Denali

While last year's self-titled debut from this Richmond, Virginia, quartet received its share of Björk comparisons, the group's sophomore offering is likely to stand on its own merits rather than its trip-hop stylings and Maura Davis' voice, which can be as earsplitting as that of Iceland's pint-size princess. The Instinct, unlike its eerily melancholic predecessor, veers from excessive dejection, although Davis' breathy pipes implant seeds of sorrow on tracks like "Nullaby." Nuggets like "Hold Your Breath" reek of garage-rock fumes and grrr-girly gusto, while the title track builds from a reverberated guitar line and looping effects to a crescendo of vibrant vocals and blooming choruses. The electro-fused tribal backbone of "Run Through" disperses an aural mystique, while the dreamy, effects-drenched "Welcome" floats on a beam of somber songwriting intensified by Davis' wails, which come across as those of both an old-school jazz diva and a starlet in the making.
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Omar Perez

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