The Aluminum Group

Wonder Boy

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The self-released debut by Chicago-based brothers Frank and John Navin establishes the Aluminum Group as full-fledged members of the chamber pop brigade (a position the brothers would wisely distort with every release after that, starting with 1997's Magnetic Fields homage, Plano), with a clear sense of history that stretches back as far as the Mancini-Bacharach axis of easy listening pop but holds more in common with later practitioners in the field. While there's still a certain resemblance to the Magnetic Fields in a couple of places ("The Smallest Man in the World," especially), that seems more due to the influence of the same early-'80s indie pop pioneers. The beautifully sparse, jazzy opener, "Chocolates" (later remade on Plano, a version that sounds much worse in comparison to the original), bears striking resemblance to the beatnik-esque jazz-pop of the Young Marble Giants, yet never resorts to mere mimicry. The usual strings and muted horns appear on many tracks, but the spacious arrangements, heavy on acoustic guitars and upright bass and colored by subtle keyboards, sound more of a piece with early Everything But the Girl and Felt. And honestly, following up a chamber pop version of Guns N' Roses' "Sweet Child O' Mine" with a very similar arrangement of Lerner & Loewe's "Loverly" betrays a certain twisted genius. The Aluminum Group certainly don't rock -- at their most heated, they sway gently from side to side -- but Wonder Boy is a soft pop gem.

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