A Time for Poptimism: Find ‘Sanctuary’ from End-of-Semester Stress with Aly & AJ

Courtesy of Shore Fire MediaAly & AJ, who became known for their Disney Channel movie "Cowbelles," released their EP "Sanctuary" in 2019.

Remember when Friday nights were defined by what was new on Disney Channel and commercial breaks would serve as a promotional tactic for the latest artists in the Disney machine?

Back then, we bopped our baby butts off to hits spanning Miley Cyrus to Bridget Mendler. While Selena Gomez and the mysterious “Scene” made a strong case, no group did it like sister duo Aly & AJ.

The gals dropped perfection with “Potential Breakup Song” in 2007 — a song so culturally impactful it found resurgence in a 2020 TikTok trend, which led to the duo re-recording the track.

While Aly & AJ were then best known for the bops and their Disney Channel Original Movie “Cowbelles,” they didn’t go silently into the night. The duo returned to music after a decade hiatus with 2017 extended play (EP) “Ten Years,” a collection of synth-pop tunes. In 2019, Aly & AJ followed with another stellar EP, “Sanctuary.”

As April creeps along, anxieties around finals have started to set up camp in our minds. Despite this semester having more breaks than the Super Bowl, we’re still hobbling to the finish line, eager for the sweet release of summer. “Sanctuary” is quintessential spring music to bridge that gap.

Let the blissful oasis of “Sanctuary” carry you away. Didn’t make it to church for Easter? Opening track “Church” has you covered. Hozier isn’t the only artist ascending listeners to the beyond.

“Church” mesmerizes with texturized synthesizers elevating the duo’s vocals. The bouncy production carries the track, surrounding listeners with beautiful harmonies and animated beats. 

Aly & AJ harken back to the 1980s with their warm production and bountiful vocals. Just as we throwback to our childhoods by listening to them, they too throw it back with their influences.

Daydream to the jamming “Not Ready to Wake Up” as the track sizzles and chimes with cutesy purpose. Dissociate from the world with the euphoric “Don’t Go Changing.” Get into the groove with the energetic “Star Maps.”

The opening beats of title-track “Sanctuary” feel like the triumphant sounds from the end of a coming-of-age movie. It’s a lush pick-me-up that plays as the main character lifts their arm in joy and smiles with their whole face. The camera freezes and the protagonist narrates their little epilogue.

We’re not yet at the point of freeze-frames and summer fun montages, but we’re pretty close. “You’re my north star / I’m gonna follow you to take you home,” the duo opens the song. While they’re presumably referring to a love interest, let’s absorb that advice. Study hard, finish your finals and find your way to summer.

In the bridge, they sing, “I’ve come a long, long way for this.” And so have we. We’re too close to throw in the towel. Do runners begin walking with 100 meters left in the 5K? As a former cross country aficionado — you may have caught me in the top 300 out of 400 in any given race, not to brag — I can assure you, the answer’s no. We’ve still gotta finish strong.

As the days get warmer and the fickle Chicago sun starts to make its rounds, we’re finally able to spend time outside. Grab a picnic blanket and chill by the lake, letting the warm air and synthetic beats wash over you. For a moment, you can find “Sanctuary” amid this stressful month.

“Sanctuary” is available on all major streaming services.

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