitcom The Goldbergs before headlining her own spin-off Schooled for two seasons. For their comeback album A Touch Of The Beat Gets You Up On Your Feet Gets You Out And Then Into The Sun, the duo created a sunny, affectionate tribute to California-tanned pop music. Their past work has influences of synth pop and spiky guitar pop, and though A Touch… is indebted to the sun-speckled pop of the Mamas & The Papas and the Beach Boys, there are still moments of glossier disco-flecked sounds, creating a lovely musical quilt.

Aly & AJ open A Touch… with the fantastic “Pretty Places,” which is a beautiful update on sunshine pop. It’s a lilting, swinging number with candy-sweet vocals, gentle surf guitars, and a pretty, laidback tone. Like a lot of California pop, the lyrics tell of a road trip, using lovely imagery of the California landscape as a metaphor for freedom; it’s a great way to introduce the record and Aly & AJ’s new sound. my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Like a lot of artists, Aly & AJ has looked to the last year for inspiration. Writing a dreamy, folk-pop   tune about the reunion of separated lovers. The duo’s knack for penning some great lyrics (along with collaborators Jeremiah Raisen, Ryan Spranker, and Yves Rothman) is on full display, as they draw a poignant image of two lovers creating a pas de deux in their living room; there is a sad, oblique reference to the outside world of lockdown with the blue, “I’ve got my reasons to complain / And they’re tangled in red, white, and blue / The battle outside is blazing / And all I’m thinking about is you.”

And channeling Carly Simon, “Personal Cathedrals” is a snarky, smart folk rock song with bruising lyrics, dripping with contempt as the song lyrics describe a Hollywood party and its empty acolytes. Given the history that Aly & AJ have with showbiz – particularly as alumnae from the child star machine – the disdain with which they sing “Let’s leave this party right now /We never liked these people / Cowboys and hopeless crowns” hits a particular sharp note.

And on a wistful ender “Hold Out,” we hear an especially yearning and emotional song that takes its cues for Laurel Canyon pop-rock, with a relaxed, strumming guitar that belies the angst in the lyrics, which are delivered with ethereal, angelic vocals; superstar Melissa Etheridge appears on the track, offering a melancholic guitar. 

Though the album’s sound brings Aly & AJ into California pop-rock, they haven’t abandoned dance pop, and about half of the record’s songs are shiny synthpop. As great as they are at crafting the guitar-driven folk-pop, they’re equally adept at fronting the dance material.

“Paradise” is a humane, driving 1980s power pop ballad that sounds like it was pulled off the soundtrack from Stranger Things. Over the throbbing synthesizers, the girls’ vocals skip nimbly on the driving up-tempo song. “Symptom Of Your Touch” is another song that leans into ‘80s MTV pop. And “Lucky To Get Him” is a large, atmospheric synth ballad that features some neat tech-heavy instrumentation. Meanwhile, rock goddess Nancy Wilson offers vocals on the energetic “Listen!!!”

A Touch… is a jewel of a record with the Michalkas fronting some wonderful songs. They have transcended the sometimes-crass and cynical sounds of Disney music (which often feels like it’s churned out of a vending machine) to make a humane, thoughtful album that points at a great new career for the duo.

Rating: A

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