K Max Broken

pick of the monthBroken Temples is 38 minutes of crisply-produced music featuring a modern pop sound and the unmistakable imprint of Kevin Max's vocals.

Broken Temples
Kevin Max
Blind Thief Recordings/Motion Records
10 tracks / 37:51

If we were looking at Kevin Max's career on a time-line (at this point) we'd see something in common at the start and at this present moment in time: pop music. From being a founding member of D.C. Talk to recently becoming – for one album, at least – the lead singer of Audio Adrenaline (a gig that has run its course) Kevin Max certainly knows the ins-and-outs of popular music. Career-wise, a lot happened in the intervening years - just like a tootsie roll pop, there's lots of chewy goodness in the middle, and now it's back to pop.

Don't let the word, 'pop,' scare you. Kevin is still very much his own man, and has pulled together the best of many worlds to come full-circle (at least for the time being) to make some excellent and very accessible music on Broken Temples.

Early in his days as an emerging as a solo artist, Max decided to visit the outer-reaches of rock and pop music, opting for a more euro-artsy approach on various solo projects - a mix of electronica, fantasy, and even a touch of science fiction influenced music followed. Not one to forget his roots, the artist also plumbed the depths of gospel, blues, and soul (The Blood)to leave no stone unturned in his aural autopsy of this format that we've come to generically call pop music. Now, having conquered several sub-genres, Max is able to pull from all of those sounds to craft well-informed songs. Short songs. Songs with hooks and a danceable beat. Pop music – a dirty word to some, but those are the ones that forget that pop music can be done very well. I think there was a band called The Beatles that showed us that.

We need to throw into this mix the fact that Max's career has been largely centered in that strange musical ghetto called Contemporary Christian Music, with all of the pluses and minuses that come with the territory. His always literate, poetic lyrics were always more esoteric, more mystical, and more outrageously honest than most of his contemporaries, helping to brand him as one of the bad boys of Christian Music - even from his initial exposure as a member of the pop/ hip-hop Christian 'boy band,' D.C. Talk, there was a sense of restlessness that made him sometimes look uncomfortable and eager to break out into more creative waters. So we come to Broken Temples and find a more settled, more family-friendly (should I say 'kinder and gentler,' or would that go too far?) Kevin Max.

Broken Temples is 38 minutes of crisply-produced music featuring a modern pop sound and the unmistakable imprint of Kevin Max's vocals. Max's voice is a stunningly unique instrument – his instantly recognizable tone, his distinct vibrato, the octave-apart melody lines: all are as identifiable as licks from a great guitarist, and the obvious reason we're first attracted to his work. The album starts off with the strong, driving, "Good Kings Highway," a logical and smart jump-off point for those that still have Audio Adrenaline's similarly-titled Kings and Queens playing in their memory-banks (of course, we snap back to the present when we hear lyrics like, "across the miles you've changed your song, so blue – ultra-violet you").

Those who are looking for more explicitly Christian lyrics will delight at what they hear on songs like "Light Me Up":
You light me up, You light me up
Out of the dark you changed my heart
Gave me a mission gave my life a permission to grow
You light me up, You light me up
I once was lost and now I'm not
You sanctify me; give my life direction alone
You light me up, You light me up

Just as open, and in a delightfully driving, punchy musical setting, is "Just As I Am," with Max confessing, "Just as I am, that's how you take me.... I'm in Your hands even when I'm shaking..." This isn't really such a departure for the artist, since he often writes about our brokenness as human beings and our failure as spiritual beings – a lyrical place visited often by other 'fringe' artists like MuteMath, Switchfoot and Over the Rhine.

The Bowie/Devo/Vector vibe of "Clear," is a typically Maxian treat for those that are looking for more of a mix of that middle-period solo work.

"Clear" is followed by a clever (and maybe not-so-planned?) pair of songs with interestingly-juxtaposed titles: "When We Were Young" and "That Was Then and This Is Now."

Produced for sonic economy, there are no strings and a minimum of studio tricks in favor of a basic band sound. Although there might indeed be some programming and synths, the music will easily translate to drums, bass, guitar and keyboard.

Without going into every track, let's just say that Kevin knows a thing or two about how to create good pop music. Whether or not this is a re-start to a more commercial career, only Kevin Max knows – but he also knows that he's got the information and the inspiration, and he's not about to leave any of those influences behind. If you need evidence, just listen to "Infinite," the Beatles-inspired finale, possibly the album's most perfect example of how to create a hooky, memorable, four and a-half minute Christian pop-mantra.

You're onto something, Kevin Max!

-Bert Saraco