A collection of some grab-your-mates-and-dance bangers that leaves you hungry for a little more.
It’s clear from my plethora of t-shirts, collectable skateboards, tapes I can’t physically listen to, and ink permanently buried in my skin that I am a huge fan of Neck Deep. That being said, having listened to All Distortions Are Intentional on repeat since its release, when I’m not singing by myself in my bedroom, I can’t help but feel like something is missing.
All Distortions Are Intentional, the Wrexham collective’s fourth album, is a forty-minute romp through Sonderland, the title-track and fictional setting of the record. Conceptual in nature, and telling the story of protagonists Jett and Alice’s love, the album is certainly fun, and undeniably a great listen. It’s hardly a surprise that one of the most popular pop punk groups of the 2010s is capable of making a great pop punk album, and All Distortions Are Intentional is certainly that. The opening four tracks; ‘Sonderland’, ‘Fall’, ‘Lowlife’, and the immensely catchy ‘Telling Stories’ are a closed-fist opening barrage of punky riffs and hooks kept suitably poppy by the upbeat vocals of Ben Barlow. Similarly, the final three tracks are a glorious crescendo. ‘Little Dove’ is a beautiful song, slow and immensely singable, much like fan favourites ‘December’ and ‘Wish You Were Here’ from prior albums. ‘I Revolve (Around You)’ is a fantastic skate-park banger, and one of the songs I imagine will work wonderfully for the pit when Neck Deep can return to touring, and ‘Pushing Daisies’, the closing track, is by far and away the best on the album, truly ending All Distortions Are Intentional with a cathartic middle finger to the world.
Unfortunately, sandwiched between this stellar opening, and near perfect close, the middle tracks begin to homogenize, spare for ‘Quarry’; an expertly written comedown track with frankly stunning lyrics. It is in this middle section of the album that Neck Deep’s gradual transition from the heavy, rebellious style of 2015’s Life’s Not Out To Get You, to the mellow, calmer and overall ‘double-pop-hold-the-punk’ sound of 2017’s The Peace and The Panic is most noticeable. While this transition is not too uncommon among Neck Deep’s peers, with bands like The Story So Far having dulled their edges for a more softer sound in recent years, it feels like Neck Deep have lost something that made them so appealing to the pop punk audience they so perfectly catered to.
All Distortions Are Intentional is not Life’s Not Out To Get You, but it was never going to be. All Distortions is a symbol of a band evolved. If Life’s Not Out To Get You is a thick, heavy chocolate fudge cake, All Distortions Are Intentional is the homemade carrot cake sat next to it on the party platter: quiet, reserved, but with a deeper, more subtle taste that makes you feel like more of an adult for enjoying it. Saying that, though, all the way through the carrot cake, you can’t help but look at the fudge cake, lusting for it, and thinking that you may have made an error in judgement. Cake metaphors aside, the one thing I wanted after finishing my first listen of All Distortions Are Intentional was to put on Life’s Not Out To Get You, and I haven’t been able to shake that feeling.
Maybe it felt like the bloom was off the rose with how early they released, arguably, the best songs on the album as singles. When you feel like you’ve already heard the best parts of the album, when it finally releases, it’s like receiving a christmas present you already opened, but now you actually get to play with it rather than just look at.
With all that said, All Distortions Are Intentional is a great album. Is it Neck Deep’s best work? No. Is it a concrete move into a new sound? Yes. Does that new sound lend itself to an appealing album, with catchy choruses and memorable lyrics? Absolutely. While fans of early Neck Deep might be somewhat put off by this trimming of the punk fangs, Neck Deep’s newest release is another quality album and a good few exciting tracks to add to their consistently incredible live shows. All Distortions Are Intentional cements Neck Deep’s new sound, hinted at on The Peace and The Panic, for better or for worse… Though mostly for the better.
All Distortions Are Intentional is available now through Hopeless Records. Check out the video for ‘Lowlife’ below.