Music

Denali: self-titled

Devon Powers

Denali

Denali

Label: Jade Tree
US Release Date: 2002-04-12
UK Release Date: 2002-04-22
Amazon
iTunes

Denali's lead singer, Maura Davis, has an extraordinary voice. When I first heard it live a couple of weeks ago (Denali recently opened for Clinic in New York), I felt overwhelmed, caught up, spent. I wanted both to take it all in, in a lifesaving breath, and to let all of it go, in a heavy, soul-cleansing sob. Recorded, the experience is no different. Both endlessly complex and absolutely simple, her supple voice forms the emotional and musical core of Denali's sound, rendering every song a shock and a blessing. Each note she sings is a glass rose that shimmers with a dangerous, fragile beauty -- the kind that might shatter into a thousand pieces and pierce your heart.

And while we're speaking of hearts, Maura's is a heavy one. On Denali's self-titled debut, Maura's voice serves to highlight the entrenched sorrow and quiet rage of her lyrics (she wrote them for all the songs). Minimalist song titles like "Prozac", "Relief", and "Time Away" give clues that hers is a lot wrought with to-the-point reflection, in the way that the darker emotions can be articulate and acute. And so Denali's songs both set a mood and perpetuate it, a soundtrack for introspection that drives you deeper into your own subconscious.

Denali are a four piece from Richmond, VA, composed of Maura Davis, her brother Keely on bass, drummer Jonathan Fuller and guitarist Cam DiNunzio. (Keely and Jonathan are also members of Engine Down, another Richmond band.) Already garnering their fair share of buzz before their LP even hit the shelves, they're currently odd darlings on Jade Tree Records, a label known for its signature brand of both noisy and emo punk-pop. Denali depart from these trappings with an emotionally charged but not desperate sound, a mix between fuzzed-out dream pop and zoned-out ambient -- like the lovechild of Portishead and Siamese Dream era Smashing Pumpkins. Their songs are both nebulous and gravitational, anchored by dark chord progressions, as Maura's singing flies, gossamer, above the chaos.

The pensive nature of the album is apparent from its first moments, as almost unintelligible whispers break into gentle, distorted guitar notes on the album's opener, "French Mistake". Once Maura begins singing (sounding unmistakably like Beth Gibbons from Portishead) the focus shifts, being as much about the effect of her shimmery soprano as it is about what she's saying. Her words mimic the direct simplicity of the most therapeutic poetry: "Done the last real life/ Beside it's hard to see/ The dotted line leaves space for you". By the chorus, the blustering guitars and droney bass erupt and command attention, as Maura wails with the power of a pop princess and the shadowy soul of a dance floor diva. "Now I'm feeling something tonight", she sings, notes expansive and clear.

Denali mainly follows two lines: the first demonstrated in "French Mistake", the second shown off in the following track, "You File". Faster in pace and more demanding in content, the track rustles and kicks, with reverberating guitars and another authoritative chorus. "Soon you'll be much easier to capture", she sings, with an incensed determination not unlike Debbie Harry's in "One Way or Another". The quickest and perhaps most single-worthy track on the album, the song showcases the band's handiness with funkier, more syncopated drum-bass hand offs to spice up their dirges. Other tricks come out in "Relief", one of two tracks produced by Mark Linkous of Sparklehorse. (Alan Weatherhead, also of Sparklehorse, produced the rest of the album.) Opening with digitized drumbeats that agitate and then break into synthesizer and eventually organ, the vocals are sparse but flattering, emphasizing long, sailing notes.

While Denali have a definite comfort zone -- there are few surprises on the ten-song collection -- the beauty of the album is how easily songs melt into one another, rising and falling where they should, each one ending with a gentle dismount. The album itself closes with as much in "Where I Landed", a sample-laced slow number. Maura's vocals are especially crystalline here, over the misty combo of Rhodes piano, bass, synth, guitar and drums. Unlike other songs, it waits until its last moments to build: Keely and Maura harmonize as the music topples over itself to balloon into a giant, overpowering swell. The intensity breaks as the song winds to a close, with Maura singing by herself over the slight rustle of drum and organ. "Why must I have you around here", she sings, repeating lines from the songs beginning. "I can't forget every sound I fear".

In truth, Denali have captured a sound to cherish.

To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.


Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09
Amazon

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

Keep reading... Show less
7

Very few of their peers surpass Eurythmics in terms of artistic vision, musicianship, songwriting, and creative audacity. This is the history of the seminal new wave group

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominating committee's yearly announcement of the latest batch of potential inductees always generates the same reaction: a combination of sputtering outrage by fans of those deserving artists who've been shunned, and jubilation by fans of those who made the cut. The annual debate over the list of nominees is as inevitable as the announcement itself.

Keep reading... Show less

Barry Lyndon suggests that all violence—wars, duels, boxing, and the like—is nothing more than subterfuge for masculine insecurities and romantic adolescent notions, which in many ways come down to one and the same thing.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) crystalizes a rather nocturnal view of heterosexual, white masculinity that pervades much of Stanley Kubrick's films: after slithering from the primordial slime, we jockey for position in ceaseless turf wars over land, money, and women. Those wielding the largest bone/weapon claim the spoils. Despite our self-delusions about transcending our simian stirrings through our advanced technology and knowledge, we remain mired in our ancestral origins of brute force and domination—brilliantly condensed by Kubrick in one of the most famous cuts in cinematic history: a twirling bone ascends into the air only to cut to a graphic match of a space station. Ancient and modern technology collapse into a common denominator of possession, violence, and war.

Keep reading... Show less
10

This book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Marcelino Truong launched his autobiographical account of growing up in Saigon during the Vietnam War with the acclaimed graphic novel Such a Lovely Little War: Saigon 1961-63, originally published in French in 2012 and in English translation in 2016. That book concluded with his family's permanent relocation to London, England, as the chaos and bloodshed back home intensified.

Now Truong continues the tale with Saigon Calling: London 1963-75 (originally published in French in 2015), which follows the experiences of his family after they seek refuge in Europe. It offers a poignant illustration of what life was like for a family of refugees from the war, and from the perspective of young children (granted, Truong's family were a privileged and upper class set of refugees, well-connected with South Vietnamese and European elites). While relatives and friends struggle to survive amid the bombs and street warfare of Vietnam, the displaced narrator and his siblings find their attention consumed by the latest fashion and music trends in London. The book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Keep reading... Show less
8

Canadian soul singer Elise LeGrow shines on her impressive interpretation of Fontella Bass' classic track "Rescue Me".

Canadian soul singer Elise LeGrow pays tribute to the classic Chicago label Chess Records on her new album Playing Chess, which was produced by Steve Greenberg, Mike Mangini, and the legendary Betty Wright. Unlike many covers records, LeGrow and her team of musicians aimed to make new artistic statements with these songs as they stripped down the arrangements to feature leaner and modern interpretations. The clean and unfussy sound allows LeGrow's superb voice to have more room to roam. Meanwhile, these classic tunes take on new life when shown through LeGrow's lens.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image