Release Date: October 30th 2015
Reviewed by: Jonathan Andre
- Alive in You
- You are Loved
- All I Have
- Walking Like Giants
- If It’s Amazing Grace
- Love That Won’t Let Go
- See You
- Where You Are
- Morning Star
- Never Burn Out
Borne out of a few members from hard rock Christian band Pillar deciding upon a side project which has now turned into a full time ministry, Stars Go Dim have been one of pop/rock’s biggest secrets until now. Releasing Love Gone Mad and Between Here and Now back in 2008 and 2011 respectively, their signing to Word Entertainment at the beginning of this year, as well as their chart-topping first label single “You are Loved”, is what I reckon will be a positive step for the band, as they venture into the territory of label-created music. While with that change possesses a change in sound to fit more of the radio/pop/rock format, the hearts of these former Pillar members are nevertheless still the same, as we see amongst these 14 tracks. Lead singer Chris Cleveland, vocally reminding me of Justin Engler from Abandon, Samuel Jay Hancock from Luminate, as well as worship artist Phil Wickham; delivers each song with fervent passion and enthusiasm, and though this album released such late during 2015, listening to these 14 tracks have continued to assert and confirm my statement, that Stars Go Dim is my favourite album by a debut artist ever since For KING AND COUNTRY’s debut in 2012. From the first single “You are Loved”, to potential second single “Walking Like Giants”, a reimagining of the hymn “Doxology” and their personal heartfelt album closer “Here”, this is an album for anyone who loves artists like Phil Wickham, Abandon or Luminate, or if you have enjoyed Stars Go Dim and their previous material. One of my favourite albums of 2015, this is a must have for any CCM/pop/rock fan, and certain to be on repeat on my iTunes playlist in weeks and months to come!
Released as a bonus track on WOW Hits 2016, “You are Loved” is the first radio single from the album, and while the song title is generic as ever (singer/songwriters Rebecca St. James and Heather Williams have both recorded songs of the same name), the passion cannot be ignored when we first hear Chris deliver the words of how we are loved beyond measure. With pulsating drums and a passion I’ve never heard this year since albums released from Kevin Max and Lauren Daigle earlier this year, Chris imprints on our hearts from the outset that ‘…we hide pain in the weirdest places, broken souls with smiling faces, fighting for surrender, for now and the after…’ It is that lyric and others like it in the song that places things into perspective- that at times we can hide what we really feel, for whatever reason. As the band remind us that the only way to love is to understand that we are loved, not for our façade, but for our realness and honesty, we can feel free to let our guards down, believing full well that ‘…you don’t have to prove yourself, don’t try to be someone else…’ While quite possibly the most radio friendly melody on the album, the song will nevertheless be a melody certain to bring healing and hope to many needing it during this time in society. A well-deserved inclusion to WOW Hits 2016, Stars Go Dim’s introduction into the Christian label industry is one that’s going to be littered with success, popularity, and impact for months and even years into the future.
While 14 tracks may seem like it is a long song set-list for any album, listening to Stars Go Dim’s album makes me assert that 14 tracks was not even enough to compact all the heartfelt biblical truths- in fact, I probably would’ve been happier if the album was longer- maybe 17 or 18 tracks. Each song, though similar in length, and different musically and even lyrically. First track “Doxology” is a reimagining of the old hymn, and with the band layering drums upon drums, and reminding us all musically of The Digital Age (quite possibly the musical brains behind DC*B), the band bring to life a hymn that ought not to be forgotten. With the band writing a couple of verses and a chorus of its own, “Doxology” is quite possibly my favourite rendition of the song. With such passion and enthusiasm, we hear Chris echo out in the chorus ‘…alleluia, alleluia, praise God the Father, Spirit and Son…’, and give us all resolve to declare alongside him this powerful and emotive truth.
“Alive in You” brings power and authority in the drums and percussion, and remind us all that indeed this instrument could take centre stage, compared to many other songs recorded where either the keyboard or guitars are the prominent instrument. This song in particular meshes together powerful drums and light acoustics, polar opposites musically yet they seem to fit. The song’s message- we are alive in Christ, ‘…the old is dead and gone, my soul will sing this song, You’re making all things new, I am alive in You…’ A great melody to be paired after “Doxology”, it is the first three songs (“Doxology”, “Alive in You”, “You are Loved”) that’ll hopefully bring in listeners of all Christian music genres, as the band attempt to musically diverse themselves across a myriad of genres, from rock, to pop, acoustic and praise and worship.
“Here”, the most personal song on the album by far, is as reflective, mellow, keyboard-driven, and heartfelt as it can get. As Chris places on his Jonathan Thulin hat, we see a melody that is borne out of the time of friend Chase Lovelace’s diagnosis and struggle against cancer, and his subsequent death out of that. With a song that is as hopeful as it is emotive, Chris and the band provide to us a vessel of honesty, and for those who knew Chase, the drummer of Stars Go Dim for a while (and later on a drummer for Superchick), a way to say goodbye to someone who’s life was tremendously cut short (he was only in his mid-20s). With “Here” bringing us comfort that God is right here in the midst of calamity even if we don’t feel like He really is, Stars Go Dim leave us with a lasting impact in “Here”, and a good way to end an album full of confrontation, comfort and reflection.
“Stars” imparts to us electric guitar effects a la Switchfoot as the song shows us a message of us lighting up the sky like the stars if we want the world to see the change in us that has occurred since our transformation because of Christ; while “24/7” hits realness with a hammer as we see Chris present a message of making the most of the time we have, and that if all we have is just a day to live, to let it be about Christ who saved us and continuously saves us time and time again. “Where You Are”, with light and airy keyboard effects, is the only track by Stars Go Dim where they kept the demo of the recording, and while the lead singer wrote the song with his wife in mind, we can hear the lyrics and also be reminded that where we want to be is where Christ is.
“Morning Star”, with a rubber stamp of Royal Tailor meets Chris August, is presented with a plethora of electronic effects (it was sadly forgettable at the end of the day), yet with its theme of us pointing towards God as the morning star through how we live our lives, is what redeems this otherwise song that is forgettable when placed against others like “Alive In You” and “You are Loved”. Stars Go Dim also deliver to us themes of seeing God through creation in front of us (“See You”), and never burning out the passion and fire we have for Christ in place of the hustle and bustle of life we can sometimes fall into on a daily basis (“Never Burn Out”), while also providing to us quite possibly some of my favourite songs I’ve heard during September/October 2015 (“All I Have”, “Love That Won’t Let Go”, “Walking Like Giants”, “If It’s Amazing Grace”).
“Love That Won’t Let Go” has Abandon and their imprint all over the melody, in fact, the song would’ve felt as much as home on this album as it probably would’ve been either on Abandon’s 2014 album Love Prevails or their 2011 album Control. Chris and the band also borrow a few ‘wooahh’s from Audio Adrenaline’s “Kings and Queens”- in fact, does that sound like Kevin Max in the background? Regardless of the comparisons in this song, we hear Chris deliver a celebration of sorts, that ‘…wherever we’ve been, wherever we go, with every step, every road, You’re holding us close with love that won’t let go…’ A celebration or what? Indeed, this song is as celebratory as it is poignant, and a standout on their self-titled Word Label Group debut. “If It’s Amazing Grace” slows down the tempo and brings out the fact that sometimes the quiet and reflective songs are the ones that impact us the most. In fact, hearing this melody takes me back to the Avalon days, not sure how this song and Stars Go Dim channel Avalon, but Chris’s vocals sound strikingly similar to Jody McBrayer’s in this particular track. And it is that similarity that makes “If It’s Amazing Grace” a favourite of mine, with such poetic rhyme, and heartfelt rawness and real honesty to this song, we see Chris envelope us into this theme of accepting God’s grace for what it is- a gift. Nothing we can earn, but rather, as the chorus suggests, ‘…if it’s amazing grace, let it do what it does, it can reach far beyond, anything we have done…’
“Walking Like Giants”, a song that quite possibly could be single #2 later on this year/early next year, is one that calls us to be the men and women of God we were meant to be- that the courage that God gives us makes us walk like giants into the situations and circumstances we are in. Standing at only 3:15, this song still speaks volumes, as Chris invites us all into the possibilities that we are in fact stronger and braver than what we believe we are and can be. With Christ, we can walk like giants, knowing that He gives us the courage to face adversity head-on. Yet it is the track “All I Have”, a song that may or may not be a single (I reckon it should be, yet the executives may decide different), that has made a profound impact on myself, and is by far my favourite song on the album…and if I released my top 30 tracks post later on during the year, then “All I Have” will be included for sure.
With a light piano introduction, Chris declares from the outset that he wants to ‘…build my life on the only one I need…’ Sometimes we as Christians can start off the Christian life building our moments and our experiences and faith on the solid rock of God and His love, yet along the way, we may fall victim to allowing other things to take the place of God Himself- ministries, friends, families, even the act of evangelism may be more important to us than the relationship with God Himself. Yet this song takes a hold of all that we have known over the years and turns everything on its head. The chorus in particular: ‘…if all I have, is You, nothing else but You, I have everything…’ Can we as listeners really repeat that phrase with such sincerity and meaning? Can we truly believe for ourselves that if one day everything was stripped away and we really did only have Christ beside us- would we still follow Him even still, would we still believe we have everything we need in that moment? Hard questions, but necessary questions that this song delivers. Which is why the melody is a song that I reckon everyone needs to hear, especially those who may be on the brink of a Job situation (I pray that no one experiences what Job in the Bible experienced, but who knows what God can use for His glory and our good…).
What can I say about Stars Go Dim that I haven’t said already? That it’s about time they are signed to a label? That I can’t really fault this album, aside from “Morning Star”? That their musical and vocal abilities are similar to that of Abandon, Royal Tailor, Luminate, Satellites and Sirens or Phil Wickham? With such comparisons to these artists, the band are sure to gain more respect and anticipation, as their first album on Word Label Group is as enjoyable as it is heartfelt. An album experience by a debut artist I’ve never enjoyed so much compared to others this year like NF’s Mansion and Lauren Daigle’s How Can It Be, this self titled album from a band that I’m sure will be popular in a few years time, is one that is arguably one of my favourite albums of the year. In my top 10? Most likely. Now off to anticipate new albums from Kutless and Natalie Grant coming in November. Maybe they will also be in my top 30 albums list to be released later on during the year? Kudos to Stars Go Dim for a very poignant effort. Each of the 14 tracks are unique, and each of them are a reminder of the hope we have in Christ Jesus our Lord!
4 songs to listen to: Walking Like Giants, All I Have, Love That Won’t Let Go, If It’s Amazing Grace
RIYL: For KING AND COUNTRY, Royal Tailor, Chris August, Abandon, Luminate, Phil Wickham, Satellites and Sirens