MJ FLAWS – Army Of The Brokenhearted Boys & Girls – Album Review
MJ FLAWS has got more than a few things he wants to get off his chest, outta his mind, and away from his heart throughout the songs on his debut record. In fact, there’s SO MUCH he’s looking to express & put behind him, that he’s made a complete switch with his style after ten years in the game as Hip-Hop artist Moxie…it’s time for a new chapter, a new beginning…but first, to put a few thangs to bed for real.
I definitely found myself digging the low-key/lo-fi vibes and moodiness in the music of “There’s No Tomorrows” as the debut of MJ FLAWS began…there’s a melancholy in this guitar-based cut that is seriously stellar. You can instantly feel this first impression…and you’ll find the attachment to it grows. I’ll fully admit, with the hazy hooks at the beginning, I wasn’t 100% sure of what we’d find here on this record when I was first spinning it…and there’s a solid chance many of you will feel the same. But what I can tell ya is this…part of it is building on the character of MJ FLAWS and how he wants to approach this style of music after switching it up post-Moxie…and just like he’s gotta grow into that persona and embrace it, the effect is the same on us as listeners. Here’s what I mean…listen to how the hooks come back at ya the next time…notice how much more they seem to suit the song at that point? There’s a reason for that…and ultimately, it’s because the ideas are strong and the melody is memorable – when we hear those hooks the second time, it makes a bigger impact on us because we’re partly attuned to the sound & approach that MJ FLAWS is taking stylistically, but the other half is because the hooks genuinely do work. I felt like the same could be said the next time they spring up and get extended in “There’s No Tomorrows” as well…each time this cut comes on, you get more accustomed to the vibe that MJ FLAWS is workin’ with and start to get your head around it all. As far as the verses go, certainly no complaints from me – dude flexes a solid mix of speed and handles his business confidently, all the while taking you through the beginning of what quickly becomes the tragic tale of heartbreak & loss that runs throughout the lineup of songs on this record. Hell, you might even take your assessment of this first cut even further when you listen…it’s the story of disintegration and the effect of the aftermath of a relationship that’s ended…it sets the stage for the tale told throughout Army Of The Brokenhearted Boys & Girls. Right off the bat, you can hear the man takes his time with his lyrics to communicate exactly what’s on his mind…he’s got a classic Hip-Hop approach to his bars for sure, but the emotional Emo-twist of the sound through the hooks & downbeat vibes of the music make it hit that modern day vibe. And when the dude springs off the punch of the bass beat in “There’s No Tomorrows,” you feel it.
“These Stains They Stay” also ends up being a pretty damn addictive tune…albeit, I’ll say once again, it takes a listen or two to fully absorb what’s all goin’ down here. Much like the first impression of “There’s No Tomorrows,” I felt like I was unsure of the main hooks on this second cut just like I was before…and also just like before, by the second or third spin, I was convinced they definitely work. Okay. I’ve got it now…I think…here’s where I’m at…it’s the hooks that make this the most memorable for me overall…I like the ideas he’s got in the verses…but I want that amped-up performance to match the vibe, know what I’m saying? I’ve commented on similar things in the past…like how when an artist or band tends to use the word ‘crazy’ in a song, it almost never, ever, sounds like something ‘crazy’ is even happening or reason for that to be the word used to describe what’s goin’ on…you follow me? So when MJ is hittin’ this beginning singing “This is self-destruction with no obstruction” – we wanna feel that as listeners…like he’s teetering right over the edge of his own sanity – because that’s what the words suggest, you dig? And you end up with a pretty controlled performance from the main man on the mic instead as the pre-chorus comes out on “These Stains They Stay” – which is…admittedly, a hard thing to complain about, but I think you get the idea of what I’m saying; you want that energy to make the design, meaning, and intention of the words with the conviction, commitment, and power they deserve. The bars are solid…so are the slowest parts of the hooks that feature the title being sung out loud…the music has a haunting vibe, the thoughts come out streamlined, unique, and surge from your speakers…there’s a lot of rad ideas on display here that do stick with ya, I’ll give him that. Like all artists with great ideas and 10% more in them to give, I gotta call it like I hear it, but I wouldn’t even bother if I didn’t hear the potential and passion to get there…MJ FLAWS’ got that intact, and I’m confident he will.
As far as I can see, each of these cuts are produced by a different talent track-by-track – and props to MJ FLAWS for finding a whole bunch of artists that suit the style & design he was seeking out; you’ll find the music on Army Of The Brokenhearted Boys & Girls and the vibes these songs pump out is quite cohesive. I dig the low-key guitar vibes that he’s put onto this record in tunes like “There’s No Tomorrows” and “You Can’t Take That From Me” towards the beginning of this album…musically, I think we can all agree that MJ FLAWS has got an incredible grip on the sound he’s going for to accompany his words, and he’s found a whole range of talents from out there in the scene to assist in the production and bring this cuts to fruition. Remember…when it comes to the vocals and the approach there, a lot of what you’ll hear intentionally sounds emotionally-winded, because that’s the story behind the words on this record & what has essentially inspired it. That being said…when you’re up there on the mic and you take away the ability to put the full power of your vocals into it…it can definitely compromise the strength & the solidarity of the tones you’re singing, like the lower-key the energy is in the moment the harder it is to sustain the tone type-thing…and I felt like that was exposed a bit within the hooks of “You Can’t Take That From Me” a little more. Likely that’s what’s been in my head all along in listening to the opening tracks as well…it’s almost as if MJ FLAWS is making this tougher on himself vocally than perhaps it actually needs to be…and with a bit more punch in the power of his words, he could potentially sharpen that up a bit and make the sound more accessible as a result. Ultimately it really depends on what he’s going for…a character-driven artist that has a unique & signature style that has identity…or a more all-the-corners-rounded approach to big shiny tunes that are gonna land you some radio time, know what I mean? I think it’s pretty clear by the sound of the songs on this record that you know where MJ FLAWS stands on this subject and the potential limitations that could bring to it in terms of its reach – but my advice on things like this is to always stay true to the course and what makes you, YOU, as an artist. Doesn’t matter what I say, doesn’t matter what anyone says really – you do YOU and you’ll be alright – you can take that to the bank. Doesn’t mean you can’t make adjustments and evolve in your art along the way, and I’m not implying to deflect any criticisms either…find that general consensus on what people are hearing, take that feedback, and create a balance that satisfies what you’re looking to create as an artist, what people respond to, and what satisfies the overall vision for the sound. It ain’t easy.
So…let’s not get this all twisted here, this is MJ FLAWS debut in the world of Emo Rap…some of this is workin’ no problemo and revealing he’s got a savage head start on the rest…and there are a few spots where you’ll hear the evolution in his work take place over the years to follow. As is the case with many debuts – and SHOULD be – there’s always room to improve; I hear a mix like “Love You (Hate Me)” and know there’s still a ways to go, especially when you hear the spot-on way the next cut “Game Over (Me And My Friends Are Dead)” kicks in. Finding that right gear for the energy…finding that right balance in the mix between the music & the vocals…you can have ideas all day long, but it still takes any artist time to dial all the rest of the technical stuff in to fully execute on the vision they’ve got for their sound – like I said, it ain’t easy – and considering this is a debut & all, even being a veteran of the scene under his previous name of Moxie, there’s still a learning curve that comes from switching up a style. It’s mostly heard in the hooks…that’s where MJ FLAWS just has to believe a little bit more in what he’s capable of and give it that same confidence you hear when he’s rappin’ is all, because the man is certainly got what it takes to pull off what he’s going for, and in many ways he is already. Could it sharpen up? Sure! So could many artists & bands out there…no reason to hold that against MJ FLAWS. When it comes to the mix on “Love You (Hate Me),” I think he’s got the vocals up above the music in a way that doesn’t quite let the sound dynamics fully come across as powerfully as they should. What I really do like about’em this time around are the hazy Mickey Avalon-like energy that you’ll find in the hooks and the breakdown towards the end…I felt like these ones came out really strong for MJ…but by comparison to the two tracks on either side, the balance between the music & vocals might have cost the potential impact this cut could make on us a lil’ bit.
I would likely be looking real hard at “Game Over (Me And My Friends Are Dead)” at a single…possibly. Look…here’s the thing…SO MUCH about this cut works brilliantly…like not just good, but freakin’ GREAT – from the ideas themselves, to the stunning music in this tune, to the speed, strength, and confidence in the bars, MJ reveals a ton of single-worthy potential in this cut. That being said…the hooks…man…I don’t even know where to begin with this…they work? MJ FLAWS takes us mercilessly into a whole pile of dissonant tones and layers that clash when it comes to creating this melody…so can someone out there tell me why this ends up still being as damn addictive as it is? I’d be the first to tell ya it’s way wide of the mark in the tone that SHOULD make a melody work…if anything, the first half of each line comes out pretty close, but the latter half twists it all into the strangest hook you’ll likely ever find yourself attached to. Because you will be…I can tell ya that for sure…there’s really a ton working in favor of “Game Over (Me And My Friends Are Dead)” – especially lyrically, I felt like MJ FLAWS tapped into something genuinely solid here that expresses what he’s feelin’ in his own unique perspective. Perfect transition from the bars into the hooks…structurally, “Game Over (Me And My Friends Are Dead)” has it all goin’ on and is primed to deliver…and once you get to those hooks, I swear, they’re oddly amazing. I am interested in what they would sound like with a more harmonized melody and whether or not that would potentially take away from the humble heartbroken sound of MJ FLAWS and the generally downtrodden vibes he’s created throughout this record…there’s a chance it could potentially bring the accessibility and reach of this song up a degree or two, or it could actually hurt it. Either way, I’d probably be inclined to continue to experiment…there’s a ton of standout ideas on “Game Over (Me And My Friends Are Dead)” and even in the form it is now, it was still a huge highlight on this album…so don’t get me wrong, if it sounds like I’m complaining I’m not; I’ll take what I can get when it comes to this cut. I don’t exactly know how…he’s beating the odds here with this generous dose of dissonance…but I think MJ FLAWS proves he’s on his way to something that could really connect with a song like this. To me, this was so bizarrely addictive…on a technical level it’s a strange cut, no doubt about it…but I also think this song is a great example of how being unafraid to be different can pay off.
“Closer To You” straddles the line between singing, spoken-word, and rap…some of this works fairly well – I think it’s got a tougher spot in the lineup coming after the more vibrant energy of “Game Over (Me And My Friends Are Dead)” beforehand – but I dig the atmosphere that MJ FLAWS is going for here. Dude’s had a poetic & artistic way of approaching his music, and at the end of the day I connect to that at its core…I can recognize there’s still lots of room to grow when it comes to what this guy’s capable of, but the ideas are there and I’m confident that MJ FLAWS will continue to build on his strengths from here. “Closer To You” has the advantage of a substantial amount of additional length in comparison to many of these songs…and in the case of this tune, I’d argue that’s a good thing…I think it gets a better chance to have the vibe sink in and more opportunity to absorb the words he’s spittin.’ Pace & space really work to his advantage here…I mean, chances are what many are going to remember on those first couple spins through this record will be the speed that MJ FLAWS is capable of when he wants to blaze through the bars…but take a second and listen to how “Closer To You” comes out sounding a little more invested emotionally as a result of having that extra time to really phrase his words in a way that gives each line its own individual energy. I do think it takes a set of bars or so before MJ finds the exact spot he’s looking to settle into here, but as this track progresses and the sound slow-burns for us, he begins to suit the moment more & more and find that right pairing between his vocals, tone, and music. Just past the two-thirty mark, the song will make even more subtle changes and by the end of this cut, you can hear MJ ended up right where he should be…almost like he’s forgotten that record’s been pushed, and the most organic instincts & natural inclinations he’s got as a performer take over subconsciously. The results end up speaking for themselves really, I felt like “Closer To You” got stronger the longer it played on, and by the time it was all wrapped up & finished, definitely felt like it has one of the best endings to any of the cuts in the track-list. All-around though, even though I think it’s gonna have a harder time standing out initially to people with its low-key lo-fi vibes in comparison to the more vibrant sound of “Game Over (Me And My Friends Are Dead)” beforehand, “Closer To You” adds strength to this set. Sometimes it takes a while before a song like this gets its due, but people will notice this one. Right around the 2:40 mark, the dude is just nailing it…genius backing vocals, great additions to the music in the comeback; MJ FLAWS sticks to communicating his thoughts with fragile emotion right on the surface and feelings running deep here. Listeners will get to know him a bit better here with him slowing it all down for us regular humans for a moment to be able to absorb every word he’s spittin’ clear as day.
“We’ll Be Okay” is probably one of the cuts people will consider to be the strongest from this record. I wouldn’t disagree…this track gets closer to the tone he’s looking for to bring out the melody in the hooks than a few of the others. Give the man credit though…whether he’s right on the mark or slightly wide of it, he’s tackling everything on his own when it comes to the microphone…there are so many artists out there that farm out their hooks to someone else…and while I’m not knocking that decision, I always find myself having respect for those out there willing to take on both main aspects of their music like MJ FLAWS does. Some people really dig on that in & out pulse in the production…it’s not my thing personally, but I’m just another guy with an opinion at the end of the day…I don’t hold it against MJ or even the producer of this cut, it’s a style, and like I said, it works for some…I just find it a bit distracting is all. MJ FLAWS has a lot in common with the Indie/Alt scene as well…even a song with a modern-day style like this and its Hip-Hop core still reveal the roots of something else coming through in this dude’s music. The more he embraces it, believes in it, and gives it everything he’s got, the tighter the results are gonna get for sure – but it’s really tracks like “We’ll Be Okay” that will have you believing as a listener, that it’s all possible. He’s continually put forth a set of quality ideas with shifting ideas, styles, and sounds goin’ on…and he deserves real credit for that. I don’t exactly know the history of the moniker he’s rockin’ with, but it’s probably safe to assume that MJ FLAWS is a summation of a couple things…perhaps being a ‘flawed’ human-being like so many of us are…or maybe it refers to the rough corners & humble lo-fi approach he takes to his material, whereby not every single note is auto-tuned for your pleasure and these flaws in the design are actually a highly significant & purposeful part of what he’s going for…what makes it real. As I’ve said countless times on these pages I’m sure, I’ll always take a quirk or two in any recording over something that’s shiny, sparkly, & ready for radio…the experience of listening should be realer than that, and that’s what MJ FLAWS seems to be ready to provide us all with.
If you’re listening up close, you’ll definitely hear the story of love, pain, heartbreak, and loss throughout this entire record…ultimately, you could describe this as a concept album of sorts, and one based on personal experience as far as we’re told this tale goes. Not that MJ hasn’t been in an ultra-serious mood from the get-go here, but you can definitely hear where things take a darker turn once again on “Ain’t Ever Goin Back (When Can I See You Again?)” with the vibes the music pumps out here. FLAWS puts in a solid performance to match the energy & intensity of the music here, and cranks the speed back into overdrive as he gets his rhythm & flow goin’ on amongst a whole set of harsh words to express how he’s feelin.’ Dude’s flyin’ at warp-speed verbally when it comes to the verses of “Ain’t Ever Goin Back (When Can I See You Again?)” and gets deep into the whole push/pull of relationships and how hard it can be to fully separate from someone that used to mean so much. No matter how much we might wanna block out that other person, those feelings existed, and because of that, it’s only natural to still feel that want, desire, or attraction to that person, even if things blow up…this song gets into all that & much more. You could even argue that the music on this cut almost has like…a low-key Linkin Park type-vibe goin’ on to it…obviously MJ’s doin’ his own thang, but yeah, definitely a more Alternative spin on the music in general I’d say. I like what he’s got goin’ on lyrically throughout this cut and I’d consider that its main attribute…there’s a lot of contrast in this track that outlines what that love/hate feeling is like perfectly, and like…I mean…if you can’t relate to what he’s sayin’ on this track, have you ever even lived or loved?
I think I’m fairly confident in saying that this record’s title-track was either my overall favorite, or right up there with the best on this debut…I think “Army Of The Brokenhearted Boys & Girls” had a really rad melody that was both catchy & memorable. When you listen to tracks like these…or say maybe even tunes like “These Stains They Stay” or “Game Over (Me And My Friends Are Dead)” from earlier on, you’ll realize that what MJ is doing is actually just as close to some of the classic Alt-weirdness & humbly melodic, lo-fi beginnings of bands like Modest Mouse or Pavement as it does with anything related to Rap or Hip-Hop. I’d reckon that’s probably not a bad thing at all when it comes to what MJ FLAWS was going for in creating this record and switching up his direction in sound. Do I know a ton of people out there that loved everything about the older parts of Modest Mouse and Pavement’s catalogs? They love those like ravenous beasts folks…they’re still spinning those records like they came out yesterday and they haven’t put out anything new ever since, which of course they have. The point is, there’s a large amount of crossover potential that exists here on Army Of The Brokenhearted Boys & Girls, and the more that MJ dials into what makes the music sound that way, the further its potential reach for sure. It’s a solid hybrid cut that’s enticing from each side of the fence, whether it’s the Hip-Hop influence and bounce of MJ’s words, or the Alt/Indie sound that beams through the music, there’s a lot that comes together to create a highly isolated but endearing & sincere vibe here. FLAWS keeps the heartbreak comin’ at us through his words no doubt, but the switch in direction and transition of sound gives his title-track the extra depth & advantages it needed to stand out & justify its album-centerpiece status.
“The Better Side Of Me (PS, I Hope You’re Happy)” has MJ FLAWS ending this record on some of its most solid ground, and of course, one final statement lyrically to sum up his heartbreak and detail what his life is like now. In particular, it’s the bars at the beginning, before he’s rappin’ high-speed, that come out sounding the strongest…and I’d be taking a look at those hard if I was MJ FLAWS. Speed is one thing, style is another – and used correctly, both make a huge impact in their own way. Slowing things down at the beginning of his verses in this final cut really worked out in his favor…but it’s not just the pace, it’s the force & power behind his words as well…you can literally hear that MJ FLAWS is more confident in this cut by the way it comes out. Conversely, the opposite is equally true when it comes to the lineup on this record…and that’s where the man will have to really stand back objectively and make sure that what he’s hearing is really what works. There’s a ton to be encouraged by in what he’s got started here under his new name & persona…and like all projects, artists, and bands with the creativity, talent & drive, he’ll go to refine and dial this character of MJ FLAWS and the music in even more as it evolves over the years to follow. “The Better Side Of Me (PS, I Hope You’re Happy)” ends up being a really grounded cut to finish this off and conclude this chapter of MJ FLAWS…you can hear the hope peak through here and that a better tomorrow is indeed, on the horizon. The approach to the bars & mixing up the speed between the slow & fast paced vocals was great, I really thought the Post-Rock vibe of the music gave this last cut a haunting & memorable final impression, and overall, I think it was a really good move for MJ FLAWS to have made this record. Sure, this is my first experience with his music…but deep down, I know this record…I think many of us do…in fact you might just be surprised at how much you end up relating to what this guy’s got to say or find that you’ve felt very similar at times in your life. I looked at my first solo record in a very similar light and approached it with much of a similar attitude…it wasn’t even close to 100% perfect, and I wasn’t looking to express myself that way to begin with…I had some real shit I needed to get out and for a lot of it, the rawer it came out the better. It was a record I needed to make so that other records could exist in the future…and I think that’s exactly what MJ FLAWS has created with Army Of The Brokenhearted Boys & Girls. Now that he’s got this out and brought closure to this whole savage situation that’s been renting his headspace for the past who-knows-how-long…watch this dude surge forward hard 100% on those next releases to come.
You’ll be seeing more of MJ FLAWS on our pages in a video-interview on SBS Live This Week later on this summer from our current Covid Relief project, so make sure to keep your eyes on our pages for that in the near future. Until then, make sure to stay up to-date on all the details and all-things-MJ-FLAWS at his official homepage at: https://mjflaws.com
Join the thousands of bands & artists reviewed at sleepingbagstudios by clicking here!