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.