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Christian Music - Reviews, News, Interviews

Between the Fence & the Universe

  • reviewed by Russ Breimeier Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2004 1 Dec
Between the Fence & the Universe
Sounds like … Kevin Max's obvious love for alternative Euro pop/rock acts like U2, David Bowie, Queen, and Robbie WilliamsAt a glance … KMax's sound is cool and arty, but it lacks that personal touch to establish him from merely rehashing his influencesTrack ListingSeek21st Century DarlingsIrish HymnStranded 72.5GoldenTo the Dearly Departed

O Kevin Max, where art thou? The other dc Talk brethren have kept themselves busy in the public eye. Michael Tait has released two albums in three years with his band Tait, and had the leading role in last year's acclaimed rock opera !Hero. At the same time, tobyMac has ridden high with two successful solo projects and high profile touring. On top of that, Tait and tobyMac's latest albums were both nominated for Grammy awards in the Best Rock Gospel category. Kevin Max, the enigmatic third member, hasn't achieved the same level of success, despite his critically acclaimed 2001 debut Stereotype Be. Since then, he's had to cope with a failed marriage and an attempt to find a home in the L.A. music scene. It's only just recently that KMax has signed a new record deal with small indie Christian label Northern Records to release his sophomore effort in 2005.

In the meantime, KMax released Between the Fence & the Universe, a six-track EP available through his website and some Christian music stores. (Depending on where you pick it up, you might find a seven-track version that includes a so-so cover of Leonard Cohen's classic "Hallelujah." Despite the title, it's not so much religious as it is a beautifully melancholic love song that's been deemed inappropriate for some stores to carry.) Perhaps it bridges the gap between what we've heard and what's to come, and who's to say some of these songs won't appear on the future release?

Where Stereotype Be was a little ambiguous in wording, Between finds KMax maturing with some more easily understood lyricism that translate into modern day Psalms. "Seek" is an obvious yet intelligent and worshipful take on Matthew 7:7-8, though it also gets a cheap and pointless rhyme out of "You are bigger than Paris, France or Bagger Vance." In "21st Century Darlings," he notes how contemporary society has lost its way, offering a prayer up for the angels to watch over us. His perseverance-themed "Irish Hymn" is simply stated as one "for all you people who hit the rock bottom but climbed back up again." And "To the Dearly Departed" could very well be a lament over the brokenness experienced from KMax's divorce, finding a place for the hurting with Christ. Still, "Stranded 72.5" remains one of his most cryptic songs, seemingly inspired by The Rapture and end times.

As for his sound, KMax has found a stronger indie rock sensibility with some occasionally heavier U2-styled guitar work, as heard on "Seek" and "21st Century Darlings." Both "Irish Hymn" and the inspired 6-minute "Golden" sound like the grandiose art pop balladry of The Beatles, David Bowie, Queen, and Robbie Williams. At times, however, the dense layers of this more cheaply mastered production end up burying the vocals (and words) in the mix.

Between isn't so much an improvement on Stereotype Be as it is an evolution. I'm convinced KMax is doing the right style here, matching his personal tastes to a relevant alternative sound. But like the previous album, it's still lacking a personal quality to set him apart from his favorite musical influences. It all sounds cool and arty, plus the lyrics are meaningful-yet-different—but is all of this compelling or simply rehashing? Kevin Max has such great potential, but he's in need of a stronger and personable musical identity if he wants to connect with more listeners. Here's hoping it comes to the surface in 2005.