The Mox & J. Project – Who We Are – Album Review
A duo from Minneapolis, Minnesota – The Mox & J. Project combines the soulful singing of Jess Bro and the rap of Mitchel Paulson, aka Moxie. With dynamic & versatile electro-atmospheres & beats giving them both a platform to truly express themselves over ten new tracks on their debut album Who We Are…so let’s find out what they’re all about, shall we?
As it began with the piano-led hooks of “This Could Be” the music started out interesting and definitely piqued my curiosity of what might come at us next. The lead on this one is taken by Jess…who…to be quite honest, approaches this one in a bit of a strange way; there’s power…and there’s solid, confident tones…but there’s also a bizarre restraint you can hear she’s applied in the actual ‘how to sing’ this one. The resulting sound makes “This Could Be” come out a bit mixed for me…it instantly made me wonder how she might approach songs later on in this record and if I’d hear the freedom of her vocals come out more than on this first track. Now that I’ve heard the record, I can tell you that it definitely DOES…and this is a tough one to comment on overall anyhow, cause she’s GIVING it in her performance and really matching the energy well…but…well…I suppose the best thing I can say for now is by comparison, we’ll hear stronger performances from Jess as the album continues on. She’s far from letting us down with the fierce energy she brings to “This Could Be” – but again, I think you’ll hear what I mean from comparison to the tracks on the rest of the record to follow. Keep in mind…this is a debut and it’s also the first time hearing the sound altogether – sometimes it takes time to adjust to a new sound…always room to grow & evolve from where we start…so give them credit where it’s due; “This Could Be” is still a solid beginning to the experience. Moxie raises this track up even more-so towards the end as we get to hear him rap for the first time…really liked the energy, aggression and intensity of the way he delivers the lines on this opening cut – he sounds hungry, determined and ready to pull this project to the top.
All this being said…as long as you’re still with’em, The Mox & J. Project quickly kick this album into gear with the fantastic sound of “Full Blown.” With a Dre-style beat once again piano-led but with a more rapid-pace, Mox leads the way on this one and seriously owns the mic. The result? Awesomeness. Not only does it raise-up the energy of the record right away, it also seemed to add a bit of inspiration and energy with Jess, who shines brightly in the hook of this chorus. The writing comes through brilliantly here and I felt like “Full Blown” was the first track that really lets you know what these two are capable of when they’re really working together in the moment. By comparison to a track like “This Could Be” where each had their own headquarters and personal-space in the song – I think the attraction to “Full Blown” lies a lot in the more balanced approach to having both vocalists in the mix. Mox might be able to come up a point or two in the volume department…it’s a fraction quieter than Jess, who really dominates her bars with bold tones.
It’d be hard to outshine her though when you’re comparing tones…so I’m all for having Mox up a bit in the mix to match the added strength she brings in. “You & Me” is a perfect example of Jess opening up a bit more to allow those melodies she’s got to come out even more freely. She’s got herself a great part for the hook of this song and delivers solidly in a performance that gives her a bit more freedom for expression in her tones and the way she sings them. I really think she did a solid job here and has a commendable performance that definitely grabs the attention and makes you notice it. Very sweet-sound to a lot of her vocals on “You & Me” and I felt like she ‘lightened up’ a bit in that department here more than most tracks by eventual comparison. I’d encourage her more towards this direction after hearing the exceptional performance of “You & Me.” I dig the added reverb on the vocals here and how it suits both the music and the fluid way that Jess sings this tune…excellent ideas in the melody & flow. Even Moxie keeps this one smooth on his bars… “You & Me” makes for a sweet sonic-journey and dynamic love song.
“Master Key” is a huge hit for me. Jess has an approach that’s similar to how she sang “This Could Be” – but this time, for the darkened-electro and mystique of the sound in the music of “Master Key” it really works well. The trade-off between the singing and rap is in perfect harmony and the heights of professional collaboration here – both parts are welcome, know what I mean? It’s not uncommon that when we listen to any song with multiple lead-vocalists that we’re bound to like one part more than the other – but not this one. “Master Key” has a master-performance by all involved and sounds confident, bold and intense from the beginning to end. Solid stuff for sure though…kind of somewhere in the Massive Attack, Curve and Hooverphonic style of approach…I’d maybe bring the music up a bit around the vocals on this one as there is a ton of intensity in it that could really accelerate this track to the top of playlists out there. That’s a suggestion at best though – right now I’m quite happy with the way “Master Key” came out and the combined strength of their performances working massively in their favor on this tune already.
“Exposed” is a real gem on this debut album as well…and right around here, it’s clear that this duo has certainly clicked and kicked-into top gear. Clever music in this one…almost sounds like it’s using a sample of Chris Isaak’s “Wicked Game” – I’m not 100% sure on that…but it’s very close to the sound and atmosphere by the sound of it. In any event…they’re not being cheesy or going soft-rock on you all of a sudden – this is another idea that really worked strongly for The Mox & J. Project. You can hear the added level of seriousness, the weight of emotion and truly personally-reflective lyricism. Realness always surfaces…and you can feel that there must have been added pressure on the duo to really make “Exposed” work with the magic it has. They deliver confidently and really bring this one to life flawlessly. Right around the 3:30 mark, Jess comes ALIVE and really takes a hold of the song right to the end in an inspired performance after Mox spent his time perfectly delivering an intense & emotional narrative throughout the entire tune. “Exposed” is a seriously great tune on this record and real standout moment.
On “Who I Am” – you’ve gotta appreciate the confidence that Jess brings to the performance here…you just gotta. She’s written herself some impressive & ambitious parts to sing and I don’t think you can argue that this is one of her strongest performances in terms of ideas, range and execution. There’s absolutely zero-doubt about it in my mind…she’s amazing here, BUT…there’s so much breakout-sound in her performance that she could come down a bit in the mix and still be just as extraordinarily powerful. It would make the music surrounding her, which is excellent here, pop just a bit more. LOVED her moment around the 2:30 mark…I thought that was serious audio-magic there and loved the way her vocals mix with the background. Mox sounds really strong in his verse once again…but I’d also advise caution here as well; he’s got a very defined approach to some of his writing, based in the old-school style of delivery that puts a bit of what he brings to the record in jeopardy. It’s important to keep up that diversity in the approach as well…otherwise listeners run the risk of not knowing which track it was that had that part they really liked in it, because it coulda been several – know what I mean? Mox still executes at a high-level in any situation…I just suppose I personally prefer his own creative instincts leading him to victory as opposed to the tried, tested & true methods like on “Who I Am” – when you compare this track to his ideas on the following track “Fear,” there’s almost no comparison in my opinion. You get a completely unique idea and approach to “Fear” and I think it’s moments like that that make the poetic-nature of Mox’s rhymes come fully to the forefront and really become the star of the show. Combined with an impressive match to the energy of the music’s atmosphere…I think “Fear” is a real example of Mox at his best and I’d encourage him in this particular direction. While it might have less traditional ‘hooks’ in the structure & assembly – I think the layered approach between them makes for a seriously captivating and unique listen. It’s almost as if they had two completely separate ideas altogether on “Fear” – but the way they’ve put this together absolutely creates one of the most artistic and insightful moments of their ambition. I thought “Fear” was remarkable from the core of its idea to the way they execute it. NAILED it.
Now for an example of Jess at her best – look/listen no further than her brilliant performance on “You Got Me Like.” Talk about redemption! This was like a whole new-level of breakthrough here…and one that allowed me to go back to songs like “This Could Be” and appreciate her approach more than I did when I had my initial listening experience. I stand by wanting the freedom of expression to enter into her performance like it does here on “You Got Me Like” – but hearing this track really did lead me to a whole new appreciation for her sound overall. I realize right around here on “You Got Me Like” that I don’t just like her tone & approach – I freakin’ LOVE it. The scat-style performance of vocalizations and singing from Jess on “You Got Me Like” should honestly win her an award or two – she sounds absolutely empowered, beautiful, stunning and professional as it gets. Mox adds a solid set of bars into this cut with his low-end rasp adding an additional layer of mystique into this one – but it’s impossible to ignore the wild enthusiasm, outstanding charm and intensely charismatic performance from Jess on this track. Absolutely amazing.
Mox takes the spotlight on “Show’s Over” and pokes fun at himself relentlessly through the wild beat & gripping music. Smartly edited & assembled track…lots happening in the music that works here for sure; might have wanted the twinkling-keys to come down just a bit outside of the chorus, but that’s about all. Other than that, this track has got a ton of punch to it…and I dig that Mox has taken it upon himself to receive the lyrical punches rather than take the time to rag on others. I think it’s a smart move that only strengthens the cred he’s garnered with us as listeners…hearing that he’s willing to take shots at himself like this so cleverly says a lot about his upstanding character despite what those words might have you believe! A ton of fun though…I thought the music was solidly intense and that Mox delivered spot-on throughout this cut. You can hear Jess in the backing vocals here breaking through at times as well; it’s subtle, but it’s got a solid presence coming through the music that really adds to “Show’s Over.” Great beat, great hooks and a wicked idea overall…definitely an impressive tune that continues to keep the end of this record stepping up its game in the late stages.
Jess sounds somewhere in the middle of Shirley Manson and Madonna in the way she sings the final tune “What Now” – which is a memorable final track and satisfying ending to this debut experience. I like the extra drama & theatrical nature to Jess’ parts – but I also loved the way she’s really put every inch of strength and tone into every word here in an inspired performance at the album’s end. She’s seriously letting it out here in the final track as the lyrics question a shared experience or shared love…and hearing her belt-out “What Now” becomes captivating and extraordinary to the ears. The music has the perfect amount of tension and tone…absolutely the kind of track you want to leave the listeners on…because “What Now” certainly hits the mark and makes a massive impact. Honestly…this is a breathtaking ending; every time that “What Now” came on I got absolute chills from Jess’ nearly Opera-esque performance and energy in combination with the texture and atmosphere of the music…haunting in all the best of ways and intensely memorable way to end their debut record.
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