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Aly & AJ: Harmony with a New Sound

Aly & AJ on stage Photo by Jenna Kauffman

Whispering tones meet your ears with synth-y beats reminiscent of 80s Bowie nostalgia. You’re not at a classic rock show, though. You’re seeing indie-pop duo Aly & AJ who, like Bowie, could be considered glam rock with a mix of new wave. They’ve definitely grown since their bubblegum pop song days.

Fans old and new gathered last Wednesday, May 22, to see Aly & AJ at The Fillmore in Silver Spring, MD. Everyone first saw this duo as a pop-rock girl pair born from Disney, but their sound now gives people trying to trap them in that niche a run for their money. While I roughly categorize them in the glam rock/new wave genre, they could also still be considered edgy pop, or even EDM in a way. Their set list for their current “Sanctuary” tour features old and new songs alike along with a Kacey Musgraves’s song cover, and offers a perfect balance for those new to their fan base as well as those who have been there for years.

Aly Michalka

Aly
Photo by Jenna Kauffman

AJ Michalka

AJ
Photo by Jenna Kauffman

The ladies opened with one of their newest singles, “Church,” putting the audience in an uplifted mood to start the show. Musically the song has a very soft, mellow sound as it starts. But with AJ’s angelic vocals leading into the pair’s blended voices in the chorus, the sound gives the listener a mental lift they never knew their ears needed.

“Church” is the first single/video release off of the duo’s latest EP, “Sanctuary.” It comes just a year after their EP, “Ten Years,” which commemorated their return to their recognition as Aly & AJ (for a while, they went by the name 78violet) after a literal ten-year break. As 78violet, they wanted to find a different sound and add a “third element to who they are when they’re onstage,” according to an interview with MTV. However, with their latest two EPs, they have definitely added an element to Aly & AJ that they never had with their cookie-cutter pop sound back in the day. Now, they not only get to perform that new music, but also their familiar songs that their fan base grew up on.

Aly & AJ on stage

Aly & AJ at The Fillmore in Silver Spring, MD
Photo by Jenna Kauffman

Next to performing all of the songs off of “Sanctuary,” they also performed all of their songs from their “Ten Years” EP, providing a very thorough set list that shows the path of sound they’re currently on. Live performance highlights off of these two EPs included “Not Ready to Wake Up” from “Sanctuary,” where the duo got close on stage as they belted out the line, “I got all that I need and it’s right here with me.” “Take Me,” a lead single off of “Ten Years,” was another high spot vocally for Aly as she hit some of her highest octaves belting out, “When you gonna take me out?” during the final line of the chorus.

The title song off of “Sanctuary,” which the twosome did second to last, left an impact on the audience as they thanked those in attendance with, “I’m saying thank you, thank you, for your sanctu-, sanctuary.” In a way, this message is reflected back onto the pair from the listeners as well, as in, “Thank you, Aly & AJ, for providing a temporary sanctuary from the outside world we have to deal with.” This concert was an escape for the audience and performers alike.

Of course, along with their current catalog, the girls threw it back with a few of their classics. This included the songs “Chemicals React,” “Like Whoa,” “Rush,” “No One,” and “Potential Breakup Song.” As a fan from the old days, it was hard not to fangirl too hard as they began each one. As soon as the first chorus dropped for “Chemicals React,” you felt the audience’s excitement. They slowed the set down for a brief acoustic of “No One,” but also for the cover of Kacey Musgraves’s “Slow Burn.” And as they reached the end of the show with “Potential Breakup Song,” there wasn’t a single non-sassy singer in the house.

Aly & AJ on stage

AJ plays guitar while Aly dances on stage
Photo by Jenna Kauffman

Many listeners may hesitate giving Aly & AJ’s new sound a chance. But while it is definitely different, it is worth a listen. Their live shows make the latest EPs and the old songs an immersive experience that no one should miss.

Aly & AJ continue their “Sanctuary” tour nationally through late-June followed by an international leg beginning mid-July. Find a tour date near you here. Also, check out their latest EP “Sanctuary” here.