October 27, 2003
DENALI [I]THE INSTINCT[/I] REVIEW
Dark, wavey female-fronted four-piece Denali manipulate dramatic vocals, electronic beats and haunting guitar melodies a la Radiohead. After buzzing around the underground for several years, the Richmond, Virginia-based band seems poised to bust out of the on-the-verge zone. Denali's 2002 debut on Jade Tree was an intricate if somewhat dirgey record that found classically-trained Maura Davis emotive one minute, smokily atmospheric the next, but always distant. The Instinct has more pop structure in its complexity. And Denali's line-up -- former Lazycain guitarist Cam DiNunzio and members of Engine Down -- has gelled. The album has a lush foundation that never leaves Davis stranded without appropriate sonic lifeline. And then there's her delivery. Maturation means knowing when to play your cards. Maura Davis, whose luminous voice can sound like PJ Harvey, Billie Holiday even Jeff Buckley (as on "Run Through"), has learned not to over-extend herself but rather build-up to key dramatic moments, particularly on the orchestrated "Nullaby." Amid the disciplined, dramatic guitars, techy textures beats and dynamic climaxes an interesting, icy sensuality still pervades.
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