Album Review :
Mikeschair - All Or Nothing

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Artist: Mikeschair
Title: All Or Nothing
Label: Curb Records
Release Date: 4/1/14
Reviewer: Jonathan Andre

Tracklisting:

  1. All or Nothing
  2. Loved By You
  3. Everything You Say
  4. All I Can Do (Thank You)
  5. People Like Me
  6. How Many Times
  7. Over and Over
  8. I Can Wait
  9. This is Our Moment
  10. Forever Faithful
  11. All to Jesus (I Surrender All)

Named after the lead singer Mike’s armchair, the band absurdly called MIKESCHAIR have had a respectable musical career since their debut self-titled album on Curb Records in 2009, featuring the hit singles ‘Let the Waters Rise’ and ‘Keep Changing the World’. Releasing their second album A Beautiful Life in 2011 that earned them a Dove Award nomination for Best Pop/Contemporary Album of the Year; Mikeschair continued to showcase their musical arrangements with their 5 song Christmas EP released in 2012, featuring 3 Christmas carols and two originally written Christmas melodies, reminding us of the season drawing near. With them now releasing their new album All or Nothing on April Fools Day no less; the band have been able to create their most personable album to date, with these 5 men releasing a precursor to the album last year, in the form of a 5 song EP with 3 originally written songs (‘This is our Moment’, ‘All I Can Do’ and ‘People Like Me’), together with their beloved hits ‘Let the Waters Rise’ and ‘Someone Worth Dying For’. With the listeners being able to have a great snapshot to what All or Nothing would sound like through People Like Me EP, Mikeschair’s new album is sure to draw in newer fans of their music with an album that I reckon to be their most enjoyable collection of songs (yet also the most vulnerable and impacting) to date. With each song reminding us of the commitment we have to Christ, and that we ought to give God our all (or nothing- there’s no middle ground), Mike and the rest of the band utilise acoustic guitars and a whole lot of symphonic and orchestral sounds to create a sonically epic anthemic experience for the listener. From motivational and encouraging ‘This is Our Moment’ to a humble melody of gratitude ‘All I Can Do (Thank You)’, and the title track, Mikeschair have made April 2014 to be a great month so far in terms of new music, with All or Nothing one of my favourite pop/CCM albums of 2014 so far.

With the three newly recorded songs from their 2013 EP forming the backbone to the album in a musical and thematical sense, we are given three songs that are possibly ones that have stretched the band the most, in terms of subject matter and lyrical poignancy. ‘People Like Me’, the last radio single to be released in 2013; is perhaps one of my favourite songs from mikeschair ever. Real and honest, raw and powerful, this melody starts off with a synth keyboard and Mike declaring out the heartfelt and confronting lyrics, of ‘…what if I told you, what would you say? Would you stand me, would you walk away? What if my walls came down and you saw everything? All of my weakness, all of my scars, all that I’ve hidden deep in my heart for so long, and I’m scared to set it free…’ Looking at these above lyrics, I myself sometimes am apprehensive of showing my real self at times, just like Mike. And what is so great about ‘People Like Me’ is the honesty, with Mike not afraid to voice his concerns and what is prevalent on his heart. With the song speaking from personal experience about how his family struggled through alcohol addiction, ‘People Like Me’ is a call to be vulnerable, even if it means to unveil the deepest secrets, without any assurance that the person we’re going to share it with is going to love us, accept us or look at us the same afterwards. As we understand through this song that ‘…grace was made for people like me…’, we as Christians are able to understand that even if we may think that everyone around us, including the Lord, will abandon us if we share the deepest, darkest secrets about ourselves, we know that Christ never abandons us, even and especially at our weakest. A song that’ll hopefully bring listeners closer to God rather than away, the band ought to be commended on a melody that’s one of the most honest melodies I’ve heard since Steven Curtis Chapman’s ‘Beauty Will Rise’.

With the band also delivering other promotional singles ‘All I Can Do’ and ‘This is Our Moment’ to anchor the album together with ‘People Like Me’, with the former the most CCM-like track with booming drums, synth, and a message of gratitude and thankfulness to the Lord as we hear Mike proclaim out in the chorus that, ‘…All I can do is thank You for this life I never deserved, wanna thank You for the grace I know I don’t have to earn…’, and the latter an anthem about taking our chances and seizing our moment in life, sort of like a ‘carpe-diem’ moment in song, these two songs motivate and inspire in unique ways. While not necessarily speaking directly about the Lord, the running theme of ‘This is Our Moment’ is that the moment is ours to take hold of as God shows us opportunities that will be our moments, for us to shine for Him as well as show others the light and love of God as they see us and what we say and do. ‘All I Can Do’, while not a guilt-trip into giving thanks to God, is a song of understanding, that because of what Christ has done, that it is out of the love and gratitude of His sacrifice that we can thank Him with our deeds, actions and worship towards Him. Well done to lead singer Mike Grayson and the rest of the band for giving us these three songs and some of my favourites from All or Nothing.

‘…the process of writing All or Nothing was a very different process for me this time around. Usually I just write what’s on my heart, and then later, after all the songs are recorded and put on an album, I see a theme throughout the songs. This time around God put a theme on my heart from the very beginning of the process: all or nothing…’ As Mike shares his thoughts behind how he wrote the album and the songs that make up this collection, ‘All or Nothing’ invites us into a theme of giving the things that matter our full attention, and that our motto for the tasks we know are to be eternally significant, the mantra of ‘all or nothing’. Out of the relationship we have with Christ, we ought to give life and the opportunities set before us our all, which is what this song relates to. With gang vocals, a looping percussion and pulsating drum, as well as Mike passionately declaring out the chorus of how it’s ‘…all or nothing, I’m done wasting time, love is calling me to be the light, I wanna shine in the night like a skylight…’; the album starts off with a bang, and while the track is only 3:16, the theme of the melody and the way the song introduces the album as a whole makes ‘All or Nothing’ one of my favourites on the album. ‘Loved By You’ takes on a synth and keyboard approach as we hear a melody and introduction similar to The Neverclaim’s ‘One Truth, One Life’ (without the powerful electric guitar riffs), as we hear Mike’s truthful, yet also ever so slightly humanely doubting, words of how ‘…sometimes it’s hard to believe Your arms are open for me, that grace has set me free and I’m a child of the King…’ Grace given so freely is sometimes a gift we can still try to grasp yet never fully get, even til this day, yet ‘Loved By You’ is a testament to what we know in our heads, wrestling with what we believe in our hearts. At the end of the day, all we need to know is that we’re loved by God, and that ‘…my heart is spoken for, God I am always Yours, I can’t escape the truth, it’s so good to be loved by You…’ ‘How Many Times’ (an originally written track, not the Plumb cover) again furthers the theme of us being loved unconditionally, with the synths once again taking centre stage in a song that proclaims to listeners that (in the form of rhetorical questions) ‘…how many times have you been faithful, and how many times have you carried me? I run, I fight, I try to hide, but You’re still here, You’re by my side, You carry me still, no matter how many times…’. With light electric guitars and powerful gang vocals to back up this thematically rich melody, ‘How Many Times’ is my pick for the next single from the album.

With powerful drums also enveloping ‘Forever Faithful’, a song for the individual who wants to be reminded of God’s faithfulness, as Mike offers up a helpful plea in the words of how ‘…through every seasons change, You still remain, forever faithful, time and time again, You’re constant til the end, forever faithful…’; while ‘Over and Over’ includes riveting keyboards that almost sound like the quality of Michael W. Smith’s piano playing (you know the type, listen to a few of his songs on Glory and Freedom and you can find a trend and MWS trademark), with the song showing us that God gives us grace over and over, no matter how many times we run away. ‘I Can Wait’, a song about us waiting until it’s God’s time for events to come to fruition, is quite possibly the song that I reckon will speak to listeners the most- with Mike offering us a solution to understand that ‘…there is no easy out, gravity hurts when I get knocked down, don’t need to know why, but give me the faith to know that You’re on time, not a second late…’ As Christians we wrestle with God’s time as we compare it to how we want events to unfold, and with hope, this song will be a comfort to many to trust God, even in the times of doubting and uncertainty. Yet the two most out-of-the-box songs on the album (aside from ‘People Like Me’) and some of the most impacting out of all the songs from Mikeschair’s career are ‘All To Jesus (I Surrender)’, a cover of the famous hymn, and ‘Everything You Say’, third track, and quite possibly one of the songs that could potentially be overlooked in favour of other standout tracks like the aforementioned title track, ‘People Like Me’ and ‘This is Our Moment’. With the hymn being a similar version to the song Casting Crowns did on Jesus Firm Foundation, Mikeschair offer up a piano and soft keyboard approach as the band invite us to intimately commune with God in the words of how ‘…I surrender, I surrender, I will bless Your holy name, I surrender, I surrender, I surrender all…’ and provide a worthy song to end the album on. ‘Everything You Say’, the best surprise of the album, is one gem to look forward to as the band employ a country/acoustic/folk atmosphere as Mike delivers a theme of us being in tune to what we believe in Christ and not in the things around us pulling our views to suit what we see and hear. As Mike states that …I decided that I wouldn’t let the world tell me who I am, but instead I was going to only let Jesus tell me who I am. When you take this stand, it’s crazy how different you view yourself and others around you…’, I am able to rest assured that I myself am also on a journey of hope and being reminded constantly that it is only in God’s voice that I find who I am and who I am made to be. One of the strongest CCM songs to be released in 2014 so far; this is a great song to possibly follow ‘How Many Times’ (or maybe in conjunction, just serving different radio formats) as a great single from the album. Well done Mike for such a poignant song, and a great reminder that ‘…I’m hanging on everything you say, I come alive when you call my name…cause I believe everything, everything that You say…’

Overall: …in this world there are millions of different people and ads trying to speak into our lives. Have you ever stopped to think about what they are telling you about yourself? Next time you watch TV, think about all the commercials that pop up. What are they saying? What are they trying to tell you about yourself or what you need?…’ Mikeschair continue to bring us heartfelt melodies with a message of hope and restoration in All or Nothing, their strongest album to date. Great for any fan of mikeschair’s previous music, this is also an album to listen to even if you haven’t heard of the band before, or if you’re wanting to listen to something alongside the musical leanings of other artists like Aaron Shust, Matthew West, Brandon Heath or Josh Wilson. With Mikeschair delivering a great central theme of honesty and vulnerability throughout these 11 songs, the album certainly lives up to People Like Me EP, a great precursor to what was and is an album certain to purchase a physical copy of (not just download it from iTunes etc.). From the title track to the heartfelt ‘People Like Me’ and the encouraging ‘Everything You Say’, mikeschair have given their all to show us a powerful, poignant and provoking album that paves the way for any further albums and endeavours in the future.

RIYL: Jonny Diaz, Aaron Shust, Josh Wilson, Brandon Heath, Matthew West

Buy the Album: iTunes/Amazon mp3

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