Insomniatic at 15: Aly & AJ’s Pop-Rock Triumph Still Feels FreshImage courtesy of the artist Music Features Aly & AJ
It’s likely that if you know anything by sister duo Aly & AJ, it’s from their sophomore album Insomniatic, which was released July 10, 2007, and turned 15 this past weekend. The album, which features hits like “Potential Breakup Song” and “Like Whoa,” marked the end of the sisters’ time with Disney’s Hollywood Records and their final release ahead of a 10-year break. 15 years later, this album feels more relevant than ever, especially as Aly & AJ solidify their place as alternative-pop powerhouses.
Even though it’s known for its platinum single “Potential Breakup Song,” Insomniatic is so much more than just potential. The album chronicles the highs and lows of love and heartbreak with lyrics that cut to the bone, especially for being written by two teenagers who were under the oppressive thumb of the Disney Channel. Insomniatic’s brave and unique approach to music under Disney still feels both rebellious and heartfelt to this day.
From top to bottom, Aly & AJ’s second outing embodies all the best parts of pop-rock in the early aughts. “Closure,” the addictive third track, mixes a head-banging beat with electric guitars and pianos, all while throwing in a “C’mon, dude” to remind you it was recorded in 2006. Insomniatic’s punky title track is also a standout, leaving behind the pop side of pop-rock in favor of roaring electric guitars. The following track, “Silence,” resonates the most, sounding Tegan and Sara-esque with layered vocals and the high-pitched beat that opens the song. The album closes with a remix of “Chemicals React,” a fan-favorite for good reason, with lyrics worthy of screaming at the top of your lungs (I mean, who could resist that bridge: “Kaleidoscope of colors turning / Hopes on fire, sun is burning / Shining down on both of us”).
Despite the duo’s disdain for parts of this record—they told Teen Vogue of their relationship with specific songs on Insomniatic, “[For years], you could’ve never gotten us to sing [‘Like Whoa’]”—it’s not only the perfect listen for a nostalgia-filled trip back to the 2000s, but also a key piece of the progression of their music as a whole. Last year’s A Touch of the Beat Gets You Up on Your Feet Gets You Out and Then Into the Sun is their best work yet (excessively long title be damned), filled with the most meaningful lyrics of their career against the backdrop of mellow, summertime alt-pop. But to get there, they had to make Insomniatic, both sonically and lyrically.
Teenage longing for communication in a relationship on “Silence” turned into the gut-wrenching tale of growing apart on “Stomach.” The potentially naive belief in a failed relationship on “If I Could Have You Back” became the self-assured separation anthem “Lost Cause.” Insomniatic’s ripple effect even goes back as far as “Take Me,” their first single after their 10-year hiatus, which features a similar confidence to “Like It or Leave It.” And Ten Years’ lovingly sweet pop anthem “With You” feels like lessons learned from the heartbroken soft-rock track “Flattery.”
While Insomniatic’s lessons have clearly stuck with Aly & AJ as they’ve moved into the next phases of their career, it’s hardly the end-all-be-all for them. 15 years later, this album remains their most prominent work, in spite of them releasing the most mature and confident music of their career all within the last five years. Speaking as a fan of their new music, it’s a point of frustration that some casual listeners have yet to branch out beyond their nostalgia-filled oldies. Aly & AJ, though, have recently begun to embrace the classics fans know and love, hopefully introducing those fans to their new music along the way. In 2020, the duo released the long-desired explicit version of “Potential Breakup Song,” which replaced “My stupid birthday” with “My f**king birthday,” after years of fans pleading for the change, and led to a viral TikTok hit at the time. Most recently, they’ve released a remastered version of “Like Whoa,” titled “Like Whoa (A&A Version)” a la Taylor Swift, with more (allegedly) on the way.
Insomniatic still stands out as a pop-rock triumph, withstanding the test of time due in part to Aly & AJ’s career-long insistence that they write their own music. It’s not often that early albums can continue to hold water, but that’s what makes this sister act so special. Over the course of their career, Aly & AJ have seen many eras and transformations (including a brief stint as a folk-pop band under the name 78Violet), but the secret behind their sustained success will always be the passion that serves as the beating heart of every track they release.
Anna Govert is an entertainment writer based in Chicago. For any and all thoughts about TV, film and the wonderful insanity of Riverdale, you can follow her @annagovert.
Revisit Aly & AJ’s 2021 Paste session below.