It can be extremely hard for artists to come back after a long hiatus. For Aly & AJ that hiatus lasted 10 years. They had been signed to Hollywood Records and lightly looped into the Disney Channel ecosystem, landing sync’s in some Disney Channel original movies and eventually starring in their own, “Cow Belles.”
But after the success of their second record, “Insomniatic,” they parted ways from their label and stumbled to release another album. Nothing materialized and the two leaned more into their acting careers. AJ Michalka landed roles in “Secretariat,” “Super 8” and ABC’s “The Goldbergs.” Aly Michalka acted in “Easy A,” college thriller “The Roommate,” lead a CW series entitled “Hellcats” and returned to the channel for the series “iZombie.”
The pair announced their return to music in 2015, but their return single dropped in 2017. That single was “Take Me,” a perfect bedroom pop song exuding longing and empowerment. It was a change from their move rock driven tracks, but it hit all the right marks and so did the following EP.
This month they released their new EP “Sanctuary.” It continues their journey into the synth-pop genre and explores themes of mental health, love and redemption. It is a relaxing introspective body of work that marks a mature step forward for an already progressive duo. The EP wraps you in sounds of vulnerability, strength and acceptance.
The duo brought this new EP and a good amount of their catalog to the stage at the TLA May 21. The packed crowd was full of dedicated fans. Some had followed the duo since the beginning, singing along to all the words of older cuts like “Closure” and “No One.” Some fans were newer, but just as passionate when it came to songs like “Promises” and “I Know.” It was a purely jubilant crowd, ready to take in all the music.
Though the genres of the duo’s music have a rift between the old and the new, on stage they make minimal rearrangements and the whole set blends wonderfully. The newer tracks receive a jolt of energy and the older tracks have a little more brooding synth. The tracks are expertly placed and the night feels like a seamless progression.
Before performing their song “Good Love,” the duo spoke about their partnership with the Trevor Project. The Trevor Project is an organization dedicated to providing crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to LGBTQ youth. At every stop on their tour, the organization has donation bins and awareness booths. During the speech, Aly & AJ encouraged the crowd to text the organization to get a link to sign the organization’s petition against conversion therapy.
The duo had great command of the stage, with very understated production. The lighting was the main focus with lights lining the flooring of the stage, changing color scheme with each song and flashing to the beat. But Aly & AJ didn’t need any fancy production, their performance was more than enough. The two were able to hold attention from behind their respective mic stands, only moving around the stage for less than half the songs. The two had a three piece band, but joined on instrumentation for most songs with AJ on guitar and Aly on keys.
On their newer pop cuts, the duo has a breathy, whispered delivery that hugs the textures of their music. Performing live, they are able to mimic this delivery on stage but also pull out strong belts when necessary. I was thoroughly impressed with the musicality displayed on stage. Their voices blended together hypnotically throughout and especially when harmonizing.
Throughout the night, the girls claimed that many songs were “one of their favorites to perform.” It was great to see how much the girls enjoy their own music. Standouts from the night included “Not Ready to Wake Up,” “Good Love” and “Rush.” But the best moment of the night was “Like Whoa.” The room exploded with energy for this classic track from the group.
Aly & AJ closed out the show with a four song encore, including an acoustic performance of Kacey Musgraves’ “Slow Burn.” Their performance of “Sanctuary” felt like a true thank you to everyone in the crowd as they sang the chorus “I’m saying thank you, thank you / for your sanctu-, sanctuary.” The show ended with a rousing rendition of their biggest track to date “Potential Breakup Song,” which of course the crowd shouted along every word to.
Aly & AJ put on an amazing show, and I would encourage even casual fans to check the group out the next time they come through Philadelphia. For now, check out their new EP “Sanctuary,” which is out now everywhere.