‘Ten Years’ speaks for the long-loved sister duo in adult advancement and perfect pop dance tracks.
written by Kelly Wynne and Nicole Almeida
Forget everything you thought you knew about Aly & AJ. Okay, well, maybe not everything. Keep the sense of nostalgia and the knowledge that the duo can create a kick-ass pop song. Now you’re ready for their next chapter, an impressive and advanced evolution of the personalities we loved ten years ago.
Breaking from the Disney-imposed image is hard, even when you have had 10 years to shed it – the pair has attempted before, re-branding as 78Violet for a limited 2013 folk-inspired release “Hothouse,” – yet Aly and AJ Michalka have done that successfully with their EP Ten Years, which strips away their past (except for “Potential Breakup Song”, that song is legendary and never deserves to be forgotten) and presents them as a completely new duo. Now, the new and improved Aly & AJ are here with kick-ass visuals and amazing music. The desire to come back to music was so great they self-funded the project and have released everything independently, allowing them to really experiment and take risks creatively. Ten Years later, Aly and AJ are stronger, better, bolder, and here to reclaim their spot as pop’s most sought after duo.
The EP is full of lighthearted energy which create sing-a-long songs that make the girl’s past proud. Though reminiscent of the simple times, Ten Years is adult and well-constructed to levels that make it a vying contender for any pop chart. With ’80s-inspired synths and unique melody lines, it’s a collection to hold in high regard, no matter what your opinion was of the artists a decade ago.
Listen: ‘Ten Years’ – Aly & AJ
Nicole: Talk about a proper way to come back. “Take Me” was the perfect single to announce their return, it is catchy, fun, and shows us which direction they’re going to with their music. I’m obsessed with songs which I can imagine produced in several different ways, I think it’s a great testament to the quality of the song’s essence when it can be adapted, and “Take Me” is one of those songs which I’ve imagined in several different forms – rock, acoustic, dance remix, are only a few of the shapes it has taken in my mind. Not to mention, it’s just a very good and genuine pop song, and these are hard to come by today. Great opener.
Kelly: When this song was released as the duo’s first single, I was super excited. It’s got a really fun energy and contagious beat that keeps it stuck in your head all day. It was the perfect single to grab attention: it’s got an upbeat aura, and it shows a carefree attitude both in lyrical content and musicality. That part is key: we’re listening to the artists who we loved as kids with power jams like “Potential Breakup Song,” and because of that, expecting a whole lot of nostalgia, while still hoping for something adult enough to relate to. “Take Me” is like the older sister of “Potential Breakup Song” with the same ballsy confidence and voices we love, but one that has evolved not only with the musical times, but with the fans as they’ve aged.
Kelly: “I Know” slows the energy coming off “Take Me” only enough to embrace the foggy, heavily-produced vocals of Aly & AJ. The track is a standout in production, falling between mainstream pop and the dream-pop trend frequenting the indie-pop genre. It’s nearly impossible to place: it’s gone a step past radio pop yet because of their previous reputation and the way they’r upholding pieces of it, doesn’t seem to fit in an alternative space. The good news is that doesn’t confuse the track enough to make it unappealing. It’s a taste of lots of lovable things, and continues to solidify the duo as a team of adults making music for an older-than-Disney-Channel audience. “I Know” has a synth-line that sounds beautifully 80s inspired and allows for the danceability that’s been preserved so well in this album.
Nicole: When I first listened to “I Know”, I was so excited to have another release by Aly & AJ that I didn’t pay attention to the lyrics. I thought it was a good song to sway around to. When I paid attention to the lyrics, the song became about 10 times better for me. The lyrics are a great display of friendship and support – it serves both for the person who is struggling and for the friend who decides to help this person out, which is a difficult feat to achieve. I love how the sounds are more dull than in “Take Me” (to match the slightly sad theme!) but still that doesn’t bring the song down – it’s quieter, more poised, but just as great as its more energetic older sister.
Nicole: Listening to this song makes me want to be at a beach party during sunset where everyone’s starting to get slightly tipsy but is not horribly drunk yet and the sun is orange and just warm enough and everyone is dancing to this song with their eyes closed. It was made to be gracefully danced, not raved to. I find that this is a common trope with their new songs – it’s 80s infused pop with poise, not to be listened to or appreciated by everyone. The lyrics tell a sad story but the song is so brilliantly produced that you can see it in a negative, sad light (if you take the lyrics as your main focus) and in a positive one too (when you just drift away to the melody). Excellent.
Kelly: OKAY. This is the best, guys. “Promises” is by far my favorite on the album. There’s something super eerie about this: they lyrics (which are awesome, by the way) speak of the girl’s driving by a boyfriend’s house and seeing another car in the driveway. It’s a cheating anthem whose verses support picturesque foggy night vibes and all hold up a chorus that makes it just as dance-club worthy as the EP’s songs before it. I personally think this is the best track on the album because of its dimensions. From vocal arrangement to production, it’s a special combination of intricate composure, and it’s done flawlessly. It’s got another 80s inspired beat that makes it sound like a school-dance jam fit for the cast of Stranger Things. Still, it’s perfectly current and almost feels advanced for the pop charts. It’s beautifully constructed for advanced listeners, but still holds the universal Aly & AJ appeal which makes every listener want to sing along.
Kelly: This song isn’t bad, but compared to the other tracks on the album, I feel it falls a little short. It feels very similar to “I Know:” listen to it. I feel like the chorus’ from either could replace the other one with little question past lyrical content. The three previous tracks on this album all have a musically-advanced aspect that we haven’t seen from Aly & AJ in the past. “The Distance” sounds like it could have been taken from a past album of theirs and matured for a few years, then re-released. It’s obvious in the breathy lull of the bridge. The song very well could have been written or produced by their younger selves, and while there’s nothing wrong with that, the rest of the album seems to support a supercharged version of the women as adults. It feels slightly mismatched, and on it’s own there would be nothing wrong with it. Yet placed beside three highly-impressive advancements, it falls flat.
Nicole: Holy wow I love the drums in this song. The airy vocals are so good, they echo ever so slightly and it’s just a pleasure to listen to. It’s my least favourite song on the EP, but I think that that’s because there’s so much to process in it – there are many layers to the song even though it’s quiet. I hear hints of a guitar and I LOVE it because guitars are my number one favourite instruments ever and I personally think everything gets better with them, let’s just hope more guitar parts are to come. Something that’s evocative about this song is that the lyric that is repeated the most, “I couldn’t take the distance”, seems to hint at their return to music – even though it took them ten years to come back, Aly & AJ couldn’t take the distance from music and decided to come back full force.
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photos © Aly & AJ