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KITCHENS OF DISTINCTION (Buy CDs by this artist)
Elephantine EP (UK One Little Indian) 1989
Love Is Hell (UK One Little Indian) 1989 (One Little Indian/Rough Trade) 1990 (A&M) 1993
Strange Free World (One Little Indian/A&M) 1991
The Death of Cool (One Little Indian/A&M) 1992
Cowboys and Aliens (UK One Little Indian) 1994 (One Little Indian/A&M) 1995

If not actually in the stylistic company of such dream-pop bands as Lush and Ride (no My Bloody Valentine influence here), South London's Kitchens of Distinction at least traffics in a similar aesthetic, thanks to the delayed, swirling, lost-in-space playing by the king of effects, guitarist Julian Swales. Led by singer/bassist Patrick Fitzgerald (no relation to the similarly named '70s English anti-folkie) the trio's majestic sound seems to vibrate and ooze-particularly at wall-shaking volumes, as evidenced by some killer live B-sides.

Love Is Hell is a naïve start but, at its best, a minor knockout. "In a Cave" showcases Swales — twinkling, glistening, ravishing — as do "Prize" and the punchier "The 3rd Time We Opened the Capsule." But it's on Strange Free World, the trio's masterpiece, that its sonic vision is fully realized. Producer Hugh Jones is the perfect partner, as his skill at capturing ferocious guitar sound catches Swales shimmering and sliding from all corners of the room. Such sweeping tunes as "Quick as Rainbows" and the manic dance propulsion of "Drive That Fast" are filled with lofty beauty and quiet passion. The sweet horns on the closing "Under the Sky, Inside the Sea" add a smart new wrinkle.

Although Jones does another exciting production job on Death of Cool, the formula is beginning to wear a little thin. (Few would have noticed if this had been released as the second half of Strange Free World.) But what it lacks in stylistic variety and consistent songwriting (a couple of dull eight-minute epics meander aimlessly), it makes up for with some of the band's finest compositions. The paralyzing "4 Men," underpinned by a dense layer of shivering Swales' fabric, indulges Fitzgerald's homoerotica (the singer is openly gay; "Breathing Fear" tackles gay-bashing). The opening horror-of-romance-lost "What Happens Now" batters forcefully, powered along by drummer Dan Goodwin; the Swales-sung "Can't Trust the Waves" has a lovely, starlight-kissed glow.

The self-produced finale, Cowboys and Aliens, finds the group losing its songwriting touch. While Fitzgerald continues to sketch poignant breakup feelings ("Now It's Time to Say Goodbye," the adrenaline-rushing title track), the shortage of hooks makes this the least of their fine albums.

[Jack Rabid]