"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."
Although each says he knew the other was gay growing up, both brothers had girlfriends and didn't come out until they were in their early 20s--flint John, then Frank. Once they did come out, they found the "very straight" world of Chicago's alternative music underground "completely accepting," says Frank, who with John self-released their first album, Wonder Boy, in 1995.
Despite the duo's offbeat camp consciousness--they worship crooner Andy Williams and once sold secondhand stuffed animals in plastic bags at a show--and song titles such as "Sad Gay Life," the brothers have yet to win a significant queer following. They hope to change that with a forthcoming remix of "Paperback," a track from the new album that the pair compare to the hit dance version of Everything But the Girl's "Missing." Yet they remain decidedly aloof from the circuit-party sphere by adhering to a strict Kmart dress code.
"Kmart is the proletariat look for the invisible, more dangerous homosexual who blends in with the average Joe," explains John, who like his brother boasts friendships with assistants at fashion houses such as Gucci and Prods. John says he even wrote to Kmart's president pitching himself as a company spokesman. "He declined my offer but sent me a $100 gift certificate."
The Navin brothers both say they consider themselves "boring" and would rather rhapsodize about their heroes like Brigitte Bardot, the Carpenters, and Cynthia Plaster Caster, the famous ex-groupie legendary for her casts of rock stars' phalluses. John has even had the honor of being the sculptor's assistant during the casting of cult Scottish songwriter Momus, an Aluminum Group fan.
"At this stage in her career," John says, "Cynthia only wants to cast the people she likes. Of course, she wants to cast Frankie and me, but Frankie is very modest."
Walters is a pop-music critic for The Advocate.
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|Title Annotation:||Aluminum Group musicians, and brothers, converse, communicate, and compose in a code of their own|
|Publication:||The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)|
|Article Type:||Brief Article|
|Date:||Oct 12, 1999|
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