Tell someone about a great Scottish band whose music rings with rich orchestration and shimmering pop beneficence, and they're likely to assume you're talking about Belle and Sebastian. But you might in fact be speaking of the Delgados. The quartet debuted in 1996 with a series of EPs on their own label, Chemikal Underground, followed by two very good albums, 1997's Domestiques and 1999's Pelotron. Meanwhile, they used their label to launch the careers of fellow Scottish artists such as Mogwai, Bis and Arab Strap. While Domestiques offered a brand of noisy pop that at times recalled an anglo-fied Pixies, Pelotron took a new tact with an acoustically based melancholia employing touches of strings and more ambitious, layered production in addition to their off-beat, noise-inflected numbers.
But even this was little preparation for the fully realized symphonic brilliance of 2000's The Great Eastern. With a helping hand from David Fridmann--fresh from work on the equally sumptuous Flaming Lips album, The Soft Bulletin--the band turns the orchestration up to 11 without smothering the songs. Their dreamy, gorgeous epics bubbled over listeners in a wash of instruments, while Emma Pollock's sweet, unaffected delivery cut through the sound like a siren. Guitarist-singer Alun Woodward's understated tenor shared vocal duties, and the music carried you away on a wave of brass, bells and swooshing strings. Hate followed in 2002 with a similarly grandiose sound--Fridmann again provided production help. But even more than the soaring pop-classicism that drenched the music in swoons and climaxes, the album succeeded because of its bleak undercurrent--tweaking the Beatles' optimism on "All You Need is Hate" and indulging in dark ballads such as "The Child Killers." The current tour includes a full orchestra. It brings The Delgados overflowing well of beauty and despair stateside.
The Delgados appear at the Cat's Cradle on Tuesday, April 22, with Aerogramme.