Stellar Kart's Expect the Impossible is about as pure as power pop gets. The third album from the Phoenix quartet is also a bold, uncompromising album that, along with some other recent and forthcoming efforts, proves the obituary for Christian rock was written prematurely.
Recently, it seemed Christian-market acts were either going the praise and worship route, creating catalogs largely made up of group-participatory tunes, or recording rock songs stronger on metaphors than specific Christian language, to make their music more palatable to secular venues and listeners. You need only look at the track listing for Expect the Impossible, with songs such as Jesus Loves You and Pray, to know Stellar Kart isn't going that route.
And the band hasn't. Through its first two discs, Stellar Kart has been pretty blunt with its message and its music. And that's been received well, including a Dove Award for best rock/contemporary song of the year for Me and Jesus, and a surprise nomination for artist of the year. The new album finds the group back with producer Ian Eskelin, who has helped it more sharply define its songs while broadening its sound. That can be heard in Jesus Loves You, the first single from the album. It's an unapologetic rock anthem built on a melody that resolves in the title line of the chorus. You get more from the album, which comes out Feb. 26. Sunshine sounds custom made for summer festival season. I can easily imagine a sun-drenched crowd here in Central Kentucky at the Ichthus Festival pumping up the volume on tunes like that and Shine Like the Stars. Some of the stylistic stretching comes in songs like I Give Up, a more aggressive song than most of Kart's catalog, and Letters, which shows a softer side. It's not all perfect. Eyes, for instance, features a keyboard you want to put in a time capsule back to 1984.
But overall, developmentally, Stellar Kart is ahead of schedule, if you accept the theory that album four is usually where bands grow up. Expect the Impossible is a mature effort that shows Stellar Kart is on the right track for a long, successful career.
Out today: There are a few notable new releases today including Edison Glass out of Long Island -- we don't get much Christian rock from New York -- Stephanie Smith making her Gotee Records debut and a new Passion release, God of this City, featuring usual suspects such as Charlie Hall, Chris Tomlin, DCB and others. Have a Super Tuesday, and if you are in a state where you can vote (lucky) make sure you exercise that right.