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June 26, 2002

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With the rock’n’roll speculators who make their living in the plastic halls of the Music Industry slowly catching onto the buzz over Jade Tree Records, the buzzards, vultures and A&R men have started to circle the tiny Delaware label. The kids, the press and everyone in between has eaten up most stuff the label’s put out. Sooner or later, they say, one of those acts is going to make the shareholders a pile of money.

Maybe Denali is the sort of band that the big-money industry has been hoping the Jade Tree crew would unearth for them. With a sound that features dream-pop guitar work and Rhodes keyboard melodies, Denali’s got a grasp on pop that isn’t defined by mainstream tastes, nor is it too deeply entrenched in the onion-skin overlap of the indie-pop underground. There’s a sweetness to Denali, but it’s purely accidental: Melancholy dogs each of the band’s songs no matter how much pop appeal they have. That’s all fine and good, but what really makes Denali an act to keep an eye on are singer/keyboardist Keely Davis’ vocals. With the pipes that deserve to have a band built around them, Davis launches into track after track of her trademark sugary, yet wispy and haunting delivery.

The combination of the band’s moody songwriting and Davis’ breezy vocals make quite a one-two punch. The act mates a staggering, doped-up kick drum with foggy keyboards to get a lonely and aching sound ("Relief") and slithers through a semi-upbeat number that’s as luscious as it is mysterious ("You File"), showing it’s got enough different flavors of charm to please many an ear. Marketing tycoons, that’s your cue to start waving contracts.

Don’t get too eager yet, lazy A&R men. There’s still a few things that’ll probably keep Denali from making you a pile of money big enough to sleep upon. First, they’re smart, and we all know how brains doesn’t go over in the real world. There’s also a matter of music depth that renders the band’s vocal hooks moot to anyone who doesn’t want to spend more than 17 seconds figuring out where a song’s going. No, Denali, as much as they deserve it, aren’t your meal ticket. We’ll keep them safe and warm in the underground.


Matt Schild