Wednesday, May 28, 2008
label :: myspace
I was a little slow to embrace The Awkward Stage. When I first moved to Vancouver, I saw flyers for Shane Nelken's band all over town, and I'll be honest. The headgear, blow-up doll prom cover from the last record made me think they were just another generic pop punk band with an overinflated opinion of their own importance.
But someone gave me a mix CD with a few tracks on it, and I quickly realized that Nelken's song writing is much more than just power chords and shitty lyrics about not fitting in. In fact, one or two listens to Slimming Mirrors, Flattering Lights and you'll quickly realize that his songs are almost impossible to classify. He's able to tease punk (Anime Eyes - although it evolves into so much more), folk, touching singer songwriter numbers (I Hurt The Ones That Love Me), ballads, power pop and even experiment with country and metal riffs - often in the same song.
The Sun Goes Down On Girlsville starts out like a folk track with dancing piano and gentle acoustic, when out of nowhere the band kicks in with a heavy chorus. They slowly add a jangled electric and chugging drums before ending the song with booming horns (courtesy of Chris Mitchell), falsetto harmonies and some heavy keys. Skeletal Blonde shows how easily Nelken can find a hook, as it's as infectious as any song I've heard so far this year. The strums of the acoustic matches his lyrics nicely and when Mitchell's horns finish the track you just start zoning into the song, forgetting what you are doing.
It would be easy for Nelken to hammer out indie pop riffs, but he seems to want to challenge himself. The chaos of Hey, Modern School Girl someone completely contrasts the other songs, but manages to spark the energy and flow perfectly into the delicate piano ballad, Only Good Days Caught On Camera. Mini Skirt Of X-mas Lights sounds like a terrific b-side from a Matt Costa record, but instead of settling for a catchy progression, the band explodes into horn filled electric madness and then teases the listener with a a tender Queen like melody.
Somehow, even with all these changes (even Only Good Days Caught On Camera gains momentum and becomes a surging arena worthy anthem), Nelken's songs fit together like a puzzle, leaving you with a complete product. Even with titles like Youth is a War, subject matter and band name, you wonder how someone like Nelken ever felt out of place and like he didn't belong. He may have been an outcast then, but today, chances are he'd be hitting the dance in the same limo as the prom queen.