When The Waterboys recorded "The Big Music" in 1984, the group staked a claim to what seemed like an enduring musical trend, since the likes of U2, Big Country, Simple Minds, and The Alarm were all denting the charts with epic, echoing rock. But European pop fans are fickle, and the bluster of Big Music gave way to the subtle shadings of Cocteau Twins and the nasty grind of The Jesus And Mary Chain–two sounds that quickly merged to make dream-pop. It was almost a decade later when Radiohead brought Big Music in through the back door by passing a U2 influence to bands like Coldplay, who've in turn extended atmospheric pop balladry into ubiquity.
The British group Delays is the latest purveyor of the old resounding haze, though it stands out from the pack thanks to lead vocalist Greg Gilbert, whose voice sounds astonishingly feminine, and specifically like Stevie Nicks crossed with Elizabeth Fraser. On the band's debut, Faded Seaside Glamour, Gilbert coos high and raspy through spell-casters like "Bedroom Scene" and "One Night Away," which stack ringing guitars against thick beats, building to harmonic choruses that court pathos directly. Delays has a repertoire roomy enough to encompass the La's-like jangle of "Hey Girl," but its heart is more in pretty, droning tracks like "Wanderlust" and "Nearer Than Heaven," which are naggingly shapeless but carried by Gilbert's magnificent instrument.
On the domestic front, the indie-rock supergroup Maritime fills its debut album, Glass Floor, with lightly melodic, midtempo songs made grander through the addition of horns and strings. Davey von Bohlen and Dan Didier, from disbanded emo-king The Promise Ring, front a pickup band that includes former Dismemberment Plan bassist Eric Axelson and Jawbox founder J. Robbins. Superficially, the album resembles the overly Anglophilic but unjustly maligned Promise Ring record Wood/Water, which was catchy and chiming. But Glass Floor features simpler constructions and more straightforward guitar-pop on "Some One Has To Die," "Adios," and "If All My Days Go By." Von Bohlen's thin vocals and a generally mushy sound keeps Glass Floor from catching hold at first, but Maritime's gently buzzing guitars give the songs a backbone that helps them stand up to multiple exposures.
As to when this streak of foggy, booming guitar-and-piano-centered music will tail off, if history is any guide, the sound should follow a natural evolution and transform into something rougher and more exciting soon. Expect that Swervedriver revival any day now.