July 22, 2020 Neck Deep – All Distortions Are Intentional (Album Review)
If life in 2020 is beginning to feel like a sick joke, well, the Welsh lads in “the biggest band you’ve never heard of,” Neck Deep, have a story that touches on this on their latest, All Distortions Are Intentional. Hopeless Records delivers the catchy Pop Punk collection on Friday, July 24th, 2020.
Formed in 2012 in Wrexham, Wales, UK, Neck Deep wasted no time in bursting onto the global music scene. Originally releasing two independent EPs, the band would go on to deliver their full-length debut, Wishful Thinking, in 2014. Prolific creators, over the next three years they would also crank out 2015’s Life’s Not Out to Get You and 2017’s The Peace and the Panic, which was a massive commercial success for the band, landing them at No. 2 on the Billboard Top 200 Albums Chart.
Success did not come overnight, and amid line-up changes the boys have toured relentlessly to bring their music to the masses. Stints with the likes of blink-182 and Lil’ Wayne, Knuckle Puck, We Are the In Crowd, Trophy Eyes, and more, paved the way for spots on the Vans Warped Tour, awards from Alternative Press, Rock Sound, and Kerrang!, and a chance to collaborate with Jeremy McKinnon of A Day To Remember.
So what’s next for Neck Deep—Vocalist Ben Barlow, Guitarists Sam Bowden and Matt West, Bassist Seb Barlow, and Drummer Dani Washington? Well, that would be album number cuatro, All Distortions Are Intentional. Produced by the Grammy-nominated Matt Squire (Panic! at the Disco, Underøath), the 12-song collection allows the band to explore a modern, conceptual tale that is bursting with themes of disconnection, existential confusion and the search for meaning. This should come as no major shock to fans, who already know the relatable band for their catchy take on weighty personal topics such as loneliness, depression, and anxiety.
In fact, there’s an upbeat, joyousness as All Distortions Are Intentional kicks off to “Sonderland,” a place that Vocalist Barlow, or main character Jett, doesn’t quite understand. Not fitting in, dark days, and a hope that life will get better than this coalesce here into a catchy bop that is apt to draw in those that are feeling like they lack somewhere to belong. Here there are no politics, no social sciences, just that existentialism need for something greater than the self. It’s weighty, but they balance this by moving into Bowden and West’s twinkling guitar attack to launch the mid-tempo “Fall.”
Being young and dumb sits at the center of “Lowlife,” which properly introduces our two lead characters—the aforementioned Jett and the love of his life, Alice. While the track, much like its accompanying album, has a conceptual tale behind it, it’s not one that beats the listener over the head with storylines. Instead, the two comfortable outcasts stand as a mirror for the band themselves (as well as the listener), who are offering a criticism on the often mindless frivolity of youth. Again, there’s an underlying concept to the album, wherein Jett is opening his eyes to the complicated facets of all of the lives occurring in tandem to his own; achieving the epiphany that we are all cogs in a wheel facing our own issues, none any less important than the rest and all supporting characters in the stories of one another.
A stand-out amid the collection, the saccharine sweetness that introduces “Telling Stories” explodes into upbeat Punk vibes and an infectious track that will have fans singing along en masse. Then, Barlow dips into the lower range of his vocals, leading his bandmates into “When You Know.” A perfect complement to “Telling Stories,” it sees Neck Deep and their characters exploring the idea of following the one you love anywhere—because when you know, you know.
Darker, sludgier melancholy taints “Quarry” with a Hip-Hop pacing to its vocal performance. Obliterating the Punk-Pop mold, they step into something entirely different and, while the song is more of an interlude, it works magically. Bouncing back, another stand-out, “Sick Joke,” plays off this switch in mood and utilizes grittier textures as it crafts an earworm that is a perfect anthem for 2020, where life has indeed seemingly become a twisted joke—but we’re still here, still standing.
Sweet ballad “What Took You So Long?” discusses a love that makes us feel significant. When that love goes away, we have an “Empty House” where we sit in solitude. Trying to feel okay, searching for a light at the end of the tunnel, this is the downside of romance. Meanwhile, there’s a delicate mood to “Little Dove” that flutters across the senses beautifully, evoking deep emotion. Again, Neck Deep break out of their mold to explore something that is semi-acoustic with a lovely, almost Folk sensibility to its arrangement.
Understandably, the pace picks up for the toe-tapper “I Revolve (Around You),” where a New Found Glory influence feels somewhat prominent. Realizing that this love was meant to be—and that Carl Sagan knows something about this pale blue dot—they weave a catchy rocker that returns to the joyfulness that kicked off the collection. Ultimately, they wrap up the LP with some blooms in the mid-tempo “Pushing Daisies.” An admission that love can change our lives for the better, there’s an almost Country-inspired feel to the guitar work as the band offer musings on learning to let go and let life be. Amid these vast epiphanies, the track builds into bold sonics and swirls across the senses like a giant middle finger that closes out All Distortions Are Intentional with attitude.
Again, while there is a conceptual tale that binds together the pages of All Distortions Are Intentional, it’s not one that you are beaten over the head with and, yes, you can take the songs piecemeal. Jett and Alice stand as little more than mirrors for our own foibles in life, and there’s a solid reminder sitting at the heart of the LP that each of us is no better than the rest, and love is almost always the answer. For many, the pièce de résistance of the album will assuredly be “Sick Joke,” which is a perfect reminder that, while 2020 might feel like the end, it’s merely a hurdle in the plot of each of our life stories.
Often reaching far beyond Pop-Punk, and yet with a similar vibe to their forebears in Good Charlotte, New Found Glory, and Simple Plan, Neck Deep is a band with heart who are not afraid to be real. So while All Distortions Are Intentional is a bold undertaking, it’s also a sincere look at what it means to be human. For this, Cryptic Rock gives Neck Deep’s latest 4 of 5 stars.