Fire in the Kitchen's music blends striking melodies, bristling guitar rock, and subtle experimentation. Led by singer/guitarist Bob Bannister, this NYC-area quartet has maintained a low profile over the last five years thanks to infrequent recording and touring. Its most recent release, Thrillsville (Brinkman), compiles old and newer material, nicely encapsulating the band's numerous talents. The dissonant chords and searing guitar lines of "My Skull" represent its off-kilter side, as do "The Present Age," which weds a potent hook to herky-jerky rhythms and an angular melody reminiscent of mid-period XTC, and "9-90," an arrhythmic waltz mixing clarinet, guitar, and sampled noise. Thrillsville also contains straight-ahead pop songs that could easily be lost chapters from the Lennon-McCartney songbook. "Lucerne" has all the crisp, clear beauty of its subject, and "The Time Beats On" is unforgettably tuneful. While many alternative bands latch onto a particular sound--like lo-fi, the current favorite--to establish an identity, FITK distinguishes itself with its high-caliber, adventurous songwriting. Though a polished craftsman, Bannister doesn't adorn his lean, guitar-driven tunes with keyboards, thick vocal harmonies, and production gimmicks, and his lyrics are intelligent without being arty or pretentious, direct without lapsing into cliche. They open for Peter Jefferies. Thursday, March 30, 10 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western; 276-3600.