Maybe There’s No Heaven
Despite an art style suggesting the most rugged, heavily-bearded alt-punk you’ve ever heard, Short Stack’s newest album is demonstrably not that. The closest they’ve really ever got is through their earlier pop-punk work (a stretch so major you can practically hear the hamstrings snapping), but now five albums in, that’s effectively become garnish for unabashedly contemporary, polished-to-perfection pop-rock. And there’s nothing wrong with, given that this is quite well done. To an extent anyway, given that Short Stack’s most flagrant shortcoming on Maybe There’s No Heaven is just rigid they are to their genre in terms of lyrics, not only in some rather stock relationship sentiments, positive and negative, but also phraseology where you’d expect a band over a decade-and-a-half deep to be punching higher. That’s relatively easy to look past when Short Stack really hit their melodic stride though, in the sort of pop-rock caked in memorable hooks that, thankfully, doesn’t shun some organic muscle either. That’s probably the least impactful feature, but it’s not nothing either; there’s a nice crispness to the guitars on Armageddon and Shinigami that balances out with the produced embellishments on Burn You Down and Love You Like I Used To that, when not smothering and overpowering like so many will, are rather effective at cultivating a stormier atmosphere. But Maybe There’s No Heaven wants you to stay for how airtight and infectious Short Stack are at pretty much every turn. Their energy feeds into that a lot as a means of really cutting back any fat, and in the first half or so especially, they rarely miss in terms of a big, adrenalised hook that feels crucially powerful. Where some pop-rock bands rely on their own ‘modern’ qualities to carry a blatant flawed prospect, to see Short Stack just go for broke on on Dancing With The Devil or Sunshine is so refreshing. There are no airs and graces put on of a band too good to embrace their own power, nor is there fashionable disaffection that gets boring in a hurry (save for maybe Lights Out where its trap focus isn’t nearly as compelling overall). To an point then, you can tell that Short Stack are a band from a different time; their methods are much more straightforward and punchy, and subsequently longer-lasting for it. Perhaps not in a way that’ll overtake those with immovable clout, but speaking personally if nothing else, the extra appeal in something like Short Stack by comparison truly can’t be overstated.
For fans of: Hands Like Houses, Sleeping With Sirens, The Getaway Plan
‘Maybe There’s No Heaven’ by Short Stack is released on 8th April on UNFD.
Out Of Love
So Far, So Good
Out Of Love’s So Far, So Good might be classed as their debut album, but that doesn’t feel entirely true. It’s actually a collection of their previous EPs with a few new tracks added on, more a collation of work from a band who, in their relatively short existence, have impressed pretty regularly. Though that comes with the caveat of only having small EPs before this, which can generally be graded on a curve that needs to be revised when treating them as a full body of work. To a degree, that could’ve been predicted earlier, in how punk and grunge are mashed together in deliberately shaggy fashion, but So Far, So Good properly pins down where that can go awry the most. Particularly, it spotlights a sameness in ideas that being broken up into smaller pieces could avoid, and when brought together, the similarities in sounds, themes and even just tempos are harder to miss and overlook. It’s where the greatest indications of Out Of Love’s original plans to be a predominantly live band come out most; there’s a lot of roaring muscle and scope here that lends itself far more readily to a live setting where the energy will ultimately carry it. But even so, they’re making the best of what they have here, in a keen command of melody and Jack Rogers’ deliberately untrained vocals, affixing a slacker-punk aesthetic with some drive that the sound can often sorely miss. The lyrical themes can feel a bit staid when they’re not moving too far from the unmotivated stupor of mid-20s life—it’s why My Perfect World and Dog Daze do ultimately stick out more, simply for setting their viewpoints to be a bit brighter—but it’s something that Out Of Love can still sell. With all of this material put together, it gives off the impression of a band who’ve found an unequivocal comfort zone; they’ve exploring it with some pliability, but eventually they’ll still snap back to what they know they’re good at. And that in itself isn’t a bad thing, not when it remains generally snappy throughout and fixed to production that amplifies the texture and unkempt tone rather well. To further that point, for a release like this that could signify the end of Out Of Love’s initial era, going into maybe a full album proper, a catalogue of their existing strengths like this is useful to have and build off. All that is to say, Out Of Love can definitely do more, but expecting that from a release that primarily serves as a means of taking stock of where they are might be expecting more than they’re currently delivering.
For fans of: Milk Teeth, Drug Church, Fizzy Blood
‘So Far, So Good’ by Out Of Love is released on 8th April on Venn Records.
Death Or Glory
Even with a name that sounds like a village cricket team (it’s actually a ‘50s sci-fi novel about parasitic aliens, which makes a bit more sense), Midwich Cuckoos are a rather lairy bunch. Between the semi-revolving-door lineup and a six-person outfit spanning a wide breadth of influences, there’s definitely a liberated feeling to Midwich Cuckoos that crystallises in something not unlike Motörhead erring further on the sides of punk and hard rock. Not really the sort of thing that could sustain a 22-track album then, with plenty of intros and interludes to clutter up the tracklist and exacerbate some already significant bloat. Indeed, Death Or Glory’s habit of overreaching is what caps it most solidly, simply because Midwich Cuckoos aren’t embracing the leanness and killer instincts that make a sound like this work. Particularly as it progresses, the interchangeability begins to set in, as does the realisation that, regardless of how far their individual tastes and sources stretch, cumulatively there isn’t the same expanse. Cut this down though, and it’d be a much different story; the issues with Death Or Glory mostly come down to formatting, not the music itself. On those terms, the throttling riffs and punk energy carry plenty of weight, more so than just another crowd of throwback chancers when the production is this deliberately matted and hoary. From when it revs up and roars into life on Majesty that’s kept fairly consistent throughout, as Midwich Cuckoos chug forward regardless of some diminishing steam and, nevertheless, try to make as much of their huge visions as they can. It helps that they’ve got a rhythm section that can keep the momentum running for longer—definitely a run-on from their punk side—and a vocalist like Tanzy Velayne carries a caterwauling rockstar presence, right down to a self-insert narrative flagrantly pulling from the playbook of classic metal excess and cheese. Before it hits its limit, Death Or Glory proves to be a good bit of fun, frenzied and freewheeling in all the right ways, with a cast of performers who’ve locked in a way to pull this off successfully with no hassle. It’s just a shame the whole package is bogged down to the extent that it is, and that Midwich Cuckoos first impression with this newly cemented lineup could’ve been even stronger.
For fans of: Motörhead, Discharge, Darko
‘Death Or Glory’ by Midwich Cuckoos is released on 8th April on Onslaught Music Group.
There’s something to be said in a band like Cosmic Ninja’s favour, who clearly want to do good and get their message out there in an exciting, vital way. Plus, they’re still fairly new and tied to their local scene, which makes the capacity of their intentions all the more encouraging. But it also sets them up for something they can’t really withstand, namely the sheer wall standing in between them and their end goal that their current means just aren’t equipped to scale whatsoever. There’s certainly effort put intoorbiting around the crossover sphere of Hadouken! or even Pendulum’s rock crossover work, in that it feels just as unfortunately dated and with precious little of the spark that even once could’ve worked. You could say it’s about a decade out of date, but Enter Shikari were still around then and were far more creatively satisfying. Instead, Cosmic Ninja are on a quasi-punk / alt-metal bent with most of the bite ripped away, and only a decent ear for pace left in its wake. That can at least pull back a song like By Design with a lockstep rollick, but it doesn’t amount to much. Dissident Transmission lacks a lot of the power necessary on all fronts, where the guitars might by meaty but largely toothless, and even the electronics yield little more than a faint backing buzz or wub to feel mildly ‘contemporary’. The effort is definitely worth something to be more than just another Britrock footnote destined to live and die within the confines of their own city, yet that isn’t much of a consolation. The clear silhouette of the juggernauts that Enter Shikari have become is in their line of sight, though that’s a marathon’s distance away at this stage. It does circle back to the lyrics and how Cosmic Ninja make broad political jabs and rely almost entirely on Tamsin Cullum and Jonny Angelini’s vocals for the power. It’s just the sort of boilerplate, ‘stand up, fight back’ sentiment that, honestly, you’d expect from a band at this level; at least that mitigates disappointment somewhat, but not enough for a pass. At least Cosmic Ninja have the benefit of being new and having time to sharpen all of this out, but you could also argue that a lot of that could be done before commercial releases start coming out. That’s not to say they can’t be great in future though, even if they’re a way off the real deal now.
For fans of: Enter Shikari, Sonic Boom Six, Hadouken!
‘Dissident Transmission’ by Cosmic Ninja is released on 8th April.
Words by Luke Nuttall