maximradar | Stella | Self-Released

Local Review: maximradar – Stella

Local Music Reviews


Street: 10.07
maximradar = Tears For Fears + Breathe

It’s been a long while since I’ve gone through a breakup, yet breakup songs still remain at the top of my Spotify Wrapped year after year; there’s something about heartbreak and its particular stomach ache that I strangely crave when provoked by art. Stella by Salt Lake’s maximradar reminded me of what makes a great breakup album: angst, ballads and poetry. Although it took some getting used to, I found myself falling under Stella’s spell. 

What makes this breakup-fueled album even more promising is its colorful, synthy, ’80s new wave feel, revealing glimpses of Tears For Fears and tastes of some of the most legendary love ballads to date, such as “Don’t Dream It’s Over” by Crowded House. Although he had help behind the scenes of Stella, Max Broadhead leads maximradar as a solo project. It’s apparent that Broadhead is a masterful musician, as the production of this record molds individually proficient instrumentals into one shimmering body of work. 

We glide into the title track with a chipper, high-frequency keyboard and are introduced to Broadhead’s vocals, which play a lead role in the album. For just a moment, I found that Stella’s vocals overshadowed its stellar instrumentation and production, but later I found myself loving how the two coincide. A groovy bass appears in the second verse of “Stella” and anchors us to the story Broadhead begins to tell, opening with the tender verbiage, “Woah, we’ll make it home / Rest your head now, darling / Save your worries for the other side.” Broadhead sings of hope and the denial stage of grief. Buckle your seatbelt—the seven stages of grief can be interpreted in the strums and hums of the remaining tracks, not in any particular order.

“The Races” reminded me of San Cisco’s The Water with its electric, ultra-’80s atmosphere. The song’s backup vocals and ascending harmonies transition into the gloomier, acoustic sucker punch, “Dwelling” (stage five: depression). This track was made for crying on the bathroom floor or at least for placement in the second act of a rom-com, emphasized by its steady drumbeat and cloudy fingerwork.

 The bold drums of “Lament” take center stage in this audacious track, which embodies the confidence one gains as a reflex to heartbreak (stage three: anger). In the third quarter, a thumping rhythm and intergalactic vocals follow an instrumental break with angst that tickles your brain’s teenage vestiges and urges you to take part in and sympathize with maximradar’s story. “Stare at the headlines while you’re in paradise / You picked a hell of a time to say goodbye. Guess it’s alright.” Sing it!

Halfway through, we meet “Flowers of Sulfur”—a track that smells of a goth bar, cigarette smoke and Halloween (perhaps reflecting Stella’s October release). Juxtaposing its bad-to-the-bone ambiance, track six, “Resonate,” resembles sunshine with a subdued melody. “Probably best to cut communication and drift away,” sings Broadhead (stage six: reconstruction). 

To mix things up, the following track, “Naturally Gorgeous” slings an unexpected surprise and vibrancy. Funky, melancholy keys set in motion until nimble, glistening notes stack themselves on top of the track’s foundation. Featured artists Nevermind The Giant and SilkE bring poppy, groovy elements through rap and an overall high energy. What stuck out to me the most here was the poetry and flair of its chorus: “Cigarettes on porches / Whiskey on ice / Naturally gorgeous.” 

“Black Cat” is a sly, jazzy track about regrets. Once again, angelic background vocals fuel the song’s machinery. It feels like a late-night ride on the back of a stranger’s motorcycle. Stella’s ninth song, “The Dead Tell No Lies,” is a cinematic, orchestral track that belongs in the score of a classic film; if it were my choice, it would be Kill Bill. Next, “Shadow” echoes stage seven, acceptance, with its brightness, lightning drumbeat and self-discipline within its lyrics: “I expected to treat you well / Something has gone wrong.”

maximradar closes Stella with an open heart and a poignant tune, ”To My Brother,” taking a step away from the overwhelming theme of the album with a beacon of light and an acoustic guitar. Broadhead sings of unconditional love: “You shine brighter than the most brilliant light / But I look up to you / It’s only right / I’ve seen you hurt / I’ve watched you cry and grieve / I only wish to give you some relief.” Broadhead’s candor and vulnerability must not go unnoticed, as Stella invites you to grieve and bloom along with it. –Birdy Francis

Read more music coverage from Birdy Francis:
Review: The Beths – Expert in a Dying Field
Localized: Swans of Never