ALY & AJ
When the California sister duo of Aly & AJ released their dream-rock return in 2021—the epically titled a touch of the beat gets you up on your feet gets you out and then into the sun—it marked a new beginning. A decade and a half into their careers, the album was their most realized yet, the work of a band reclaiming itself. In the wake of the runaway TikTok revival of their 2007 hit, “Potential Breakup Song,” Aly & AJ transformed their foundation of Disney pop and TV sitcoms into a new vision of sparkling guitars, close harmonies, and highway sprawl, growing on their own terms.
They bottled that energy and ran. Mere months after the release of a touch of the beat, Aly & AJ headed back to the legendary Sunset Sound to begin work on its gleaming, distilled followup, With Love From. Tracking the album in one week in December 2021, Aly & AJ reconvened with many of the same collaborators (Jorge Elbrecht, Yves Rothman, Ryan Spraker, James McAlister) that helped make their previous record such a breakthrough. If a touch of the beat conjured the relief of catching a wind on the highway, With Love From breathes it in deeply. If a touch of the beat was about searching for yourself, then With Love From is about being. “Once we felt like we were on a roll…” AJ says, as Aly finishes her thought: “There’s been no stopping us.”
Grounded in Americana and the analog warmth of classic country, Aly & AJ worked more quickly than before, tracking all 11 songs of With Love From live in the room. They challenged themselves to simplify, and to embrace subtle imperfections. “It made us think, ‘How can we get back to the root of what we love about classic records that we listen to at home?’” Aly says. “How can we be better about choosing vocal takes that aren’t necessarily perfect? As pop writers and singers, especially from our past, it’s hard for us to do that naturally, but this record inspired us to let go of perfection.” They embraced the authenticity of life happening in the music instead.
With Love From was recorded amid a touch of the beat’s whirlwind success, which brought them from “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” to “Good Morning America,” from the pages of Rolling Stone to NPR, from the stages of Lollapalooza and Austin City Limits to NYC’s Governors Ball—after which they spoke out at the March for Our Lives.
Fittingly, With Love From is a travelog filled with organic instrumentation and impassioned road songs that Aly & AJ liken to a series of postcards to fans, from each town they’ve seen on their journey. “It’s an ode to the people who have kept with us for so long, and also to the new fans who have just started listening,” AJ says. “We’re bringing our California sunshine to them, and they’re bringing it to us,” Aly adds, which the duo will put into practice as their spring reaches legendary venues such as Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium, NYC’s Hammerstein Ballroom, and L.A.’s Greek Theatre. With Love From represents an expression of gratitude for it all—for how they’ve continued to grow for 20 years in music with their souls in tact—a “mutual love letter” between the band and its community of fans, which has coalesced at shows and in their fan club, Sanctuary, a place of acceptance. “I hope people feel that way when they listen,” AJ says, “and hear With Love From as a postcard from our hearts to theirs.”
Building on the windswept, sun-dappled feeling of a touch of the beat, Aly & AJ describe With Love From’s emotional range—from hope to sadness, sentiment to introspection, turbulence to calm—in elemental terms. “We wanted the energy to feel like a thunderstorm,” AJ says, or as Aly put it, “We wanted to capture this feeling you get from the weather—this frenetic energy in the air.” As they were shooting the video for the title track in the contemporary art haven of Marfa, Texas, a thunderstorm followed them.
Taking influence from country icons the Judds, “Blue Dress” makes its titular symbol into a talisman, representing the complex desire to be seen. The anthemic “After Hours” is a Bruce-style narrative of ordinary people seeking refuge in each other’s company. The irrepressible hooks of “Talking in My Sleep” and “Tear the Night Up” (when you’re on a roll, you’re on a high, they sing) reimagine Aly & AJ’s pop roots, while the disarming “Sunchoke” brings in a different thematic tension, with speak-sung lyrics about disassociation brought on by a post-tour depression. “It’s about pure frustration, or feeling like a fraud, which we all feel at some point when creating art,” AJ says. “Have you ever been so angry you want to choke the sun, like, I don’t want any light right now?”
Perhaps Aly & AJ’s flair for storytelling owes to their foundations in acting as well as music. On With Love From’s “Way of Nature, Way of Grace,” featuring additional vocals from Joy Oladokun, Aly & AJ crafted an ode of sorts to one of their favorite filmmakers, Terrence Malick (Tree of Life, Days of Heaven, Badlands), collaging quotes from his films and interviews. It became a crucial piece in the making of With Love From, no less because the reclusive Malick himself heard the song and gave Aly & AJ his blessing.
Befitting the great sense of confidence and self-possession that suffuses all of their music now, With Love From marks the first time Aly & AJ have been credited as co-producers, though they’ve contributed to the exacting decisions that direct their sound since their childhoods on Hollywood Records. (“There’s no one now to intimidate us,” AJ says. “That’s what it comes down to.”) Despite their considerable artistic growth, though, Aly & AJ still feel like their younger selves in many ways: excited about being in the studio, ambitious, dreaming together.
“I told you that I changed, but I guess I never did,” goes the refrain of “With Love From,” honoring those parts of their younger selves that they’ve held close. “We’ve been here a long time, but everything also feels very fresh and new to us,” Aly says. “It’s funny. You can change, have these moments in life when you turn down another path, but you also are who you are.” Self-honesty—whether in their ever-sharpening musical convictions, the clarity of their lyrics, or their decisions, year after year, to remain true to themselves, even when it has meant saying “no”—is worth holding onto.