Denali is very much like its sister act Rilo Kiley: both bands avoid easy classification by using the post-punk indie rock template and fusing seemingly disparate or unexpected sounds with it. For Rilo Kiley it’s country, for Denali it’s 4AD atmospherics. It’s true that ethereal rock is nothing new these days, since bands like Interpol and The Eaves are doing a splendid job of updating the language of the genre. Denali, on the other hand, are plunging deeper into the cloudbanks for their sound and letting their power chords fall by the wayside.
“Surface” begins with a chiming delay laden guitar riff stolen time machine-style from The Edge back in 1985 and planted in front of a Madchester drum beat. “Run Through” is brimming with rolling fog ambiance and moaning ghosts in the mixing board. Maura Davis’s seductive operatic delivery is also given the spotlight on this song, and it radiates twice as much energy as the actual instrumentation. “Do Something” lacks a continuous melody aside from Davis’s disillusioned warble — instead, a throbbing, almost mechanized beat threads in and out behind her vocals. “Nullaby” approaches the ominous, quiet orchestral grandeur of a 1960s James Bond theme song without using any strings. It’s strange territory for an indie rock band to feel so comfortable in.
Five of the album’s nine songs favor insinuating formlessness over tight, rhythmic structure. I happen to prefer Denali when they let more of their post-punk roots show through, but The Instinct shows a band that can write excellent songs at both ends of the spectrum, and I like them even more for that.