Things happened very fast for the Sundays and then they happened very slowly. The alterna-pop quartet won rave reviews in the British press at their first-ever gig in 1988; their debut single topped the British independent charts in 1989; both the band's 1990 debut album, "Reading, Writing and Arithmetic," and the 1992 follow-up, "Blind," went gold and led to world-wide tours. Singer-songwriter Harriet Wheeler and guitarist-songwriter David Gavurin then disappeared for four years, had a baby together and built their own recording studio. It was there they wrote and produced their new third album, "Static & Silence," which focuses their pop charms more clearly than ever.
Because the Sundays prefer dreamy tempos and ethereal soundscapes, there's a temptation to lump them in with such "moody-pop" bands as the Cocteau Twins and the Smiths, but pop pleasures overwhelm moody affectations on "Static & Silence." Gavurin writes simple but beguiling vocal melodies and frames them with chiming guitar figures which suggest an atmosphere of unguarded innocence. Wheeler's soprano may be slight but it has an emotional transparency that makes her confessions of a new crush or a fresh heartache irresistibly personal. Backed by their original rhythm section and, on some numbers, by lush orchestrations, Gavurin and Wheeler are able to capture the giddiness of new love in the "Summertime," the mixed feelings of leaving one's hometown behind, the heart pangs that come "When I'm Thinking About You" and the remembered childhood excitement of watching the first moon landing. Appearing Wednesday at the 9:30 club. To hear a free Sound Bite from the Sundays, call Post-Haste at 202/334-9000 and press 8110. (Prince William residents, call 690-4110.) CAPTION: David Gavurin and Harriet Wheeler release their first album in five years.