Sibling Revelry

Article excerpt

Quirky and enigmatic, gay brothers Frank and John Navin of the Aluminum Group compose--and talk--in their own code

"Do you think we're pretentious?" asks keyboardist Frank Navin of the Aluminum Group. Hmm. Let's see. They refuse to divulge their ages beyond saying that they're "younger than Madonna." They named their band after a collection of office furniture by Eames. They reference both Sharon Tate and Thomas Hardy in "Miss Tate," a song on their latest album, Pedals. So, yes, this Chicago duo of gay brothers do indeed seem a little pretentious--yet in a playfully arty way.

"That's good," reasons older brother, guitarist John Navin.

"I'm not saying anything else," Frank resolves.

As the Aluminum Group, the cryptic pair, who Wade lead-vocal duties, have recorded winsome lounge tunes with a New Wave bent since 1995. Part of a growing international "club pop" scene that unites the smooth retro romance of easy listening with the uneasy futurism of avant-garde rock, the Aluminum Group is at once melodic and moody, willfully artificial and touchingly tender. But so far the twosome's uniquely catchy music has only earned them a cult following.

Pedals, the group's third album on Minty Fresh Records, is likely to expand its audience. With studio help from experimental rock kingpin Jim O'Rourke, a musician-producer who also aided in the latest by the trance-pop avatars of Stereolab, the Navins continue to evoke torch songs of jukeboxes past, yet now their sound is more contemporary.

But they remain mysterious. The Navin brothers say--in their distinctive patter--that they come from a large family with parents who dealt well enough with the double whammy of having two sons turn out to be gay.

"They just want us to be happy," says John. "They equate gay with sad."

"They think we'll die old spinsters," Frank adds.

"We're almost like twins," John continues. "I had a twin, but it was a stillbirth, and the Japanese believe that if a twin dies, the spirit of that twin goes into the next child. …