Denali, with Rainer Maria and Chris McFarland
At a glance there are plenty of reasons to dismiss this show. First, there's that band name. How pretentious can you get, using the Alaskan Native American word (which means "the great one") that is used to describe Mt. McKinley, the highest point in North America. Or maybe it's not so much pretentious as cheesy -- these days the word Denali is most commonly associated with gas-guzzling luxury SUVs. Either way, it's not exactly the image most hip indie bands try to project. Then there's guilt by association, as the band records for the Jade Tree label, known for emo bands like the Promise Ring and Jets to Brazil, and finally they're brought to town by the Hands Up Houston booking collective, a group that, to put it mildly, is not as selective as it is thorough.
But sweep aside the circumstantial evidence and give a spin to The Instinct, the Richmond, Virginia-based band's second CD. With the classically trained Maura Davis covering all the vocals, the band's sound ranges from something like a female-fronted Fugazi to atmospheric electro-pop à la Portishead. The haunting, spectral songs would seem right at home in a black-and-white French New Wave movie scene of a rainy Parisian street at twilight. At times trippy yet simultaneously lucid, the disc holds up to repeated spins because new elements keep popping up with each listen. Davis and band garnered a lot of slobbering press for their debut CD, and The Instinct proves it wasn't all unjustified.
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