Hella Good

Denali's Maura Davis is ripped and ready to rock steady—Gwen Stefani had better watch her back.

DENALI

MINUS THE BEAR, THE VELVET TEEN

Paradox, 524-7677, $8

8 p.m. Wed., Sept. 18

I could barf adulatory hyperbole about Maura Davis and her voice all over this page, but I think one paragraph will suffice. Jesus, just look at her. Download a Denali MP3 and listen to her. Is she not clearly an utter angel who has visited hell and is compelled to intricately catalog her experience in order to give shape and purpose to our shiftless, monochromatic so- called lives?

Damn straight she is, but here's the thing: Offstage, Davis composes the majority of Denali's layered, punishing melancholy (the easy comparison—Portishead with distortion pedals) and writes the pensive lyrics, but onstage, the reticent, brooding 22-year-old vocalist is simply 25 percent of the reticent, brooding Richmond, Va., quartet. I feel shitty that three other deserving gentlemen (bassist and brother Keeley Davis, drummer Jonathan Fuller, and guitarist Cam DiNunzio) contribute so much to the cold crush and probably get minimal journalistic props. Maura's image even inhabits the icy cover of Denali's eponymous debut LP (Jade Tree); Keeley shot his sister in front of their parents' refrigerator, intentionally cropping her demure, unsmiling jaw.

"Well, Keeley's a graphic designer, so he's concerned with the whole iconic thing and the graphic identity of the band and all that," Fuller reveals via cell phone en route to a Columbus, Ohio, gig. "I guess his idea, and our agreeing with the idea, is that the thing that's really striking and draws you in about the music that we're making is Maura's voice."

"So you're not worried about a little No Doubt 'Don't Speak' action?" I ask.

"Exactly! No, we're not afraid of that," he laughs. "We've already done one photo shoot where the photographer was like, 'Maura, come closer. Maura, come closer. You guys stay where you are. Maura, come closer.' But we're totally into it. And Maura's always like, 'No, I don't wanna. I want these guys to be in the picture. This is weird.'"

"Here's the thing, and I want you to print this: Maura has challenged Gwen Stefani to a fight. She hasn't ever talked to Gwen Stefani, but we figure it's probably a good publicity move if we do something outlandish. Gwen's pretty ripped, but [Maura's] justification is that Gwen just jumps around and stuff. She doesn't actually have to move any gear. Maura helps with all the heavy stuff, so she's got the upper hand here."

I could barf derogatory inanities about how hella atrocious No Doubt is all day, but better to keep talking about Denali. Their moniker is the Eskimo translation for Mount McKinley (also shared by the miniature mastodon who resides in a customized dollhouse in Gumby). It implies solitude, frigidity, and massive strength.

Denali plays to that concept live. Songs like "Everybody Knows" and "Where I Landed" begin with ethereal keyboards and tentative electric guitar strums. Before long, you're bombarded with paralyzing distortion, drum volleys, and vaguely sinister mantras like "No mistake stands in line," and god only knows how you got from point A to point B. Better still, Denali embraces theatricality; they don't stop after every song to remind you that the merch table is five feet to your left.

"The funny thing is, we create this somber and very serious music, and offstage we're sort of dorky and fun," Fuller says. "And I'm glad that [gravity] is conveyed live, because we definitely try to create a mood instead of, you know, going, 'Hey Seattle! How's the weather?' and breaking up any sort of atmosphere that's going on."

BUT REALLY, WHO CARES if Ms. Davis uncorks a Durstian "Yabba dabba doobie!" once in a while? Her brother and Fuller can always retreat to Engine Down, their original, still operative "other" band. Engine is a more overtly masculine take on the Denali sound (Davis and Fuller share guitar and vocals), far more "indie rock" than "trip-hop." It would seem natural and easy for Denali and Engine Down to co-headline a tour.

"It's been kicked around for logistical reasons, because we don't want to miss opportunities," Fuller confirms. "I don't think [Denali and Engine Down] are so disparate that it would be wrong, but it would just be weird for us. . . . I was gonna make a metaphor about our two children, but I can't."

"Please do." I beg.

"I can't! Something about graduation," he snickers. "Like, 'How can you have two valedictorians?' Go ahead and formulate one and you can put my name on it."

Very well. "Denali and Engine Down are my babies," Fuller closes. "I breast fed them till my nipples turned to sandpaper, but I'd hate to put them in indirect competition. Oh yeah, our singer recently accepted Andrew Bonazelli's proposal of marriage."

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