In their new self-titled record, Mike Donello & the New Essentials introduce us to a soulful take on modern pop/rock that comes untethered to any of the commercial trends you might have heard while browsing the FM dial lately. Donello’s honeysweet voice, especially when combined with the entrenching harmonies that the New Essentials turns out in “A Better Day,” “Southside” and “Fun and Games,” is a beacon of light in the midst of a dark, cloudy day, and though there are more components than just his singing worth writing home about this February, I would be lying if I said that this EP wasn’t one of them more vocal-driven works I’ve had the pleasure of reviewing in the last couple of months around the underground.
“A Better Day” and “Roll” have some really phenomenal basslines, and personally, I think they exhibit the groove-forward ethic that Donello holds so dearly better than almost any other songs on this record do. This disc enjoys quite the terrific approach to a master mix, and while it’s not the only independent EP to debut in 2020 with a slick production quality, I think that it stands out more than most would simply because of the vast details that it highlights so exceptionally well. Donello’s voice is always tucked into the eye of the storm, but there are instances (like in “Fun and Games,” for example) where it’s no more powerful a force than the bass parts or, more often than not, the drums are.
I would really love to hear “Setting Things in Motion” and “Roll” in a live capacity at some point in the near future, mostly because I’m curious as to how Donello and his Essentials would attack them in a stage setting. There’s so much potential in both of these songs for the band to expand upon the underlying pop, jazz and R&B themes in the music, and if they were to get super experimental during a live performance, we could possibly hear entirely unique renditions of these two compositions in particular that would be even more stimulating than they are in this recording. As I hear it, with bones as flexible as theirs, this is a group that can do just about anything if given the right venue to do so.
I hadn’t heard of Mike Donello & the New Essentials before being referred to their eponymous first record, but now that they’ve made a fan out of me with the beats of “Southside,” “Fun and Games” and “Roll,” I’m intrigued to know what they’re going to produce both in and out of the studio in the next few years. Now is a really great time for them to be hitting the pop scene, not only because of the relative lull in creativity among their mainstream peers, but because of their advanced skills with regards to things millennial listeners care about more than any generation of audiophiles to come before them – texture, tone, and constant attention to the smallest of details others would just as soon ignore.