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Sounds from the Mountain

Pop-rock band Denali adds a fresh vibe to the airwaves.

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Not that you asked but, yes, Maura Davis is a young female singer-songwriter who unleashes very private pains, often over the keys of a piano, but she's not the latest version of Fiona, Tori, Alicia or Vanessa. Davis, who also plays guitar, is the throbbing heart of a real, collaborative band, the 2-year-old Denali, from Richmond, Va.

Denali--dubbed for the Athabaskan name for Alaska's Mount McKinley--combines stark avant-garde sound textures, pop-rock song structure and a challenging tension between the delicate and the aggressive. It's possible to argue that the band plays progressive rock for the 21st century, but mercifully devoid of 18-minute song suites, sci-fi noodling and Elizabethan collars.

In the midst of a West Coast tour to promote their first full-length CD (titled simply Denali), on the nifty previously emo-centric independent label Jade Tree Records, Davis and her three band mates will appear in Tucson Tuesday night at Downtown's Solar Culture gallery.

The band was formed in April 2002 when Davis asked her older brother, singer-guitarist Keeley Davis of the band Engine Down, to help her flesh out some tunes she'd written. Soon Keeley had assumed the bass chores and coaxed drummer Jonathan Fuller and guitarist Cam DiNunzio, both also veterans of the Richmond scene, into the fold.

The band members primarily produced their debut effort themselves--it was recorded this past December-- but Sparklehorse impresario Mark Linkous helped out on a couple tracks.

Maura Davis' gorgeous (and thankfully not-too-breathy) soprano can swoop to thin-air heights or growl with anxious need. Her vocals shimmer amid the band's tensile scaffolding of keyboards, rhythm section and guitar architecture, decorated with occasional cornices of synthesizer, sequence and sampler. The result is almost uniform aural beauty, but leavened by the psychodrama of Davis' harrowing lyrics such as on the likes of "Lose Me," "Relief" and the stunning, cathartic album closer "Where I Landed."

It's always exciting to hear a fresh, new sound in the increasingly tedious pop-rock arena, which Denali provides. It remains to be seen, however, how many consumer-listeners will embrace it. Smart ones will.

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