CD Review of Heaven is for Easy Girls by The Awkward Stage

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Heaven is for Easy Girls
starstarhalf starno starno star Label: Mint Records
Released: 2006
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Canada is the home to way too many indie-pop bands. Seriously, antitrust attorneys should investigate our neighbors to the north for holding a monopoly on charming, guitar-driven pop music – because they keep coming.

Yet another indie-pop band from Canada, the Awkward Stage is primarily the work of Shane Nelken, a singer/songwriter who is no stranger to the Canadian indie-pop scene. In the past Nelken has worked with both Vancouver Nights and Sparrow. Since this scene is filled with more incestuous band relationships than an Appalachian family, those two direct connections also link him to Destroyer, Zumpano, and of course, the New Pornographers, a band whose members have appeared in nearly every single record to come out of Canada since 2000.

It is no surprise then that The New Porns’ drummer, Kurt Dahle, makes an appearance on the Awkward Stage’s debut Heaven Is for Easy Girls, as does Megan Bradfield, the bass player/singer of yet another Canadian indie-pop group, the Salteens. I’m sure that there are more connections to be had to other Canadian groups here, but I don’t want to read every line of the linear notes, and this game of ‘Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon’ gone indie-rock is getting old.

Given the caliber of musicians that Nelken has managed to surround himself with, you’d think that his solo debut would be a must-listen; instead it mostly sounds like a watered-down, under-produced version of the New Pornographers’ greatest hits. Maybe the scene is already wearing itself thin; songs like the album’s opener “The Morons Are Winning” and “So Stupid, So Smart” might have sounded fresh and unique just a few years ago, but they’re just boring now. Nelken can’t blame the lukewarm sound of his debut on the overexposed scene, though, because most of the blame for blandness and tired sound of Heaven Is for Easy Girls can be pinned solely on him.

Shane Nelken isn’t a particularly strong songwriter, and while he may be a great lyricist (all of his songs have a biting sense of wit and humor), the 12 tracks on Heaven Is for Easy Girls gradually blend together into a long, boring mellow groove. His moaning vocals (which sound like a not-so-good Canadian combo of David Byrne and Thom Yorke) would work wonders in the children’s lullaby market, but don’t do that much to help his rock career. He almost sounds as bored with the music he’s recording as we are listening to it. On songs like “1,000 Teenage Hearts,” he barely seems there, sounding so out of it that John Mayer sounds like a speed freak by comparison.

What is truly upsetting about Heaven Is for Easy Girls is that you can hear the traces of an interesting and exciting album trying to get out. “We’re Going for a Ride” is an inspired Beach Boys-esque track that’ll have even the most jaded hipster tapping their Converse shoes to the beat. Speaking of hipsters, the album standout, “I Love You Hipster Darling,” is a great slam on the aging hipster group, as Shane seems to tell his love to grow up, “You’re just trying to shine while you’re still alive” and ditch the pretense. This savage burn of a track manages to shine despite the forgettable music that bogs it down.

Even with the occasional scathing line and witty remark, Heaven Is for Easy Girls is a bore of an album, by the time you hear the last song you’ll have forgotten the first one. Hell, by the time you hear the second song you’ll have forgotten the first. If you are desperate for another fix of indie-pop from our neighbors to the north, this might hold you over for a bit, but you’d be better off checking out one of the five million bands that you can trace to Nelken via his connection to the New Pornographers.

Customs should close the borders for a while and the let indie-pop scene up there die down a bit before we all drown in overly hip, jingle-jangle guitar driven pop songs. At least hockey season has started, so maybe that’ll give them something else to do for a few months.

~James B. Eldred