Kevin Max is an enigma to most people who once followed his somewhat infamous band, DC Talk, during the late ’80s and ’90s Christian contemporary music era. While his other two bandmates – Toby McKeehan and Michael Tait – went on to massive careers in the Christian contemporary music industry, Max has been an outlier. McKeehan – who am I kidding: TobyMac – went on to become one of CCM’s biggest names, while Tait now fronts the ever-enduring pop-rock Newsboys. Both men are still icons within Christian pop-culture.
Max? Max is doing things a little differently. With 14 solo albums – not including EPs and singles – Max is clearly in it for the love of the game. One of the most intriguing things about Kevin Max is that none of his albums resemble the previous work. Each album has the feel of an artist, a poet who is evolving, interested in exploring the unknown, happy with being a misfit. With his newest album, Radio Teknika, Max puts a fresh musical spin on a deeply poetic approach to politics and self-examination.
Teaming up with 3kStatic – a self-described “underground electronic music collective” – Max dives into electronic music even further than his prior record, Romeo Drive. If Romeo was synth-wave from the ’80s, Teknika would be the evolution to ’90s electronic experimentation. It’s represented by the opening track, “Come To Me,” a pulsating electronica track with a vibe that leaves you feeling like a long nighttime drive on a long desert highway. Nine Inch Nails and Moby were whispering in Max’s ears while writing this track. It extends throughout the album. The track “To All the Me I’ve Loved Before” is a blast from 2010 when indietronica established bands like Passion Pit in the critical and popular limelight. Max’s sensical lyrics and storytelling help to separate his approach on songs like these, whereas Passion Pit was an overt mind-trip set to beautiful harmonies floating on acid. “Moondancer” is a captivating track, a trance version of 2001: A Space Odyssey directed by David Bowie and Vangelis.
Many longtime DC Talk fans who haven’t followed his career since their breakup at the turn of the century likely have no idea how poetry has influenced Max’s artistic expression.
Recurringly, it’s easy to compare the album with his previous record, Romeo Drive, the former as his foray into synth-driven musicality and the latter the natural extension. Romeo had the feel of a 1980s New Wave record, whereas Teknika is a bit of an amalgamation of synth-pop, electronica, house, and disco. It’s a masterful follow-up that distances itself from Romeo, but it stays close enough that it flows perfectly from its predecessor.
Max’s work is also more than the continuation of his exploration of ambient rock. Are you unfamiliar with the enigma that is Kevin Max, The Philosopher and Poet? For long-standing fans of his solo work, this album reflects both his musical creativity as well as the 19th Century writer located in the center of Christian Music, USA: Nashville, TN. Many longtime DC Talk fans who haven’t followed his career since their breakup at the turn of the century likely have no idea how poetry has influenced Max’s artistic expression. The best introduction to his “writing-as-writing” – not “writing-for-music” – from Teknika is the more atmospheric pop-track “Shock-Ra.” We get a perfect description of his ideology: “I am a gothic, hippie, inclusive Jesus freak wanting peace / wanting community and music and paintings, folk art near a hidden lake.”
You can’t help but pick up on Max’s anti-political agenda, either, as he persistently deconstructs our views of Left, Right, and Moderate. Instead, he writes about the reality of life, the things that fall between the cracks of our neatly-organized political spectrums. It can be uncomfortable for many dogmatic, conservative Christians, but its success lies in its ability to convert listeners looking for more than just Top 40 Christian music hits.
Kevin Max is an outcast in an industry that gave rise to his career, one that also sustains the success of his two former cohorts. If you listen to most Christian pop radio, there are cookie-cutter, four-chord artists whose goal is the safety and guaranteed return on their investment. But for Kevin Max, the Christian music industry blueprint is too confining; he will take the outcast label if it means not having to churn out the same album with the same architecture every two years. In Radio Teknika, take his poetry, mix it with a progressive synth style that embraces his musical growth instead of placation, and you get the masterpiece that is Max’s own personal journey as an artist. As a “Jesus freak” who doesn’t fit inside the nice-and-neat framework of how the music that made him should be sculpted and designed, it’s for the best that he’s constantly redefining what it means to be a Christian making music.