Kevin Max – Cotes d’Armor

Na eerst voor april gepland te zijn, kwam eind augustus Cotes d’Armor, het nieuwe album van Kevin Max uit. Waar Michael Tait de Newsboys op Born Again onlangs omtoverde tot DC Talk 2.0, lijkt Kevin Max op zijn nieuwe album muzikaal alsmaar verder weg te trekken van zijn oude bandmaatjes Tait en TobyMac. De CD opent met de oppepper On Yer Bike!, dat naast het radiovriendelijke Walking Through Walls (Just To Get To You) werd geproduceerd door Tedd Tjornhom (Mutemath) en Lynn Nichols (Switchfoot). Elementen van rock (Baby, I’m Your Man), electronica (Even When It Hurts, We Love Dangerous) en experimentele muziek (2099, Slow) komen langs. Om deze scheervlucht langs de muzikale stijlen van bijvoorbeeld Moby en Joy Electric te maken zijn vaklui als gitarist Adrian Belew (King Crimson, Bowie, Nine Inch Nails), 
electro-rock pionier Graham Crabb (Pop Will Eat Itself) en labelgenoten 3kStatic ingehuurd. Kevin Max brengt zang, maar ook toetsen, achtergrondzang en tamboerijn in. Erick Cole, Cary Barlowe, William Owsley en Andrew Prickett (ooit voorman van The Prayer Chain) spelen gitaarpartijen. Op bas vind je afwisselend Tony Levin, John Painter, Tony Lucido, Eli Thompson en Jonathan Smith terug. Achter de drumkit zitten Matt Chamberlin, Frank Lenz en opnieuw Jonathan Smith. Mark Townsend, Byron Hagen en veteraan Phil Madeira bespelen de toetsen.

OK, afgezien van stilistische uitstapjes in de gospel (The Blood) en rock (The Imposter), is de electronica / alternatieve rock invloed er al vanaf Stereotype Be (2001) tot de vorige EP Crashing Gates (2008). Van deze EP zijn Baby, I’m Your Man, Traveler, Out of The Wild, Saint of Lonely Hearts en Future Love Song opnieuw gemixt en op Cotes d’Armor gezet. Dat flikte Kevin op de EP ook door Your Beautiful Mind van The Imposter te hergebruiken. Dat het liedje nu in weer gewijzigde vorm op een derde album verschijnt, geeft te denken. De kwaliteit van de remixes is echter beter dan van het origineel, dus deze bijzondere werkwijze zij de blonde Amerikaan vergeven. Minder genereus ben ik ten opzichte van de teksten in On Yer Bike! (“As you’re smoking marijuana with your thirty diseases”/ “we’ll take a train to Transylvania and overnight become Catholic/til we’re caught by Interpol and were back at the racetrack” en “politics be damned, we’re the children of 80’s”). Da’s toch andere koek dan oude gezangen over het bloed van Jezus Christus nieuw leven inblazen op The Blood.

Nieuwe songs zijn naast On Yer Bike! en Transylvania verder Even When It Hurts en We Love Dangerous. Het korte Unholy Triad sluit minimalistisch af, maar is wel weer verkozen tot 1e single van het album, inclusief separaat uitgebrachte remixes. Rest nog een set  instrumentale intermezzo’s als 2099, Magadhi Prakrit (Slow), Abyssmal (More Than This) en Death Of CCM (Cybergenic Cyclic Machines) (de andere betekenis van CCM, Contemporary Christian Music blijft uiteraard niet onopgemerkt). Het nog steeds de rebel willen uithangen, krijgt zo wel wat dwangmatigs, hoewel de muziek speciaal blijft en verder gaat dan menig (inderdaad CCM) collega. Het feit, dat ik het album eerst vele malen heb beluisterd vóór deze recensie te schrijven, bewijst me een ‘blijvertje’.

The tracks of Cotes d’Armor can be categorized into three areas: remixes, segue instrumentals, as well as some all-new songs. When it comes to the remixes, all of them come from Max’s previous release Crashing Gates EP, which also included “Your Beautiful Mind” from 2006’s The Imposter. Though the songs of Crashing Gates were decently executed, they lacked much of a musical atmosphere to speak of, and Cotes d’Armor attempts to reimagine these songs, breathing into them new life. And indeed, the remixes here are for the most part better products than their originals. “Out Of The Wild” and “Baby, I’m Your Man” aren’t dramatically different in their remixed form, but they still benefit from the treatment. However, with distorted guitar effects and synths galore, tracks like “Saint of Lonely Hearts,” “Traveler” and “Future Love Song” shine in their improved versions. While the tracks of Crashing Gates were ripe for remixing, it feels a bit over-extensive to include a remix of “Your Beautiful Mind” here; while the track itself is a great one, and it’s not inherently a negative aspect of this record, it’s a little odd to see Max used the song for a third time in his catalog.

The new tracks that Kevin Max brings to the table here are also mostly fine additions for what they are. In keeping with the style of the remixes of Cotes d’Armor, the tracks are heavy on synths and distortion; it’s far and away the most different sound Max has constructed. “On Yer Bike!” is a crazy, frenetic opener. With a memorable and insanely catchy guitar riff throughout the verses and an almost-chant-like chorus (“Get on yer bike!“), it’s a hard-to-ignore addition to the project. Lyrically, however, it takes a few interesting risks (“As you’re smoking marijuana with your thirty diseases“/ “we’ll take a train to Transylvania and overnight become Catholic/til we’re caught by Interpol and were back at the racetrack“) as well as some slightly questionable turns (“politics be damned, we’re the children of 80’s“). “Eccentric” is the best word to describe the song, and though Max has always been a boundary-breaking lyricist with an “artsy” flair, these lyrics are bound to make some listeners (including this reviewer) scratch their heads. “Walking Through Walls (Just To Get To You)” is the best song of the album; telling the story of Max and the mysterious Christine, it’s a mystifying but epic track on Cotes d’Armor that’s hard not to like. The other three originals, while a little interesting, are also a little forgettable. “Even When It Hurts” and “We Love Dangerous” are both murky, synth-laden tracks with soaring vocals, however both of seem to contain nothing lyrically that stands out. The brief “Unholy Triad” closes out the album with minimalist programming, but like the previous two mentioned, it’s not very noticeable on the tracklisting and fades out without much of a flourish to end the album.

The remaining third of Cotes d’Armor is purely instrumental. “2099,” “Magadhi Prakrit (Slow),” “Train To Transylvania,” “Abyssmal (More Than This),” and “Death Of CCM (Cybergenic Cyclic Machines)” are all segues to seemingly connect the entire album together. However, they don’t do their job nearly as well as they should. While some tracks are longer than others, they carry an “unnecessary” feel where axing them wouldn’t have hurt the album in its final product. In addition, the segues aren’t seamless transitions like one would expect. For instance, “2099” bridges the gap between “On Yer Bike!” and the remix of “Out Of The Wild.” Both original tracks fade in and out from silence, but so does the segue, which gives “2099” a sense of uselessness. For the kind of album that Cotes d’Armor is, there’s not much extra that really needs to be done to make the album flow, but with these seemingly superfluous transitions in the mix, it extends the album’s length unnecessarily.

What Kevin Max has presented here is going to appeal to different crowds; while casual fans of the dc Talker can pass up Cotes d’Armor with little effort, it’ll be the hardcore fans of Max will definitely want to get their hands on this novelty of an album. It’s a hit and miss concept; when the tracks are well done, they are very well done, but some tracks don’t quite deliver and trimming off more of the album’s fat would have made the final product much stronger. But when’s it’s all said and done, Cotes d’Armor (True Rebels) is an inconsistent, but charismatic album that indeed serves its purpose.