Review Summary: The Life Aquatic With Kitchens Of Distinction
It’s a shame Kitchens of distinction
never caught on during the peak of the Shoegazer craze. Bassist/Vocalist was a very talented singer, the band had a distinct sound, and all of their albums garnered praise amongst Critics, but for some reason this group never caught on. The reason why a lot of Dream Pop, Shoegaze (whatever you choose to call it) groups never caught on outside of England is because they were almost too poppy, for the short attention span of American listeners that were obsessed with the grunge craze. Grunge also translated well across the world… Something the Shoegaze genre failed to do as successfully. So while the songs were catchy enough, and the music was unique, mellow, and ethereal, it just didn’t appeal to Americans that wanted popular music that was disguised as Metal or Hard Rock. And of the few Shoegaze bands that did find success in America, only the headliners seem to be remembered as contributors to 90s music. Groups like My Bloody Valentine
, and Slowdive hogged
all of the recognition.
As for the band itself, most people had no bad things to say about Kitchens of Distinction
. The only dispute about KOD
is whether or not they’re actually Shoegaze. Well, the album Strange Free World
could best be described as inconsistent in terms of the genre classification (but not in quality). There are moments with non-complex, yet deep bass lines, innocently fun lyrics with sexual undertones, empyrean guitar effects, etc; and there are most songs that have the atmospheric bliss associated with most Shoegaze, but there are other moments of the album that are outright pop: Upbeat, shallow, and simple pop. But instead of being corrupted by this, the album is balanced by it. Sure purists of the genre want as much mind stroking brilliance as they can get, but the poppier moments of the album make it accessible to a wider range of listeners without alienating those of us obsessed with that wall of sound.
Right out of the gate, the album sets tone with “Railwayed
”, which is lyrically more complex than is seems, but is also filled with dreamy sequences, and very solid instrumentation. Songs like “Polaroids
”, “Within the daze of passion
”, “Quick as Rainbows
”, and arguably their biggest hit, “Drive That Fast
” are straight-forward pop with a flamboyance only a Brit could deliver. This is true not only musically, but lyrically. While most of the songs revolve around the sweet emotions that come with being in love, and the beauty of things like aquatics, roads, and the sky, the poppier songs are shallower lyrically than some of the albums deeper songs. The only thing that doesn’t change throughout the album is the drum work of Dan Goodwin. It’s great drum work, but it doesn’t stand out to the point where you’d consider the percussion an irreplaceable aspect of the songs.
The first thing you’ll notice about the band and album has perspicuous Bass lines and vocals; both of which are thanks to front man Patrick Fitzgerald. Even though the guitar and guitar effects are present and incisive in all of the songs, that’s to be expected from a Shoegaze album, which means despite its greatness, it doesn’t necessarily separate it from the pack, but Fitzgerald’s vocals do. Some would consider the vocals corny and over-enunciated, there’s something comforting and cool about his voice. Patrick’s unforgivable whiteness is endearing in a way. And while songs like “He holds her, he needs her
” are as sappy as you can get, they still give the album something to hang its hat on: lyrical range.
While you could pigeonhole the album as an assortment of songs about love, it’s not that simple. Kitchens
have a dark side to their lyrics; not in a demented way, rather a worried way. “He holds her he needs her
” deals with the neediness that creates tension in a relationship, while the best song on the album “Hypnogogic
” are clearly about Sleeping and Dreaming to escape the mundane routines of life
“No raw area. In sleep there is no pain./ No joy no love no worry/ maybe an unquiet dream./ I'll turn away from laughter./ I'll turn away from love./When the finest sanctuary unfolds and pulls me underneath./ Bemused bewildered and a hundred times thankful/I'm in the lap of the sweetest hours.
" is not only dreamy lyrically, but the airy, scattered Guitar effects shine on this track as well, while the bass keeps a sleepily upbeat tone that would be a bum out if it wasn’t so pretty. “Aspray
” is another song that benefits from deep lyrics, marvelously astral use of guitar effects, and a simple yet essential establishment of a bass line. “Aspray
” is actually very faithful to the album cover, and the lyrics and sound are an encapsulation of the simple yet beautiful aspects of looking at the sea. Songs like this, and “Gorgeous Love
” are gloomy, but upbeat at the same time (which should make absolutely no sense, but you’d understand if you’ve heard this album). The album as a whole seems to give tribute to the beauty in murky parts of life. The song closes with “Under the Sky, Inside the sea
”, which once again turns to the subject of aquatic beauty. It is the only song that uses horns in addition to their distinct style. It is the perfect signoff for such an exceptional album. The lyrics are once again in perfect harmony with the instrumentation:
“The sea eats the shore it's always hungry./we fall from laughing at the size of it all./Drinking wishing smoking hoping/He says "Well, here we are at the edge of the world.”
If you are at all influenced by Shoegaze, Dream Pop, Brit Pop, or are just looking for something musically vivid, you really can’t go wrong with this album. It truly is a lost gem of the 90s. While all of their albums have something great to be said about them, this album is their best. It’s lyrically simple, yet amazing. The moods created by the instruments are somehow simultaneously warm, yet ominous, and Patrick’s vocals are hard not to enjoy. In summary: Listen to this album. If you think it’s up your alley, it most likely is.
Very dreamy, varied, cool, and unique
Musically and lyrically reeks of Britishness
Perfect withing its genre
Only ten songs
It's a dated, which some people don't like
Some songs are accessible enough to consider boring (i.e He holds her, he needs her)