As a big Kevin Max fan, I was excited to finally get my hands on this record. Kevin was always my favorite member of dc talk so when the trio went on hiatus in 2001, it was his solo career over the others (Tait & Toby) that keenly held my interest. His eclectic approach to pop music was full of twists and turns yet always retained a flair for melody that displayed his unique vocal presence well. After the release of his debut Stereotype Be, Kevin Max kept strangely silent for three years, releasing no new music until this independently-released EP in 2004.
Sounding like a condensed sequel to Stereotype Be, Between The Fence And The Universe has much of the same strengths and nuances that fans have grown accustomed to with Kevin's music. For a musician known to take bold leaps with his pop craft, Kevin Max opens his 7-song EP with the disarmingly straightforward "Seek" - a simple, yet elegant pop/rock song based on Jesus' promises in Matthew 7:7-8. Despite its obvious lack of adventure, the song's chorus is still unmistakably Kevin Max in its delivery and it isn't long before the record slams into "21st Century Darlings" - an aggressive follow-up featuring ferocious vocals from Kevin that are not often seen. The ballad "Irish Hymn" sounds like it could have easily been something left off Stereotype Be, echoing the melancholy of "I Don't Belong." A song of encouragement for "all you people / who hit the rock bottom but climbed it back up again," it could have easily applied to the difficult circumstances of Max's personal life at the time. His knack for writing sunny melodies shifts the emotional gears effortlessly during the next song however - the unmistakably poppy "Stranded 72.5."
Kevin's unorthodox flair for pop experimentation has not disappeared on this record and is highlighted quite nicely on the last half of the EP. "Golden" is a beautiful love song that is subtly enhanced by its Eastern music-influenced coda - allowing Kevin to indulge in the world music leanings that has always pervaded his music. As forward-thinking as he is, K-Max's flair for the traditional is expressed just as beautifully with "Hallelujah," a Leonard Cohen cover featuring a choir-sounding chorus and a hymn-like structure. The electronic flourishes of "To The Dearly Departed" finish Between The Fence with yet another nod to his eclecticism - anchored by another haunting yet memorable chorus, exotic sounds nevertheless fill in the auditory nooks and crannies so that the listener's attention is kept rapt at all times.
Overall, there is not a bad song on this EP, as each of the 7 songs on Between The Fence And The Universe features a slightly different take on Kevin Max's signature sound. Kevin's vocals are in great form throughout, ranging from beautifully melancholic to downright powerful, but always fitting within the context of each song. Between The Fence And The Universe is a strong project from one of Christian music's most distinctive and adventurous artists, one who is unafraid to forge a path apart from the mainstream. So, how does one describe music this exquisite? To quote the man himself - in a world of cheeseburgers, this indeed is straight up sashimi!- Review date: 3/29/06, written by Sherwin Frias
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