Credit: Stephen Ringer
by Kayla Beardslee Featured Music Pop Rocks

Aly & AJ — With Love From

March 31, 2023

The music on sister duo Aly & AJ’s last album, 2021’s A Touch of the Beat, ranged from fireplace-warm pop-rock (“Listen!!!”) to tense synthpop (“Lucky to Get Him”) to tender acoustic love songs (“Slow Dancing”). Compared to the two EPs that preceded it — which were full of glistening, explosive (and equally excellent!) synthpop — Beat marked a turn toward live instrumentation and patient singer-songwriter tendencies, a notable departure from the duo’s Disney days in the 2000s. The album still came packed with potent hooks and layered production, true to their pop roots, but there was a distinctly exploratory spirit to it, untamed by any expectations to simply keep making pop bangers. Even Beat’s opener, the five-minute-long soft rock of “Pretty Places,” opened the album like a horizon, predicated on the idea of escaping somewhere new — and although many of the other songs are upbeat and sprinkled with synth details, the bonus tracks that Aly & AJ released a year later seemed to conclude that album’s era on a note of mellow acoustic music.

The sisters’ newest project, With Love From, is best appreciated when armed with the knowledge of where A Touch of the Beat left off. Compared to the latter, which mixed different tempos and flavors of alternative pop, With Love From is consistent in style and mood: it’s a full record’s worth of the most gentle, easy rock side of their discography, as if “Pretty Places” was spun off into a whole universe. Any of the individual songs would fit in on A Touch of the Beat (Yves Rothman executive produced both), but taken all together, they create a much more understated album experience. It’s not entirely country or rock or Americana, but the sonic signifiers bend gracefully in those directions, while still lingering on the edge of the pop conversation.

Tracks like “Tear the Night Up,” “Love You This Way,” and “Baby Lay Your Head Down” are upbeat — there’s fun to be had, even if the music is mellow — but accentuated with the kind of tasteful guitars and soft drums that can’t help but lend a song a certain contemplativeness. The slower cuts, meanwhile, are deliberate in their feelings: “Blue Dress” is delicate but emotionally assured (“I don’t care who you’ve been with / I just care that you show up at all”); “Way of Nature Way of Grace” announces its folksy intentions from the start and follows through; and closer “6 Months of 

Staring Into the Sun” confidently builds across its five minutes, operating almost like a bookend to “Pretty Places” in the way it sets a scene of cruising down the highway, destination unknown. With Love From is a record for small, cozy rooms — an evening album to match A Touch of the Beat’s breezy day. The record doesn’t surpass the duo’s previous work in terms of impressing as an overarching artistic statement, but the music remains effortlessly wonderful, punctuated with a sense of care and belief in companionship that promises to reveal its full power in the slow burn. We need albums for the quiet moments, too.

Published as part of InRO Weekly — Volume 1, Issue 13.