Aly & AJ: With Love From

Aly & AJ occupy a space on the hazy fringe of the pop mainstream. As survivors of the Radio Disney machine of the 2000s, they’re showbiz lifers, entertainers who are eager to try on new fashions and willing to do whatever they need to keep working, whether that means co-opting new sounds or changing their name in hopes of escaping a record contract. They spent a good portion of the early 2010s working as 78Violet, a gambit that didn’t generate any hits but helped them hone their craft. Their growth was evident on 2021’s A Touch of the Beat Gets You Up on Your Feet Gets You Out and Then Into the Sun, their first full-length album in 14 years. Drenched in sounds borrowed from new wave records, A Touch of the Beat showcased a duo who had matured, opting for mellow melodies over effervescent hooks and rhythms. It was deliberately a far cry from the fizzy, processed bubblegum of “Potential Breakup Song,” which gave them their only Top 40 hit in 2007, just as the teen-pop era came to a close. 

With its stylized, digitized retro gleam, A Touch of the Beat sounded fresh yet not quite part of the current moment; underneath its shiny veneer, it adhered to tuneful values learned from old soft rock and oldies radio. Aly & AJ’s allegiance to classic tropes only intensifies on With Love From, a brighter, tighter, and punchier record than its predecessor. By every measure, it’s effectively a sequel to A Touch of the Beat. The duo reunites with producer Yves Rothman and several associated songwriters, retaining the mellifluous mood while sharpening the melodies and buttressing the vocal harmonies. 

Superficially, these additions could be read as country or folk, particularly when paired with a sighing steel guitar as they are on the ballad “Blue Dress.” Like many Nashville pros, Aly & AJ emphasize craft over confession—there may be deep feelings at the heart of their music but they’re subdued and sculpted into multi-purpose universality—and have an affection for tunes that evoke a desert sunset. Yet these same things are what drove the sun-bleached Southern Californian soft rock of the 1970s. Fleetwood Mac is an obvious touchstone—deep in the fade out of “Baby Lay Your Head Down” is a searing guitar solo that deliberately evokes Lindsey Buckingham—although Aly & AJ convey not an ounce of Stevie Nicks’ supernatural sensuality. They’re a pair of Christine McVies, sweet and steady purveyors of warm, consoling melodies.

Over 40 minutes, With Love From cycles swiftly through pleasingly polished confections. “Open to Something and That Something Is You” surges forward on the duo’s harmonies, a sound that’s at the heart of the intricate web on “With Love From,” an expert evocation of the sparkle of Tango in the Night. Rothman takes pains to make sure Aly & AJ aren’t strict revivalists, helping give the chorus of “Love You This Way” a deep-water, dream-pop shimmer. He muddies eras and smudges styles, dressing Aly & AJ in digital tapestries while keeping the focus on their harmonies and the melodies that tug on the subconscious. Maybe in another decade, these songs could’ve sat comfortably alongside hits by HeartElton John, or even Wilson Phillips. But in 2023, they seem like gleaming artifacts from a bygone era.  

The sense that Aly & AJ don’t quite inhabit their own era is an ironic byproduct of the professional craft they exhibit on With Love From. A life spent living within the entertainment machine gives the duo crowd-pleasing instincts and no sense of the zeitgeist; it seems purely accidental they’re drawing so heavily from Fleetwood Mac, who also serves as a touchstone for scores of younger, edgier bands today. Raised on classic rock radio and late-era MTV, Aly & AJ are constitutionally driven to deliver a piece of glossy product, the kind of record that would’ve cluttered endcaps in big box stores back in the 2000s. Despite their comfortable distance from the industry machine they came up in, Aly & AJ still gravitate toward brightly-colored, big-hearted pop: an old-fashioned stance that dulls the shine of their new direction.