Album review: Insomniatic

If you do not know who Aly & AJ are — the pop duo made up of sisters Aly and AJ Michalka — you probably know their song, “Potential Breakup Song.” It is the opening track and lead single of their 2007 album Insomniatic, which was produced by Hollywood Records, the more “adult” arm of Disney Music Group. In some ways, the album is exactly what you would expect from an 18 year old and a 16 year old — angsty and full of an independent spirit that longs to be free. On the other hand, the record sings of wisdom and maturity beyond the sisters’ years, dealing with hurtful relationship endings and moving on. Either way, Insomniatic showcases not only the sisters’ musical development to a more electronic sound, but also their masterful songwriting ability.
As mentioned, the opening track is “Potential Breakup Song,” which has become a cult anthem. In truth, I listen to the song every year on my birthday because of the lyrics, “It was my birthday, my stupid birthday,” which are sung in response to a significant other apparently forgetting the singer’s birthday. The let down and disappointment captured in that piece of the song’s story are a preview of the universal emotions the album interacts with. “Potential Breakup Song” is fiercely independent, advocating for an individual’s side of a (romantic) relationship with lyrics like, “It took too long, it took too long for you to call back; now all I want is just my stuff back.” The song, incredibly self-confident for the sisters’ respective ages, champions an accurate sense of self-worth and standing up for oneself in a relationship. In the same vein, the next track “Bullseye” drives fearlessly forward toward the infatuation that comes in romantic relationships. Musically, the song is layered with techno-sounds and compelling guitar lines.
The next two songs, “Closure,” and “Division (➗),” take a more somber and jaded edge to love and romantic relationships. “Closure” ostensibly comes after a breakup and vocalizes the mature idea of the necessity to begin the long and painful process of moving on after a relationship ends. “Division (➗)” is the first slower song on the record which suits the heartbreak that underlies the song. The song boasts a mature acceptance of the end of a relationship with lyrics like, “And I have no regrets, I wish you the very best in all that you do.” But there are some sarcastic jabs used as a defensive mechanism over the painfulness of the end: “Congratulations, now you are free… this is your last separation from me,” which speaks to how even the most mature individual can still feel hurt and heartbroken.
“Like It Or Leave It” confronts a selfish individual for trying to control everything in a relationship. Here again we see the song advocating for individuality and the idea of sticking up for oneself if they are not happy in a relationship. This song is unapologetic about being oneself, even if that comes with quirks or needs that another person does not appreciate. “Like Whoa,” one of the more upbeat songs of the record, likens love to riding a rollercoaster, particularly the early stages— or so-called honeymoon phase— where there is almost an obsession with the other person so that they cannot be forgotten. “Insomniatic,” the song that shares the name of the album, layers heavy lead guitar and bass guitar to depict this state that the Michalka sisters came up with themselves. The sisters define insomniatic as “a state of mind where one becomes addicted to the deprivation of sleep caused by an epic revelation of joy,” which is arguably the picture created by the song of the same title.
Another slower song, “Silence” carries a more melancholy tone and reveals the magnitude that can be said without words. Next, “If I Could Have You Back,” runs forward with techno-keyboards and guitars in contrast to the lyrics that look backward to wonder if what a relationship was is worth getting back. The last two songs, “Flattery,” and “I’m Here” close the album in a subtle way. Last year the sisters revealed that “Flattery” was written about AJ’s relationship with Joe Jonas, which adds a layer of drama to the song that asks the pair to admit the end of their relationship hurts. A remix of their 2005 song “Chemicals React” finally closes out the album, signaling the sisters’ growth and maturity since their first release.