The first thing that strikes me when I'm listening to Denali is that Maura Davis has a beautiful voice. The second thing that strikes me is that she doesn't take full advantage of it. To be fair, sopranos are a little limited by the range within which they sing; their voices could never be as expansive as an alto's. But singing in basically one octave throughout an entire album gets monotonous after a few songs, no matter how beautiful the voice is. It's like serving an entire meal with the same kind of sauce on everything. No matter how good the sauce may be, you get sick of it pretty quickly. It also makes her voice, all by itself in music as big as the mountain its named after, sound flimsy. This adds to the feeling of vulnerability the music produces, but it also denies it the kind of warmth that would bring it closer to my heart. Those moments when she stretches her voice out like wings and it echoes against the canyons of the music are the few that make the songs full and deep.
Minus Maura's voice (or even with, in small amounts), the music itself is beautiful. This is the most aptly-named band I've ever come across. The only words I can seem to think of to describe it have to do with size: tremendous, vast, and immense. I can actually see Maura walking across the glaciers of Mt. McKinley, a lone human in a sea of treacherous white. But the view is from very far away. This gigantic feeling comes at the expense of intimacy.
It all comes off as prettiness with little substance. The lyrics are distant relatives at a family reunion, afraid to cross the spaces between them and interact in any meaningful way. Maura's voice fills in the empty spaces in "Run Through"; in fact, it inspires images of castrati singing in an ancient cathedral. Songs like "Hold Your Breath" and "Real Heat" at least have strong drum beats to hold them up and keep them interesting, whereas "Nullaby" and "Welcome" are missing any sort of spine, thanks to the sublimated beats. (I suppose if you like drumming distant and muffled, so that you feel like you're in the womb, these songs wouldn't be so bad, but I can't stand them.) "Hold Your Breath", the first song, has a catchy beat that pulls you in and piques your curiosity, but by the time you get to "Welcome", the last song, you're washing dirty dishes or surfing the internet instead.
But that?s the kind of music this is, the kind that you listen to when you don?t want to have to think or feel, but you can?t stand the silence or you need a little background music to motivate you. You play Denali, listen to the first few songs, and scrub the bathtub. 5/10 -- Eden Hemming Rose (25 May, 2005)