Artist: Stellar Kart
Title: All In
Label: Inpop Records
Release Date: 8/27/13
Reviewer: Jonathan Andre
- 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 Zeroes
Since releasing their 2010 worship album Everything is Different Now, pop-punk band Stellar Kart seemingly fell off the radar where a number of personnel changes led to the band drifting off into what some people could call oblivion, with not much of a peep from the band originating from Pheonix, Arizona, aside from a Disney covers EP released in 2011. Nevertheless, it was their introduction of an acoustic EP released in 2012 featuring 6 of their beloved songs and two new acoustic recordings of ‘Criminals and Kings’ and ‘Ones and Zeros’ that led myself and many of their beloved fans into eager anticipation for their promised new album release in 2013. Now in 2013 and the date of the album release of All In confirmed to be August 27th, Stellar Kart has re-launched their band again, with Adam Agee as the sole surviving member of the band who has stayed on since it started in 2004. Adding Nick Baumhardt (husband of Tricia Brock), Jeremi Hough and Aleigh Shields (sister of Nick) on guitars, drums and bass/vocals respectively, we are met with an entirely different band, yet with the same enthusiasm and passion than ever before. While Adam laments at the changes the band has undertaken, expressing that ‘…it’s always tough when somebody decides to move on and do something else in the band…but you’ve got to keep moving on a keep playing and we’ve been fortunate to have people step up to be a part of it…’; I myself am able to sit back and enjoy all these 10 tracks on one of my favourite albums of Stellar Kart’s ever. While Expect the Impossible will always be sentimental for me (that was when I became a SK fan), All In leaps up to my No 2 SK album, with the band developing a combination of a raw acoustic sound mixed in with the pop-punk flavour we all know and love. From ‘All In (Apologise)’ to the tongue-in-cheek ‘Hollywood Reality’ and the pop anthem ‘My Surrender’; this is a must purchase regardless if you’ve heard the band or not, with the album almost unanimously being one of the most anticipated albums of the year for the collective Christian community of music lovers and album critics alike!
‘All In (Apologize)’ is the first radio single from the band for their brand new album on the different label of Inpop Records, but at first glance, standing at 3 minutes 5 seconds and having an acoustic atmosphere musically doesn’t necessarily bode well for die-hard SK fans who may find it weird and concerting that Stellar Kart have somewhat deviated from their pop-punk roots. Nevertheless, for me personally who loves CCM, their acoustically prominent ‘All In (Apologise)’ is a welcomed change from a band who’s changes is certain to bring with it a wide amount of both fans and critics alike. Starting off with an acoustic guitar strum, lead singer Adam Agee sings out the heartfelt and confronting words of how ‘…it’s easier to be the crowd, to just fit in and not stand out at all…’ Something listeners know all too well, whether it is us standing by the side when something concerning is happening in the schoolyard (just so that we aren’t confronted with our own beliefs and that we can slip away and ‘fit’ in with the crowd), or it is having indecision about topics where sitting on the fence isn’t an option; we are able to witness a song that encourages us to be all in for Christ, and to not apologise for our values and what we believe in. The introduction of a female backing vocalist in Aleigh is also a welcomed change for the band, giving them more unique and ability to hit the higher notes with Aleigh. As Stellar Kart continue to utilise her vocals in the various songs they produce, not just in All In but other albums down the road, their fanbase amongst females will be certain to skyrocket. One of my favourite songs of the year, ‘All In (Apologise)’ is a gutsy, acoustic, enjoyable, upbeat and catchy song that deserves at least one listen (even if you are not a fan of Stellar Kart now, then or both!). Well done Adam, Aleigh and the rest of SK for delivering on one of my favourite songs of 2013 so far!
Both ‘Criminal and Kings’ and ‘Ones and Zeros’ were originally recorded as acoustic tracks on their rare acoustic album released last year. Presented with a great acoustic flair and emotion as Adam Agee and his guitar delivered to us the raw unpolished versions of what has soon become some of the most pop-punk intense songs on All In, Stellar Kart remind us of the duality we all seemingly face in the opening song of the album, ‘Criminals and Kings’. Starting off with a fantastic electric guitar solo by Tricia Brock’s husband Nick Baumhardt; we are presented with a dichotomy of understandings that we sometimes believe of ourselves, even after who God says we are. Understanding that we are priceless in His worth, we may still sometimes slip into the false belief that we are still not free- we are Kings and heirs, but sometimes we may believe that we are the criminals we once were, or even act that way too. Full of life and vibrancy as Adam passionately cries out the confronting lyrics of how ‘…we are the criminals and kings, guilty but innocent, been found but still we’re wandering…’; we are reminded of our own lives and our own slip ups. Rather than placing us there and providing more guilt, Adam expresses and sense of honesty, that even if we do mess up in our lives, we can be sure that ‘…You are my only freedom…’ A nice touch to have Aleigh Shields singing a few stanza lines in the bridge, Stellar Kart are back, presenting familiar pop-punk, yet in a different and unique way (with Adam being the sole member of the band since their inception 10 or so years ago).
‘Ones and Zeros’, the last track on the album, serves as a unity-type song, with Adam declaring amidst the stellar electric guitar undertones that ‘…we are the ones, we are the ones and zeros, the beautiful incomplete…a colourful symphony…’ As we are able to gain a picture of a nation and world united, despite the fact that some of us are ones and some of us are zeroes (the differences that divide us, like our race, creed, heritage, values); we are all called to stand tall and unite under a common belief- that we are given ‘…a voice for those who can’t say a word to the ears of those who never have heard…’ With the song reminding us of the unique task we all have to share our experiences with each other and thereby building each other up; this is a perfect song to end an album that speaks about standing up for values and not wasting the time we’ve been given in this life. Well done Stellar Kart for these two songs, favourites on both the 2012 acoustic album, as well as All In!
Stellar Kart’s absence from the music industry ever since their half-cover worship album Everything is Different Now in 2010 was certainly felt (at least by myself), so when there was news that Stellar Kart would be back, on a different label and releasing a new album in August, I was intrigued, excited, curious and interested to say the least. Now as I write the review (and also listen to the album a few times over), I can safely say that their hiatus only to return with a female bassist and backing vocalist has certainly created a musical and lyrical flavour to the band that wasn’t necessarily seen on previous releases. While many listeners who have only heard the single say that the band has lost its pop-punk edge, I say that the band are just as energetic and pop-punk as before, with several songs on the album a great throwback to the ‘Student Driver’ and ‘Life is Good’ days. ‘Hollywood Reality’ is perhaps the most pop-punk on the album, fast paced and upbeat with a whole lot of throwbacks to many reality TV shows. As Adam starts to poke fun at the enormity of reality shows there are out there (from Idol, The Voice, The X Factor, The Amazing Race and The Biggest Loser, to _____’s Got Talent, Survivor, The Bachelor and The Apprentice), we are reminded of how much viewers of TV live vicariously through reality shows, with these popular TV shows often becoming much more popular than dramas in certain places (that’s certainly the case here in Australia!). The chorus presents to us a compelling and confronting truth, that ‘…it’s a Hollywood reality, a la la land of fake believe, scripted for the big screen living in your TV…’ and that as Christians, we ought not to look and other human beings on TV for the answers that we seek, but rather to Christ, who has all that we’re looking for. Even I can be a culprit of watching too much TV and being sucked up in Hollywood more than I may like, yet in the midst of all our entertainment, we ought to hold onto the truth that Christ is the only reality that we cling to in times of trouble.
With rock anthems being Stellar Kart’s forte on All In, we are met with a clash of fun-filled guitar driven melodies that can be listened to on full volume on headphones, as well as some vulnerable moments of contemplation in ballad-like anthems and poignant moments of clarity and direction. ‘Never Left Your Side’ is sung from the point Jesus to us, and as the electric guitars start to pulsate as we are met with a gutsy guitar introduction; Adam declares out the feeling of loneliness and abandonment, something that anyone might feel some time during their lives. Sometimes we can feel ‘…another midnight on the way, can’t see the road ahead though you’re wide awake…’, and it is in these moments when we need to hold onto the truth that Christ has never left us. With Aleigh singing great backup with her ‘ooohhh’ vocal harmonies to fit in nicely with Adam’s powerful vocal performance, ‘Never Left Your Side’ is a call for us to constantly remember God’s faithfulness and goodness, and in the moments when He may feel distant, recollect and remember past moments of victory and triumph to encourage us to keep moving forward. Also providing heavy guitars in ‘Just Like You’, this song compares our behaviour to Christ’s and that even if we are the screw-ups that we worry we are sometimes, God’s faithfulness never wanes or disappears. Similar in theme to ‘Never Left Your Side’; ‘Just Like You’ delivers one of the most freeing lyrical moments in the chorus, as Adam declares that ‘…it’s just like You to always be faithful when I can be hateful and cruel…when I’m a traitor, a faker, a doubter, a failure, You remain so true…’
Aleigh’s vocals continue to shine on ‘Nowhere to Go But Up’, singing half the song that showcases a comforting moment of sorts, as we realise that as God meets us at our lowest of lows, there is nowhere to go but up and up. A beautiful thing when ‘…we can find a way out of this, cause I will fight and never call it quits…’, Aleigh powerfully declares in the bridge that we ought to keep on moving, and don’t let circumstances keep us down when Christ has shown us that with Him, we are overcomers. Trading electric guitars for acoustics ones to play as the musical backdrop for ‘Before and After’, a song that gives us courage and hope that Christ loves us the same, and that ‘…there is nothing you could ever do that could make me walk away from you…’; Stellar Kart’s continual emphasis on motivation and encouragement in daily activities and the little moments of everyday life is shown through each of these songs, yet it is the two anthemic ballads of ‘My Surrender’ and ‘Time’s Not Waiting’ that I’m sure will become great anthems in years to come (these two are also some of my favourites on All In).
With a riveting keyboard and electric guitar introduction, ‘My Surrender’ offers a poignant message about surrendering to Christ, as Adam sings out the clear chorus lyrics of how ‘…You took Your world and tore it down just to turn my heart around so I won’t run again, this is my surrender…’ Humbling oneself to a cross and death is the ultimate sacrifice, and as we realise the enormity of Christ’s decision, we too can sing along with the powerful melody and possible 3rd radio single on the album. ‘Time’s Not Waiting’ on the other hand hardly has any references to Christ or Jesus, yet I feel like it’s the song that’ll speak the most to listeners (both Christian and non-Christian alike). Reminding us to make the most of our lives and that ‘…time’s not waiting on us…there’s too much to see to live a life behind the scenes…’; Adam speaks about how ‘…so much of this album [and this song in particular] is about not wasting the time that we’ve been given. That we’ve been chosen to make a difference, and I hope these songs are anthems for people to live that out…’; a message that’ll hopefully spur us on to ‘…say what you need to say, do what you need to do, love who you need to love…’ A sense of urgency given through the song as saying that we won’t live forever on this Earth, our time is precious, and something that’ll hopefully inspire us to change if we’re required to. Well done Stellar Kart for ‘Time’s Not Waiting’, certainly impacting myself to use my own time carefully and wisely, both now and into the near future!
Overall: Stellar Kart’s comeback album after a few years on the outer is a personal gem of mine, with many songs from All In securing a spot on my top all time songs from Stellar Kart ever. While Adam’s the only member who was there since the beginning, the band’s vision to create pop-punk songs that’ll influence the generation of both today and tomorrow is something that hasn’t changed- in fact, the addition of Aleigh on bass guitar and vocals actually enhances the album (than if a male vocalist was providing backing vocals)- providing it with a sense of uniqueness, variety and diversity. While Aleigh doesn’t lead a song by herself, the parts she does sing are just as good. Releasing on the same day as Mandisa’s Overcomer and the soundtrack companion to Grace Unplugged; Stellar Kart are able to provide a great balance of ballads and powerful anthems to create 10 tracks that’ll hopefully propel the band to new and higher heights than ever before. Now on a new label home of Inpop, these veteran artists are sure to stick around for quite some time yet! Well done guys for such a powerful album reminding us that ‘…I am not ashamed, won’t walk away, not trying to disguise…the one who saved my life, I won’t apologise…’ (‘All In (Apologize)’)
RIYL: Yellowcard, Eve 6, Hawk Nelson, Blink 182, House of Heroes, Sanctus Real, Jeremy Camp, Kutless
Buy the Album: iTunes/Amazon mp3