Kevin Max of DC Talk and the voice behind Audio Adrenaline’s hits “Kings & Queens” and “Believer” has announced a Pledge Music campaign that will bring a remastered version of his 2001 solo debut album STEREOTYPE BE to vinyl. The drive has a slew of amazing perks that pledgers can claim ranging from signed vinyl copies of STEREOTYPE BE to overnight stays and horseback riding at Max’s BLIND THIEF FARM just outside of Nashville. One highly anticipated perk is a download of new acoustic versions of songs from the album recorded with longtime Max writing/playing partner Erick Cole that will be available in some packages. Take a look for yourself at what is available at Max’s Pledge Music page.
The two albums that have proven to be the cream of the crop of new music that I’ve listened to in 2016 surely represent differences in the perspectives and personalities of their creators, but, they also have a good deal in common.
Playing Games With The Shadow by Kevin Max is a mysterious brew of self-reflection, espionage, jaded experience, angst, and hope filtered through the post-punk/new wave musical filter that is the mind and iconic voice of Kevin Max. One-third of DC Talk and former frontman for Audio Adrenaline, but, never one to sit still and grow stagnant, Max seems hellbent on toeing the line between what is true, what has never been done before, and what he can get away with on Playing Games With The Shadow. The assemblage of tunes featured on this album provide an intriguing experience for listeners who find themselves on the fray, surveying the heights, mysteries, and depths of their own life experiences. Tracks that showcase a heavier rock influence such as “Election,” and “Music is Magic!” are highlights for me, but, the significant new wave tilt of “William Blake” is hard not to love.
The bridge that I stand upon while writing this is the common mile marker that both Max and Steve Hindalong share with regard to their musical journeys. Max has established a developed a solo career by repeatedly stepping out of what is comfortable in favor of the undefined and unknown. Steve Hindalong, founding member and songwriter for the legendary alternative band The Choir, like Max, has sustained a musical career by routinely surveying the edges of what is possible and stepping over them on his own accord.
Hindalong’s second solo release, The Warbler, is a sincere, well-articulated, and vulnerable conversation that surveys the artist’s experiences, temptations, blessings, and resolutions. From the love and compassion that we feel for those we love as they struggle with life’s biggest trials (“Shellie’s Song” and “Cloudburst”), to the tensions aroused by temptation and addiction that so many battle with on a daily basis (“Into the Drink” and “Outta My Mind”), Hindalong exhibits his skill as a wordsmith, articulately dissecting the emotions of both himself and the listener, making sense of them in the form of songs that range in tone and tempo from nuanced and delicate folk tunes to unbridled rock vents complete with distorted feedback and tachometer-breaking jams. A personal favorite, for me, is “O Jimmy A,” a nod of tribute to artist/musician Jimmy Abegg. Like some of the other gentler songs on the album, the lyrics dance in combination with the song’s arrangement (which happens to feature the voice other-worldly voice of Kevin Max in the background) to create an almost ethereal sound – a real treat for the listener.
Both Max and Hindalong masterfully articulated their experiences stepping through the dark shadows that exist in spite of, and because of, the existence of the light, on these albums, by assembling the right mix of studio musicians and production to compliment their own songwriting and performance sensibilities.
Anyone willing to invest some of their own time and pocket change in these latest reflections upon the life/musical journeys of Max and Hindalong, as featured on Playing Games With The Shadow and The Warbler, will likely be more than gratified with the comfort of commonality between the artists’ and their own stories.
It is common to hear people say, “Oh, just be yourself.” But, if somebody tells you to do that, do you know what really means? Who are you?
I battle daily to keep my thoughts, actions, and words in line with each other. I want what I’m thinking to sync up with what I’m saying, what I’m doing, and how others see me. That said, it all starts with what I’m thinking. The battle begins with what I devote my attention to.
Naturally, my attention shifts depending on where I am. At school, my attention is divided between the different roles I have as a teacher. At home my attention is divided between my wife, my kids, my responsibilities in the house, and my personal interests. At church my attention varies depending on whether I’m helping my wife teach Sunday school, catching up with another church member, or participating in worship.
But, in each of those places, and many different places in between, I must constantly battle the temptation to put myself first. It’s natural. It takes no effort at all to do what comes by default: view my moment-by-moment life experience in terms of what is most fun, comfortable, beneficial, and gratifying for me.
But, over the course of forty years I’ve learned that when I go the easy route, I always end up at the end of a dead-end street with nothing left to do, but, to be humbled by yet another reminder of my brokenness and kneel down to ask my Father for forgiveness for walking away from who He created me to be: my real identity – in Him.
I’ve also learned that I’m not the only one who struggles in this area. Each of us fight a battle daily against competing demands for our attention – some worthwhile and some not. But, our true identity – the one that we need to turn and walk toward again at the beginning of each day – is the eternal identity that God has designed for each of us in Him. We just have to turn, look to Him and say yes.
For me, that means starting each day by prayerfully reading His Word for a few minutes, closing each day in prayer, and turning back to Him mentally and spiritually in each small moment that I can remember to do so throughout each day. When I do, I never regret it and always come away with a new handful of hope to hold close as I walk forward. Try it. You won’t be disappointed. He is always faithful to give us what we need.
“When I’m with you, I feel the real me breaking through.” – Citizen Way
Do you play fantasy football? Do you want to help orphans in the poorest country in the western hemisphere? Join Citizen Way, KJ-52, Sidewalk Prophets, and Audio Adrenaline for a season of fun competition in the BIG BIG YARD FANTASY FOOTBALL LEAGUE in support of The Hands & Feet Project‘s critical battle against the orphan crisis in Haiti. Prizes for league winners include VIP meet-n-greet concert tickets and Haiti Made football gift kits.
Register to be a part of Big Big Yard Fantasy Football:
For more information about The Hands & Feet Project visit:
Big Big Yard Fantasy Football Facebook Page:
I first became familiar with Steve Hindalong as the drummer for THE LOST DOGS and THE CHOIR, two critically acclaimed bands with long track records of quality music leaning decidedly toward the freedom of classification that can be found under the umbrella of ‘alternative music.’ Considering the fact that my familiarity with the catalogs of THE LOST DOGS and THE CHOIR is relatively thin and the fact that THE WARBLER is Hindalong’s first solo album since 1998’s SKINNY, I really had no idea what to expect. But, I’ve been more than pleasantly surprised by the album over the last month or so. My first good listen came while driving down the interstate as the sun was going down during the first leg of a long family road trip. I simply couldn’t have picked a better album in that context. Hindalong’s lyrics delightfully dance between celebrations of life, quiet introspection, and ruminations on relationships, faith, and personal demons. THE WARBLER is characterized by Hindalong’s skillful phrasing and honest vocal delivery which intertwine comfortably on a bed of lush, and skillfully arranged music. Artists like Lynn Arthur Nichols, Kevin Max, Dwayne Larring and Jimmy Abegg contribute to the project in a manner that truly enlightens the whole without simply being present in the mix for the sake of a name-dropping roll call. The song “Jimmy A,” released prior to the album as a whole, was the song that interested me in this project and it exhibits many of the best qualities of the album as a whole, but, there isn’t a single dud on this album. I could list each song and elaborate upon its merits, but the time that you spend reading my commentary which, surely, would fail to adequately articulate each track’s glory, would just delay the time between you reading this review and purchasing THE WARBLER for yourself. Because time spent holding beauty at bay in anyone’s life is a shame, I’ll end this review here so that you can do yourself the favor of acquiring THE WARBLER for yourself. You’re welcome.
Purchase THE WARBLER here:
The unfolding of the newest project from the enigmatic dcTalk singer, former-Audio Adrenaline frontman, and always independent (in one way or another) artist Kevin Max, PLAYING GAMES WITH THE SHADOW, has been an absolute pleasure to behold (read my brief review here). With eight tracks currently available through Max’s Pledge crowd-funding site and iTunes, and the possibility of a few tracks yet to see the light of day on an eventual extended version of the album, the album feels more like a living, breathing entity than a static collection of songs.
While I’ve certainly got other favorites, one song, in particular, definitely adds “…and kicking!” to the “…a living, breathing…” descriptor that I just mentioned for the newest Kevin Max record: “Muzick is Magic!”
“Muzick is Magic!” reminds me of the intensity and dynamic that Kevin Max achieved on his 2004 collaboration with Erick Cole, “21st Century Darlings,” but, resonates loudly on its own terms, too. The thundering drums of The Choir‘s Steve Hindalong, and the guitars and bass of Lynn Nichols and Dwayne Larring riff an appropriately throbbing, rock and roll canvas for Max to scribble his punk-apocolyptic lyrical interpretations of the state of the world upon.
Whether Max is offering a prophetic critique of American culture’s desensitization to the stark realities that exist in the rest of the world or just scratching an itch to lay down a scorcher decrying the industrialization of art, I don’t claim to know. But, the song rocks at a gut-level that I can’t help, but, to love. While other songs on PLAYING GAMES WITH THE SHADOW succeed on their own terms, on “Muzick is Magic!,” Max masterfully swung his magic wand around, channeling an angst and passion similar to that of “White Light, White Heat, White Trash”-era Social Distortion and “Accelerate”-era R.E.M. — punk passion intermingled with the wisdom of experience…and I’m thankful for his wisdom.
That said, the lesson we can glean “Muzick is Magic!,” seems to be this: COLOR LOUDLY! – OUTSIDE THE LINES!
PLAYING GAMES WITH THE SHADOW, the latest in a prolific stream of output from Kevin Max, may very well be his most brilliant work yet. The fact that Max describes the new project as his first real album due to an intentional exclusion of outside influence in the songwriting process has me rubbing my hands together in anxious anticipation of what could yet be if he continues on this path.
Last year’s BROKEN TEMPLES was a fantastic album and THE IMPOSTER is a long-time standard, but, on PLAYING GAMES WITH THE SHADOW Max freed himself to explore the musical and lyrical dynamics that exist between dessert valleys, Sunset strips, midnight shadows, and pre-dawn hope in a manner both deeper and more transparent than he’s written in on prior albums. “The Skin Of Our Teeth,” “Election,” and “Girl With The Tiger Eyes” stand as testaments to the fact that the thick skin Max has carried over the years as a member of dcTalk and Audio Adrenaline has been pulled back.
The lyrical victory on PLAYING GAMES WITH THE SHADOW, though, is clearly rivaled by the stellar roster of players and studio hands that Max arranged to work on the album from John Mark Painter (Fleming & John; Steve Taylor & The Perfect Foil) and Dwayne Larring (Audio Adrenaline; Sonic Flood) to Steve Hindalong (The Choir) and others, musical alchemy runs rabid on songs such as “Muzick is Magic!,” “Phantoms of Terra,“”Panic Button,” and “William Blake.”
Stylistically, the album is a measured, yet, raucous potpourri of sound. PLAYING GAMES WITH THE SHADOW is the embodiment of new wave, punk, and industrial accents masterfully woven together into a flourescent musical tapestry born out of the mind of Kevin Max.
Consider this written account of the impression that PLAYING GAMES WITH THE SHADOW has made on me a raised-glass toast to the prospect that there’s a lot more where that came from.
I was talking with a friend recently and he brought up the point that radio stations like KLOVE and AIR1, unfortunately, are defining what is considered acceptable in the Christian marketplace by controlling such a large market share, but, exposing such a narrow template that artists who hope to be played must adhere to in order to even have a chance to survive. Because of this fact, artistry in the Christian world is on a very short leash and it is a disturbing reality since, as Christians, we are not called to reach other Christians, but, to reach the world. How can we do that when we encase ourselves in clean, pre-fabricated plastic molded for optimal marketing potential?
I truly appreciate several of the songs that I’ve heard, so far, from the forthcoming Kevin Max album, PLAYING GAMES WITH THE SHADOW, and the fact that Kevin Max is doing what he does.The video for “Girl With The Tiger Eyes,” while it may raise a few eyebrows in some circles, is an articulate metaphor for the demons that so many of us carry around. Whether hidden in a basement or exposed for all to see, the skeletons in our past (and often our present) are most often neither pastel-colored nor family friendly. There is value in remembering and acknowledging the dark that we deal with – a therapeutic aspect. It is only when we stare down our own brokenness and sift through our own ashes that we can submit to grace and let the rebuilding begin because, if we’re only willing to reveal our surface-level, kid-glove veneers – our Sunday best, we’re lying to ourselves, to God, and the world around us. We’re offering no value. If we can’t affect others at a gut-level and reveal the holes and traps that we’ve fallen victim to, ourselves, we may not affect them at all due to our own vain hypocrisy. There’s an entire world full of drunkards, junkies, victims of abuse, prisoners, and thieves out there that Jesus sought out to spend time with. I’m glad that there are Christians like Kevin Max out there ready, willing, and able to bridge the gap between reality, art, and God in a manner that so many out there on the Road Show/KLOVE/Winter Jam/Hits Deep circuits fail to even attempt due to the fact that they know they won’t get played on Christian radio. There is most certainly a place for clean, family friendly lyrics of praise and pastoral landscapes. The bible instructs us to focus on these things in our personal lives. But, we’re also called to tell the truth.
Unlike His followers, God specializes in those with the deepest wounds. I think we’re often scared off by the possibility of becoming uncomfortable or even being inconvenienced behind our white picket fences. As a parent I know that I get very nervous when it comes to thinking about who or what my kids’ attention is being drawn to when they’re not within my reach, so, I get that. But, I also think that there needs to be a distinction drawn between youth group Christianity and mature Christianity. We need to engage the youth demographic in learning to be thoughtful and critical of what they are listening to, watching, doing, who they are spending their time with and why. I don’t want to cut my kids off from exploring various forms of art (whether music, visual, etc.), but, instead I want then to learn to think critically about it instead of rejecting everything they see and hear in a conditioned knee-jerk manner.
I believe that, if I can effectively raise my kids with that perspective, they will be more equipped to be mature Christians that aren’t driven by fear, but, instead, by truth and confidence in faith and so that they can be free to reach out and consistently show love and respect to those who are different and who may not know Christ on a personal level. If Christians could make an effort to do this as a whole, I don’t think there would be a “religious right” in American politics and Donald Trump wouldn’t have the following that he as (not that the religious right and Trump are always one-in-the-same). People tend to love less when they fear more and the current political climate is capitalizing on that fact.
Kevin Max, to me, represents an important aspect of the mature Christianity that I’m talking about. I wouldn’t say that his entire catalog of poetry and music is representative of it, but, who he is and the art that he produces is certainly a part of the spectrum. Life and the potential that each of us has to affect others and live out our faith happens, most often, off church grounds. Our art, our deeds, our thoughts, and actions should, likewise, be rooted in God (and nurtured in devotion privately each day – as well as with other believers), but, focused in an outward direction and articulated in a way that engages those on the fringe and the outside instead of scaring them off with our Christianese clique subculture.
Max’s forthcoming project, PLAYING GAMES WITH THE SHADOW, I believe, is exemplary of the kind of artful, thoughtful music that is well underrepresented in Christian music and, for that matter, music in general. Thankfully, there are enough people who get it and value the role that his music, and other music like it, plays in the real-world daily lives of so many and the potential that it has to engage those just outside in a way that is as relevant and articulate, in not more so, than anything out there, Christian or secular.
Learn more about how you can support Max’s new project, and get eight new songs including “Girl With The Tiger Eyes”, here: PLAYING GAMES WITH THE SHADOW.