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Album Review: Something New For A Change by Mimi Knowles

Knowles’ official debut EP doesn’t disappoint. In true Mimi fashion, what it lacks in finesse it makes up for in charisma.

By Zach Collier

To understand our review of this album, you need to know a little bit of history.

Mimi Knowles’ music career has had its highs and its lows – the kind that will make great biopic material when he finally makes it big. Initially playing acoustic shows, Knowles filled out his sound with bass, drums, horns, and keys. By winning local talent competitions and releasing the promising “All That’s For The Birds,” things appeared to be going well from the outside. But on the inside, life was turbulent.

“Things had become rocky with my marriage,” Knowles wrote on his blog. “And shortly after the divorce, I disbanded the band. I had to take care of myself because I was a mess.” [1]

He eventually assembled a new band, dubbing his crew the #bestfunkingbandever. They released “A Little Bit Of,” and “In The Mood” – singles that promised a soulfully energetic, bombastic R&B sound with a tinge of Motown and Chicago Hip Hop thrown in for good measure. They were building momentum, opening for big acts like Boyz II Men and Carrie Underwood. It seemed like stardom was only a stone’s throw away.

But life had other plans. “It was truly magical what we had… My manager at the time encouraged me to strip down the band to be more cost effective. But I’ll admit I felt like everything up until this point was me. It was MY name and MY music that got us here and if they weren’t cool with it, then I don’t need them. I fired everyone from my band. Some of them through email. Even my sister… I continued playing… trying different sounds and different takes on my songs…but it wasn’t the same. I could feel my music wasn’t as powerful. Everyone asked ‘Where is the band?’ I hated it. I eventually hit a wall and I took a break and had decided to quit.” [1]

After disappearing for a while, Mimi returned to music with the lackluster #MIMISEASON, a decent rap offering that paled in comparison to his former work. Much darker in tone, he was able to sort through a lot of his negativity while simultaneously forging new friendships through collaborative work. While not my favorite release of his to date, it fostered growth in Mimi’s rap delivery and made his official debut that much more satisfying.

Something New for a Change finds Knowles returning to his breezy, horn fueled party anthems. It combines the best of #MIMISEASON with the fresh, organic big band R&B we’ve come to love. “Luhmabae” is a strong but restrained opener, introducing new listeners to the Mimi persona – one that rests somewhere between John Mayer’s musical sensitivity and Kanye West’s larger than life ego. This combination immediately wins you over, as Mimi’s braggadocio comes off as goofy and well meaning rather than overly serious and narcissistic. Lines like, “Baby I’m the best, and I say that humbly” and “Your body’s so money it could buy out the bank,” showcases his brand of swagger. Rather than being off-putting, his arrogance is inviting and humorously self aware.

“Luhmabae” features a groovy bass line, a great muted horn section and some exciting musical turns. At 1:56, the guitar and horn groove you’ve grown accustomed to drops out, replaced by a killer guitar solo in the left ear. This keeps the song from getting stale. There is also a cool interplay between instruments from 2:10-2:19. This is a brilliant way to slowly take the edge off a melodic line. Plucky distorted guitar is replaced by the smoother, brassy trumpet stylings of Céleste Robinson, eventually transitioning into the smooth fluidity of a saxophone. Great writing, really.

The intro to “Sway” again characterizes Mimi’s stage persona. Beginning with a goofy introduction, you know you’re not supposed to take his ego too seriously – it’s all in good fun. The horn section in this song is unreal. The overall songwriting style is very reminiscent of Big Willie Style and Willennium era Will Smith. The group “Ehs” and the chorus shouts of “Yeah, we wanna party” lend this studio track some of the exuberant energy you get from a live Mimi Show. Mimi’s tasteful self awareness shines through at 2:16 as he adds some exposed vocal harmonies to keep things fresh.

The next two tracks, “No Question” and “Cloud” continue in a similar fashion. “No Question” was so smooth and soulful that upon first listening I was sure it was a cover. It has such a vintage construction. Even though it sounds nothing like it, “No Question” has some of that innocent “My Girl” charm at its heart – the kind that makes you grin like an idiot just because you’re listening. The background harmonies of “Cloud” are smooth and Seal-esque. The song hearkens back to the best parts of 90’s R&B and would be at home on the Space Jam Soundtrack – one of my favorite soundtracks of all time.

The only track that wasn’t too fulfilling was the closing track, “At All.” It has some incredible moments, most notably Mimi’s emotional rap build from 3:00 to the end. But the decision to use programmed drums when the rest of the EP was so organic was a huge oversight. A track such as this requires human sensitivity. Programmed drums are capable of that sensitivity, but it sounds like there wasn’t a lot of care put into adding subtle velocity nuances in the programming process. In addition, the track differs so much in tone from the light hearted, carefree stylings of the previous tracks that its appearance is pretty jarring. That being said, it’s still a good offering on its own, though I would have preferred to see it as a single and would have been content to have “A Little Bit Of” included at the end of the EP to bring the whole thing to a climactic finish.

In conclusion, this EP is a triumphant return to form for Mimi Knowles. As you listen, you’ll find him doing what he does best: playfully posturing as he raps and sings over well arranged horns, groovy bass, and funky guitar riffs. If Mimi follows this EP up with an equally stellar release, stardom is just a matter of time. Something New for a Change is available on Bandcamp here. You can watch the music video for “LUHMABAE” below.

[1] Knowles, Michel. “#bestfunkingbandever.” The Mimi Knowles. Mimi Knowles, 8 July 2015. Web. 18 Dec. 2015.

2 replies on “Album Review: Something New For A Change by Mimi Knowles”

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