Dangerbird Records


The music that 20-year-old Hataałiinez Wheeler makes as Hataałii does not sound like the work of someone born into the information age, coping with meme overload and social media omnipresence. Instead, there’s a simultaneously refreshing and suffocating sense of space, a dense and foreboding anticipation filling the air where a more insecure artist might try to squeeze in competing melodies and phrases. As Hataałii explains it: “Growing up in the desert, you’re surrounded by long roads with lots of nothingness in the atmosphere. Over the horizon, you can very easily scope the tilt of the roads and developing rainclouds. It gives you an almost 4D mindset.”

On his Dangerbird Records debut Singing Into Darkness, Hataałii crafts jangly garage rock for gothic cowboys and beat-poetry odysseys for landlocked surfers, infused with linguistic ambition that recalls Jack Kerouac’s highway fantasias, Allen Ginsberg’s conspiratorial mutterings, and David Berman’s indelible way of assembling a colloquial vocabulary into a thing of beauty. These tales are delivered with a purposeful and idiosyncratic diction, Hataałii’s words never merely sung but drawled, barked, spat, crooned, moaned, spilt, caterwauled, and vomited. He plays every instrument on the recording, providing the ideal loose-but-tight backing as he reacts to his own vocal performances with delicacy, warmth, and, when necessary, menace.

Raised in Window Rock, AZ, the capital of Navajo Nation — his nickname is, fittingly, a Navajo term that means “to sing” — Hataałii grew up surrounded by both his father’s New Order and The Cure records as well as the customary country music of the American southwest (Hataałii cites Charley Pride and Glen Campbell as favorites). He learned bass as an early teen but really dove into songwriting during his time at boarding school, holing up in his dorm and striving to write a song every day, inspired by classic rock fascinations like Lou Reed, Paul Westerberg, and Jim Morrison as well as cult legends like Alan Vega, Rodriguez, and Lizzy Mercier Descloux.

From these dorm room demos, he was able to record 2019’s Banana Boy, a portrait of an artist finding a solipsistic style all their own. Word-of-mouth and online interest swelled, and he followed Banana Boy with 2020’s Painting Portraits — which added shoegaze and bossa nova to his sonic arsenal — and followed that with 2021’s Hataałii. Hataałii not only got notices from press outlets like Aquarium Drunkard (who praised it as “weirdly genreless and out-of-time, yet constantly reaching for some sort of cosmic agency” and called Hataałi “a master at conjuring a kind of Southwestern saudade”) but also a podcast shout-out from Mac DeMarco, a modern hero for any aspiring DIY musician. He followed that record with a pair of singles: the wistful, evocative waltz “Land of Poor Chance,” and cheeky ballad “Presidents Got Me All Night,” which FLOOD praised as a “euphoric-slacker ballad tapping into Bob Dylan’s most unpredictable vocal zones.” The flow of new music continued with a recent surprise drop of some bedroom recordings to clear the decks. 

This all set the stage for Hataałii to put together Singing Into Darkness, a record about, as Hataałii eloquently puts it, “the shit that fucks with people in a bad way: an observer’s take on the vices and foibles that obstruct people’s lives.” The characters inhabiting these songs — local Navajo politicians, unknowable gas station regulars, John Wayne-worshiping tourists — are tragically mundane, beset with human flaws and outsized feelings and penchants for non-sequitur. Says Hataałii: “Humanity constantly thinks it’s on the verge of apocalypse, and they have reason to. But, sometimes, if there’s a sense of impending doom, the doom can just be yours — it’s hard to tell the difference.”

A sense of treachery and winking deviance haunts these songs. Album opener “Midnight Soldier” is hefty with a barren desert ambience, Hataalii snarling as he plays off the music’s accelerating tensions and ribbons of fluttering guitar as he embarks on a doom spiral that’s part Television, part Jonathan Richman. On its face, the liquid guitar tones and shuffling rhythms of “Laugh Out Loud” suggest the effervescence of a long-awaited backyard kickback. However, its lyrics marvel at the peculiar ordeal of growing up, a process that Hataałii describes as “like dodging encampments of cannibal battalions and trudging through the dizzying swirls of fast paced up-bringing only to come out feeling like just another pawn in a larger and more terrifyingly theatric-seeming circus of horror.”

The themes maintain a heaviness throughout, though Hataałii knows to serve them up with coy subversion and dramatic pacing. “Story Of Francisco” is a shambolic, lonesome country strummer about the sting of grief and the random cruelties of life (as Hataałii explains: “the universe knows what it’s doing when it does a really horrible thing”). The Velvets-cribbing “For Liquor” ponders Navajo suffering and the unsatisfactory salve of historical context, while the snapping and seductive “Council Delegates Wife” finds Hataałii delving mischievously into local politics. Meanwhile, the album-closing epic  “Double Doors” sets up a cinematic showdown worthy of the bleakest spaghetti Western, between Navajo locals and terrifying tourists, demanding a dream catcher and a photo opp. In its deliberate build and wiry sonics, “Double Doors” is reminiscent of Modest Mouse’s Isaac Brock condemning commercial development on the late 90s classic Lonesome Crowded West — an artist casting the banal machinations of capital as a grandiose cosmic struggle. 

Despite the heady themes, the songs on Singing Into Darkness are conjured not with heavy-handedness but an evocative text and imaginative presentation. Given Hataałii’s youth, it’s hard to imagine that he’s intentionally constructing music in homage to all the disparate artists — Gun Club, Cat Power, Destroyer, X, Ought, The Cramps — his music can recall. But it’s clear that Hataałii has a sophisticated understanding of the imagistic language and mythological underpinnings of the best rock and roll music. With Singing Into Darkness, Hataałii’s intuition sharpens into a visceral and inquisitive, yet artfully obfuscated, sense of focus — a special rock songwriting talent challenging himself to excel within the form. 


Brown Fool Eyes

Directed and Edited by Shaandiin Tome

Midnight Soldier

Land Of Poor Chance

President's Got Me All Night Long

Follow Hataałii

join the dangerbird newsletter sign up for 15% off your first merch order
No Spam Ever

Dangerbird Records

Our website uses cookies and similar technologies to make the site work and improve your user experience. By using this website, you consent to the use of cookies.