12 years. That’s what it took for Aly & AJ to grow into their own unique sound in a music scene that has changed so much since their third album “Insomniatic” launched in 2007. Loved by fans for their music, songwriting and overall lovely personalities as well as their diverse talents (singing, songwriting, acting), Alyson and AJ (Amanda Joy) Michalka have been a force to be reckoned with ever since they launched onto the music scene in 2005 with their debut album, “Into the Rush”.
Just because they’ve been quiet, doesn’t mean they haven’t been busy. Since their last album, the Michalka sisters have been slowly growing into their own sound, living life along the way, gathering material for their music.
This past May 30 I had the chance to see them live at the Turner Hall Ballroom in Milwaukee, where they haven’t stopped by for 14 years, when they toured promoting their first album when they were preteens. Yes, when I was also a preteen boy living in the city of Guayama back in Puerto Rico. It was odd to coincide in this place after so many years for a magical night where they would play their bops, both old and new.
Growing into an 80’s synth pop inspired sound, their music and their lyrics have evolved as they have grown over the last 12 years since the more rock-oriented sound of “Insomniatic”. Their new music is moody, danceable with the lyrics remaining powerful and personal, keeping the same authenticity the music duo had when they first started out.
They started out the show with “Church” from their new Sanctuary EP, which was released last May 10. With a pulsating beat and flashing lights on the stage, the Michalka sisters took their place on the keyboard and mics, joining their band. Claiming that they “do bad things for the sake of good times”, the opener was perfect to emphasize that they’re not the same two teen girls that visited years ago.
Songs like “Star Maps” that are high-energy (I was singing at the top of my lungs!) also show a maturity in the theme of their lyrics; this song was written to give voice to the victims of Hollywood’s #MeToo movement that has been so present in the media. (More info in this review: Welcome to Aly & AJ’s Sanctuary)
“The Distance”, which talks about the struggles of being in a long-distance relationship are heartfelt, with no bitterness or regrets in the way they feel. “Don’t Go Changing” has a similar message to “Rush”, reminding us that our flaws are beautiful and that is what makes us special and others love us, as well as reaffirming self-love for ourselves (who ever told you you’re not good enough?).
They closed the show with their first single “Rush” and just by the energy in the room you could feel that these were Aly & AJ fans from the very beginning. with everybody singing loudly just before they went away to come back with an encore of 4 more songs, including a beautiful rendition of “Slow Burn” by #yeehawqueen Kacey Musgraves. “No One”, another song about being your own authentic self and valuing yourself as you are, struck a personal chord for me during the encore. People’s phones lit up the venue as they swayed side to side, singing along with Aly & AJ towards the ending of a magical night.
It would be a disservice to myself to fail to mention how important Aly & AJ are to me as a gay man. Their songs “Rush” and “No One” were two songs that I grew very fond of while growing up because of the lyrics that would speak directly to me each time I put my headphones on.
One of the highlights of the night was halfway through the show when they mentioned their collaboration with The Trevor Project and asked the audience to donate to the non-profit organization that provides crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to LGBTQ+ youth. By making a small donation on their phones, attendees would enter in a drawing for a chance to meet the sisters backstage after the show. This was a powerful moment for me because I felt something inside of me that had come full circle. The same two women who helped me come to terms with my identity and sexuality years ago were now doing their part so that other LGBTQ+ youth would have the help they needed (#gayicons).
While the Sanctuary and Ten Years EP have kept us eager fans at bay, reminding us that they are still creating and putting their experiences into music, I cannot wait for more. (More music coming soon, according to their Twitter account below.) Their music is testimony to the very reason why music is so powerful in the first place, to connect and commune with one another, whether it’s on our headphones or live in person.