Denali – S/T


Denali chose their handle very, very well. The word denali, which literally means “high one,” is the Athabascan (i.e. – original) name for Mt. McKinley, the highest peak in North America (20,320 ft.). President McKinley was so pleased by the honor of having an entire mountain as his namesake that he never bothered to visit it. If you ever get the chance to journey there, don’t make the same mistake.
For those of us lucky enough to have stood upon Alaskan soil and viewed its towering peaks, monolithic glaciers, wandering valleys, and sub-arctic taiga and tundra, Denali (the band) is what this landscape would sound like if you could put all the wind-scoured white silence to music. The land is wondrously epic, oppressive, visceral, expansive, intimidating, elemental, and, with the 20 + hours of darkness that winter provides, as close to noir as nature can be.
Denali’s music evokes all of the same notions and sentiments. This album is a collection of claustrophobically enveloping atmosphere and dynamics, employing important elements collected from jazz, indie-rock, acid jazz, and trip-hop that are wielded with much more taste and verve than most bands can manage, much less a group recording its first album.
While there are certainly tracks which stand out among the rest (“You File,” “Lose Me,” “Time Away,” “Gunner and Function”), it’s the way this album is remarkably stronger when taken as a whole that makes it noteworthy, just the way the music cannot be reduced to a single dominant element to easily define it. Often the instruments become enmeshed with one another, creating a complex wave that rises, then crashes by the pull and sway of the music itself. None of the instruments ever breaks rank and tears the invisible fabric that creates the atmosphere of this planet. On this album the music, not ego or musicianship, calls the shots while ambiance rides shotgun.
This is a credit to the musicians involved with this project. While everyone involved fulfilled what could be viewed as a “traditional” musical role (Maura Davis – vocals, Keeley Davis – bass, Cam Dinunzio – guitar, Jonathan Fuller – drums), they all take turns adding elements that define the music as much as the other instruments. Often the music rides on the strength of the rhodes, organ, samples, drum sequencers, and synths that were brought in not as musical after-thoughts or footnotes, but as the main source of mood and instrumentation. There was also some excellent production supplied by Alan Weatherhead and Mark Linkous, both of Sparklehorse fame, but as with the instrumentation, the production never takes the spotlight; the music is the stage hog with this album, stealing all the good lines and scenes.
This album creates a great first impression for Denali, and hopefully it’s a strong foundation from which to work on in the future.