On last year's Plano (Minty Fresh), the Aluminum Group got a lot of mileage out of juxtaposing withering lyrics like "I dropped the ice pick when I saw you smile" with sickly sweet melodies, like Everything but the Girl with a subversive bent. But for their third LP, Pedals, produced by Jim O'Rourke, they've transcended that simple gimmick. The nine-minute medleylike opener, "Rrose Selavy's Valise"--the title, a Marcel Duchamp nod, is one of many references that betray the art-school background of bandleaders Frank and John Navin--unfolds into more self-sufficiently irresistible and elegant pop episodes than Paul McCartney's "Band on the Run": classic ba-ba-ba opening, soft-focus Burt Bacharach lyricism, propulsive and comparatively extroverted cameo by Amy Warren of Tallulah, lovely banjo bridge by the High Llamas' Sean O'Hagan, quietly retracting vocal coda. Many of the songs still address unsavory, lopsided, and even abusive relationships ("He's charmed your little life like a truckload off to its slaughter," sings Frank in "Easy on Your Eyes") but the orchestrations are lush rather than syrupy, fleshed out by a raft of local horn and string players; "Two-Bit Faux Construction" is as much about what's not there as what is. I haven't heard the group tackle this stuff live yet and in the past I've seen the fragility of the Navins' vocal style turn to wispiness onstage, but the band, rounded out by guitarist John Ridenour, keyboardist Liz Conant, bassist Eddie Carlson, and drummer John Blaha, has never sounded better. Thursday, November 11, 10 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western; 773-276-3600. PETER MARGASAK
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Robert Engelbright.