Classically trained vocalist-guitarist-keyboardist Maura Davis possesses a warbling voice plucked from the dreamy heavens -- as well as the back catalog of Portishead and Hooverphonic -- while the Richmond, Virginia quartet hammers home its emotional distress with textured synth and guitar subtlety, rather than ear-bleeding confrontation. Sparklehorse sound-polishers Alan Weatherhouse and Mark Linkous touched up the wallowing trip-hop of their self-titled debut, but their upcoming album, The Instinct, was recorded with Peter Katis, the engineer behind Interpol's drifting atmospheres. While the strumming, Joy Divisionesque repetitiveness of the fashionable N.Y.C. lads infiltrates the title track, elsewhere Katis's restrained hand illuminates the band's unique juxtaposition of beauty and torment. "Real Heat" and "Normal Days" exhibit a barrage of angst from hardscrabble guitars, and the icy freeze of "Do Something" culminates in an avalanche-sized roar. Expect the tortured emotional catharsis at Denali's live show to be as monumental as their albums -- and occurring without the risk of being pounded by an errant slamdancer, to boot.
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