The Instinct, the sophomore release from Richmond band Denali, sounds like a rock-heavy Portishead, with the haunting falsetto vocals of lead singer Maura Davis constantly battling the intense guitar and synthesizer work of her brother, Engine Down frontman Keeley Davis. The result of the fighting really isn't the type of record you would just pick up and listen to, unless maybe you had 76 minutes worth of knitting to finish. But it might serve as the type of hip background music that is trendy enough to talk about, yet mellow enough to have a good old fashioned make-out session to. (This theory is still in phase one of field-testing.) The music is just sort of there, lacking any sort of clear attitude or image.
However, The Instinct is not totally without merit beyond the world of crafts and tonsil hockey. The album succeeds when it sticks to one genre at a time, as it does on openers "Hold your Breath" and "Surface." Here, the quartet incorporates more rock elements and stays away from the ambient, languishing vocals and riffs that make the other songs slip seamlessly into the background. On the rest of the album, however, combining the two makes it seem like Denali is trying to cook up its own brand of Bubble and Squeak -- mixing unrelated musical elements together, expecting something tasty, but instead ending up with a big, steaming pile of indie-rock surprise.
When Davis's vocals rule, the songs are good. When the guitars take over, the songs are good. Both at the same time just makes for an unmanageable concoction, but you probably won't notice if you're busy with your hands at the time.