Release Date: August 27th 2013
Reviewed by Joshua Andre
If every member in a particular band leaves, except for the lead singer, is the band still the same band, and deserving of the group name? Stellar Kart has been one of my favourite bands of late, and ever since I heard “Me and Jesus” five and a bit years ago on the radio, the pop/punk band from Phoenix Arizona has never ceased to amaze me with their ingenious musical craft and honest lyrics about Jesus and about life. I also have loved their creative music videos, namely “Innocent”, “Activate”, “Student Driver”, and “Me and Jesus”, as Adam Agee and his three ‘partners in crime’ have matured throughout the years, and progressed to a more pop and worship sound. The album that really cemented my love for the quartet though, was the 2008 album Expect The Impossible. Yet since then there hasn’t been an album released will all brand new material. That is, until now.
With member changes since their worship album Everything Is Different Now in 2010, aside from an acoustic EP last year and a Disney covers EP in 2011, the pop/punk band have been very quiet of late. But now the Stellar Kart is back on a new label (Inpop Records), and creating pop/punk goodness that is as good as they’ve ever done. Stellar Kart’s new album All In drops this week, and with just Adam Agee left as the founder; the rest of the members Nick Baumhardt, Aliegh Shields and Jeremi Hough have only been settling into the band within the past couple of years (playing guitar, bass & backing vocals, and drums respectively). Though what actually got my interest back for Stellar Kart was the 2012 acoustic EP, with 6 of their biggest hits and 2 new songs sung in an intimate setting; this new batch of 10 tracks with “Criminals And Kings” and “Ones And Zeros” rerecorded for All In, has greatly involved Nick, Aleigh and Jeremi giving the pop/punk veterans a different and welcome sound. The band filmed a music video for their acoustic pop single “All In” recently, and though many people have criticised their expansion of genre, I for one love the experimentation and the shift into who God may be calling them into. For me, I feel like All In is their most mature and honest album yet, with a great diversities of melodies ranging from ballads to rock anthems and tongue-in-cheek punk offerings, so let’s dive in to see how the Inpop Records debut stacks up on a day where Mandisa, Love & The Outcome, Jars Of Clay and The Grace Unplugged soundtrack all release!
Opening the track list is “Criminals And Kings”, which starts with an epic Stu G like electric guitar solo by Nick. The title in itself is something that seems a bit contradictory, yet as Adam sings about the dichotomy that we all find ourselves in, the title fits more and more. We are indeed kings and queens of the Lord Most High, and we’ve been bought with the price of Jesus dying on the cross and we should feel like royalty (cause it’s true!); however sometimes we live like we are criminals, because as humans on this earth, we tend to act out and do stupid things as long as the devil and sin are around. So living in that tension and knowing in our hearts that we can live a godly life, but sometimes we don’t; is tough, and this in-your-face track reminds me of what Paul writes in Romans 7: 15-24, that sometimes temptation isn’t overcome as we would like, and that is where God’s grace comes in, ever so undeserving. We are indeed ‘…the criminals and kings, guilty but innocent, been found but still we’re wandering…’, yet I long for the days when we can just be kings and queens, and not criminals. With such vibrancy and an unbridled fervour, in this version of the track, Stellar Kart has created a very intense and energetic anthem, which is great for dancing in the mosh pit! Setting the album up for the rest of the God-inspired tracks, it’s a noticeable but positive addition as Aleigh passionately sings on the bridge!
“All In”, the acoustic guitar driven lead single, is next, and carries on from the theme that because we are holy and righteous in God’s sight, and that we are kings and queens; we do not have to constantly apologise for our beliefs to the world, due to the faith and security that we have found in Jesus Christ. A great departure from the rock roots, Stellar Kart divert to the light approach musically, and adopt a more simple framework, thus accentuating the lyrics and vocals more. For me it’s a welcome change, yet other opinions are greatly divided. Yet this change is unexpected, and probably fitting, given the changes in the band. The lyrics of ‘…I am not ashamed, won’t walk away, not trying to disguise, or ever hide the reason that I choose to be a fool, for the One who saved my life, I won’t apologise…’ is indeed directed at non-Christians, saying that we aren’t ashamed of the gospel of Jesus Christ, yet it can also be read into as Stellar Kart not apologising for their expansion of musical direction. A great topic to ponder over, the strong lyrical content carries on to the middle ballad tracks.
“My Surrender”, though containing many electric guitars, is a ballad and potential future single, and talks about lukewarm Christians, encouraging all of us to be on fire and sold out for Jesus. We have an internal struggle in our hearts everyday to choose to live for Him, or be reliant and dependent on ourselves and our own strengths and abilities. But as Adam points out that ‘…You took Your world and tore it down, just to turn my life around, so I won’t run again, this is my surrender…’, the sacrifice Jesus made for us and His unconditional love should be enough for us to fall into His embrace and accept the salvation that He has to offer. With a top notch blend between positive lyrics and their pop punk edge, “Never Left Your Side” is next, another ballad, with explosive and rocking guitars added as well. With Adam singing from the viewpoint of Jesus, we are met with a persona that feels lonely and like no one understands them. But Jesus never leaves us, and as the lyrics point out that ‘…the sun’s still shining through the night, the stars still burn in the daylight, sometimes you just can’t trust your eyes, I never left your side…’; we are reminded about God’s faithfulness in regards to his promises, and that He has won the war, and that He reigns forever, so we have nothing to feel afraid and nervous about. A great song to rock out to and think about, and Aleigh’s backing vocals throughout the track are pretty cool too. “Just Like You”, a guitar based ballad, like “Never Left Your Side”, highlights God’s faithfulness as well, as though the song lists some of the ways we as humans disobey God, we are given hope through the chorus as we hear that ‘…when I’m a traitor, a faker, a doubter, a failure, You remain so true, it’s just like You…’, once again emphasising God’s unending love for us and the fact that He will take us back no matter how many times we screw up.
The track most like the old Stellar Kart is “Hollywood Reality”, which remind me of the upbeat tracks such as “Activate”, “Life Is Good” and “Student Driver”. Co-written with Mia Fieldes, Adam and co. present us with a satirical take on reality TV shows, and poke fun at how many people watch their shows and become invested in them maybe a bit too much, to the point of being obsessed and strangely emotional when events on the show don’t turn out in the way that they want it to. Name dropping in this fun number (I think the band mentioned about close to 20 or 30 reality TV shows, from American Idol, The Voice, and The X Factor to The Amazing Race, The Biggest Loser, The Bachelor and The Apprentice), the truth that we look for meaning in our TV shows is very confronting. But as Christ has redeemed us, we should not look for worth and identity in the material things of this world (including TV shows), but instead focus our eyes onto the One who is all powerful and knowing, and the One who can and will fix our mistakes. After all, living through TV is like living in ‘…a land of fake believe, scripted for the big screen, living in your TV…’.
The slower-tempoed “Time’s Not Waiting” is a poignant and moving piano led ballad, and while it does not focus heavily on God or Jesus, it probably does have the most to say for Christians and non-Christians alike. Thematically about how time goes by in the blink of an eye, this song is about not wasting the moments that may pass us by, and instead doing things in life that do matter. When you think about it, it has a similar theme to “Hollywood Reality”, just sung in a different way, but equally as heartfelt. As Adam sings that ‘…there’s too much to see to live life behind the scenes…’ I feel encouraged to take risks for Jesus, and I’m sure you will all feel that too. With the acoustic guitar leading the track “Before And After” (before an all-out electric guitar introduction adding depth), the track sung from God’s point of view (like “Never Left Your Side”) speaks about how God’s love for us never wavers, and that He is constant even when we fall. Declaring that ‘…there is nothing you could ever do that would make Me walk away from you…’ we are reminded that our God is a perfect God, and that His love is bigger, wider, higher and deeper than we all could ever imagine. Because of the never ending qualities of God, we can live like we’re overcomers and conquerors, and in fact the rocker “Nowhere To Go But Up” conveys that God meets us where we are, even at our lowest point, and even when we stumble and fall, and helps us out of the pit. We can indeed go up and up in our walk with Him with Jesus by our side. A reassuring melody as we know that with God we can do anything, and that ‘…we can find a way out of this, cause I will fight and never call it quits…’, the final track “Ones And Zeros” is the perfect way to end the album as the theme of being the hands and feet for Jesus in this generation is explored.
“Ones and Zeros”, one of my favourite tracks on this musically diverse and courageous album, speaks about the frailties of life, and the beautiful people that God has made us, with such complexity. Ones and zeros are part of binary code in computers, and from the outset, may not seem very intelligent, but together with many more ones and zeros, a computer is formed. In the same way, every part of humanity is important, and this song speaks about how we may see ourselves as vulnerable, weak, and not needed in this world, but God loves and treasures everyone. Drawing themes from 1 Corinthians 12: 12-31; that every part of the body of Christ has a gift that is needed, we are reminded that God views us as ‘…the beautiful incomplete…future heroes, a colourful symphony…’, and that no matter of our own view on our abilities and talents, God will never give up on us, and will always tell us that we are important, unique, and necessary in this life. In turn we can be the voices for those who cannot speak for themselves, and that’s exactly what I love about the closer- it’s proactive and keeps us thinking about our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, and those who do not know Jesus yet.
“…This album is the most transparent and personal album we’ve ever made. These songs were born from my journey over the last three years. If I’ve learned anything, it’s that I need to be 100% connected to God 100% of the time. Anything less is simply a waste of time. God is good. He wants what’s best for me, and all of us. The way to experience that is to be ALL IN…” – Adam Agee. Like Hawk Nelson, Audio Adrenaline, Newsboys and Flyleaf before them, Stellar Kart has had a makeover, but it is the reverse to the aforementioned artists- everyone but the lead singer left in this case, which is similar to what happened to Remedy Drive. As Adam Agee, Nick Baumhardt, Aleigh Shields and Jeremi Hough plough through and try to prove their doubters and naysayers wrong (who say that the band has gone a bit soft); what has eventuated is 10 tracks of pop/punk/rock goodness that is sure to please almost everyone. For me, this is one of my favourite albums of 2013, and Stellar Kart’s crowning achievement so far, not including Expect The Impossible. Well done guys for an enjoyable and compelling album. I will definitely be interested for the future albums they release on Inpop Records…
- Criminals And Kings
- All In (Apologize)
- My Surrender
- Never Left Your Side
- Hollywood Reality
- Just Like You
- Time’s Not Waiting
- Before And After
- Nowhere To Go But Up
- Ones And Zeros
Favourite Tracks: All In (Apologize), My Surrender, Hollywood Reality, Just Like You, Ones And Zeros