Mike Donello & the New Essentials simply have no time for the fluff that a lot of other pop groups would employ when making a debut record in their self-titled EP and its five lush tracks – on the contrary, theirs is a rookie offering that rejects the very notion of putting filler where genuinely powerful pop beats should be. Tonality leads the way in “Fun and Games,” forgoing volume-packed distortion and needless bells and whistles on the bassline in favor of giving us nothing but muscular melodies and a chic singer tying them together. Fake poetry is replaced with heartfelt truths in “Setting Things in Motion” and the brutal “A Better Day,” while the presence of synthetic elements isn’t even considered in “Roll.” Donello is the premier frontman from beginning to end here, bringing things to a finish in “Southside” that feels much more like the start of something special than it does the end of a one-off mixtape, and though it’s a short record (under twenty-minutes), it has more meat on its bones than many of the most heavily-discussed LPs of the New Year have.
The first half of Mike Donello & the New Essentials is more of a pop effort than the second is, but in every track here, there’s an R&B groove beneath the layers of guitar and vocal harmonies. So much of “Setting Things in Motion” and “A Better Day” feels improvised and natural, but I wouldn’t go so far as to say that they sound unrehearsed or amateurish in any way. It would be interesting to know how much of this tracklist came out of jamming between the players and which parts were written in an intimate writing session consisting of Donello and his own thoughts, because by and large all of these songs sound like they could have been born on stage rather than in a cramped studio. Nothing about this EP feels inorganic which, although it’s hard for any pop fan to admit, isn’t something that can be counted upon from the major label content on commercial radio airwaves in 2020.
Straightforward, occasionally acerbic but consistently more vulnerable in tone and spirit than most anything else currently getting big accolades in the American underground, Mike Donello & the New Essentials’ five-track debut is a smashing opening pitch and a listen worth its weight in gold to fans of cutting edge independent pop/rock. Right now, there are a lot of groups that are essentially trying to make the same kind of an EP that Donello and his band have here, but there haven’t been very many – if any at all – that have been able to pull together all of the different themes, influences and aesthetically evocative elements that this crew has inside of such a sleek format. They aren’t the biggest sensation to blow up the indie dial in 2020 so far, but if they’re able to capitalize on the momentum they’ve created for themselves in this past month, they’ll be well on their way of becoming just that.