Mount McKinley is a mountain in Alaska. Not only is it the highest in Alaska, but also the whole of North America. It has a height of approximately 6,194m and its rise, 5,500m, is greater than that of Mount Everest. As can be expected with a mountain of such elevation, it is extremely cold. A thermometer left on the mountain for 19 years recorded a temperature of -100ºC (-73ºC) - which is very ***ing cold. Mount McKinley is situated in Denali National Park and its location leads to its colloquial name – Denali
. Denali is also a defunct experimental indie rock band from Richmond, Virginia. In the four years that they were together they released a demo which was then followed by two full length albums.
Like their namesake, Denali (the band) are very cold. Each and every song on ‘The Instinct’ has a distant, wintry beauty to it. This much is obvious from the intricate guitar melodies accompanied by a hollow echo at the start of ‘Surface’
. Everything sounds so distant, yet so embracing – like staring into a glacier; you can see for miles, yet you are aware that you are entirely surrounded. Something else that is immediately obvious when listening to ‘The Instinct’ is how stunning frontwoman Maura Davis’ voice is. Comparisons to Portishead’s Beth Gibbons are easy to make, but are also very accurate. Throughout every song Davis’ voice is the highlight, and this is by no means a bad thing as it is simply beautiful. However, it does make you wonder whether this album would be that good without her.
In all honesty, ‘The Instinct’ probably wouldn’t be as good with a different singer, but that’s not to say that the music is bad. The powerful crescendo leading up to the chorus of ‘Do Something’
makes for an interesting listen, especially the ominous stomp of the pre-chorus. Even more captivating is the gentler, and thinner textured ‘Nullaby’
with its distant, twinkling piano led-ambience and cinematic cymbal rolls. The title track is a rockier track than most on ‘The Instinct’ with a more abrasive rhythm section and louder, more unrestrained, but no less angelic vocals. The band do pull it off well, as it is a well written song, but its lack of dynamics and atmosphere make it much less interesting than other tracks.
When the band stick to their brand of atmospheric indie-rock laced with subtle electronica – sort of like a chilled out Silversun Pickups mixed with Portishead – the results are stunning. Take the aforementioned ‘Surface’
with its fluttery drum machine pattern in the verses, for example. The quiet use of electronica here allows for a greater dynamic range and therefore more exciting song. The same can be said for with the track immediately following it ‘Run Through’
with its use of samples of children talking and owl noises acting as a haunting background to Maura Davis’ soothing voice.
Released in 2003, ‘The Instinct’ was Denali’s last creative output before breaking up a year later and it really is a great way to bow out. From start to finish it is a beautiful synth-led indie-rock album. It successfully manages to create a cold ambience throughout and this is something that should be commended. The musicianship may not be of the highest quality, but it is very thoughtful and, along with Davis’ wonderful voice, combines to make beautiful soundscapes. Overall, ‘The Instinct’ is a very accomplished album and because of its beauty, definitely deserves to be heard.