In May 2021, Aly & AJ released their first full album since their teenage years. I love the singles and music videos they dropped ahead of A Touch of the Beat Gets You Off of Your Feet Gets You Out and Then Into the Sun (which is an awesome title). At this moment, I haven’t listened to the entire album. Maybe I needed to walk down memory lane before embracing the next destination. Or maybe I’m just a pace behind some of my friends…I think it’s both.

Alyson and Amanda Joy Michalka remind me of walking into a fresh, beautiful greenhouse. There are so many hues and scents both familiar and new. Notes of the past mingle with present-day creations.

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Aly & AJ’s debut album, Into the Rush, arrived as I entered middle school in 2005. I cannot think of a better album for a pre-teen to get her hands on. With Aly & AJ, I could be cool, enjoy the music, and let my emotions play out freely.

“On the Ride” is a BFF or sibling kind of song that rolls along as you appreciate whomever your companion is. It was unquestionably perfect for the Michalkas’ Disney Channel Original Movie, Cow Belles. “Protecting Me” was another song I knew from the channel because Aly’s Keely Teslow sang it on Phil of the Future. “Whenever, wherever, you’ll protect me no matter what…You’re always there for me when I need you most, day and night, you’re by my side protecting me.” In my mind, it could be about anyone–a friend, family member, significant other, or even God (more on that later).

Aly and AJ back cover of "Into the Rush"

Then we had “No One” from Ice Princess, the ideal combination of a song and a movie I loved to pieces. With the chorus saying “Don’t wanna be no one but me,” it’s easy to feel good and secure while listening to it. The imagery of “moving through the crowd, trying to find” myself still feels so right.

I’ll continue going out of order, even though I would imagine I usually listened to this album in order. We’ve got the “Walking on Sunshine” cover from Herbie: Fully Loaded and another light-hearted cover, “Do You Believe in Magic,” which was later on the Wizards of Waverly Place soundtrack, because duh, magic.

That’s A LOT of airplay from synergistic Disney soundtracks, and if you’re like me, you didn’t mind a bit. “Rush” is the pinnacle of the film connection for this CD. Tia and Tamera Mowry’s Twitches was matched so fabulously with Aly & AJ’s “Rush.” In one context, the song captures sweeping layers of “The Darkness” as the Mowry twins, adorned in 2000s fashion, discover their powers in the movie.

When I wrote an article about Aly & AJ this year for Nicki Swift, I learned about another context for “Rush.” Aly & AJ are gay icons and proud allies in the LGBTQ community. You might already know that Aly & AJ frequently work with The Trevor Project to raise awareness and funds. They wholeheartedly support the notion of being “every color that you are,” which comes from the chorus of “Rush”:

“Don’t let nobody tell you your life is over/Be every color that you are/Into the rush now/You don’t have to know how/Know it all before you try.”

On a personal note, I may have gotten this very album at a Christian bookstore that would have largely excluded LGBTQ communities. I don’t take that lightly as an adult.

That brings me to “Never Far Behind.” The song was apparently marketed to the contemporary Christian crowd and begins with: “I know this really isn’t you, I know your heart is somewhere else.” After a pre-chorus of “Hold on to what you believe,” the chorus goes:

“I will always be your friend
I know who you are inside
I am with you to the end
Never far behind
I am standing in the distance
You can take your time
And I will be there waiting
Never far behind”

Perhaps this one could be about someone losing faith? Or, like in some of the other songs, maybe it’s a person trying to find out who they are. For what it’s worth, Wikipedia says “Never Far Behind” was specifically included in the “Christian edition” of the CD and was also supposed to be on a Chronicles of Narnia soundtrack.

It’s a curious thing when religious and mainstream media start to overlap. As a person looking to affirm and honor others with the books I read, the music I sing, and the voices I listen to, I think I can look to Aly & AJ as they are right now. I’d love to hear even more about their faith journeys someday.

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As I glance at the physical album, I notice the yellow disc and see Aly’s butterfly-heart drawing next to the track list. “Collapsed” brings out the punk in me when I sing it…I love the ranting bridge and the abrupt ending. “Something More” opens softly and paints the scene of friendship turning to romance. “Speak For Myself” is a plea to be listened to and respected. If you look inside the CD booklet, you’ll notice the quote “Children are to be seen and not heard,” with the word “not” crossed out.

“Out of the Blue” is one of my favorites and is essentially a saga of forbidden love. I forgot about the final chorus flipping the narrative on its head. I’ll bold the places that differ from the main chorus.

“Out of the blue
We knew we should’ve been together
Don’t wanna get over you
When love makes the choice
It has a voice
Out of the blue”

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“In a Second” reminds me of “Something More” and even includes “something more” in its lyrics. But with “In a Second,” it seems more like the fate of the relationship is in the hands of the other person. “I Am One of Them” is so sad as it details the reality of missing children and tragic loss. I’m sure I didn’t fully grasp that one as a kid. “Sticks and Stones” is a solid anti-bullying song. “Why don’t they understand that someone else’s pain is not for gain?”

“Slow Down” was a good call for this CD because it allows the speaker to pause a relationship and “need a little time for air.” It shows that needing space and wanting closeness are both valid feelings in the realm of attraction.

I’ve surveyed this treasured record at exactly the right time in my life. I’m comforted by the memory of listening to it at a sleepover I hosted one summer. I feel at home whenever I hear some of these songs in Disney movies. As a vocalist, I know that singing with a sister brings out such glorious harmonies, a fact proven by Aly and AJ. They blend together without sacrificing their individual vocal identities.

So now, I’m going to get with the program and enjoy the artistry of Aly & AJ in 2021.

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