The Awkward Stage

Heaven Is for Easy Girls

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Shane Nelken is a fixture in the Vancouver pop scene, playing with A.C. Newman, Sparrow, and Vancouver Nights as well as appearing in the New Pornographers' "Use It" video. The Awkward Stage is Nelken's project, along with NP drummer Kurt Dahle, and their debut, Heaven Is for Easy Girls, is a prototypical Vancouver indie rock record. Which makes it something quite special for lovers of smart, hooky guitar pop. The sound of Heaven is built around a tight rhythm section and tough-sounding guitars sprinkled with near-perfect amounts of horns, key, and percussion. The arrangements are simple, but little surprises like the classical piano coda on "So Stupid, So Smart," the triumphant trumpet and Association-styled backing vocals on "We're Going for a Ride," or the vocal choir on "T-Rexia Nervosa" give the proceedings a substantial bump up in quality. Some of the other bands in Nelken's circle could take a hint from he and Dahle's inventive arrangements. Nelken's lyrics are unfailingly witty and delivered in about as warm and intimate a voice you'll hear; he nails the rockers head on and emotes convincingly on the ballads. Every song on the record is a winner, but the best songs stack up to the best Vancouver has to offer. "The Morons Are Winning," the lovely piano ballad "West Van Girl," "I Love You Hipster Darling," and "The Room Tone" are all destined to be in heavy rotation, and if you can listen to the title track and not end up with the hook stuck in your head all day, you are made of strong stuff indeed. Heaven Is for Easy Girls is the kind of record that will leave you with a warm feeling inside and a goofy grin on your face; it also lends more credence to the belief that Vancouver is the center of the guitar pop universe.

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