Album Review: Neck Deep – All Distortions Are Intentional
Four albums in and staring down the barrel of a decade doing this soonish, Neck Deep could be forgiven for feeling like it might be time to start growing up and leaving the sophomoric trappings of youth behind them. Or to put it more bluntly, this is when most bands become boring, slow down and fiddle with winning formulas in the name of experimentation. It happens, even with the best of intentions and almost always sucks, but credit to the Wrexham lads for finding a way of moving the needle without losing the plot, or any of the qualities that make them one of the UK’s increasingly beloved rock acts.
All Distortions Are Intentional – the band’s fourth record and first to feature frontman Ben Barlow’s brother and long-time, behind-the-scenes contributor Seb as a full-time member – is a joyous missive that rises like a rocket, lighting up the sky with fresh and unexpected explosions on each track. It’s huge, frankly. As the songs scurry off on conceptual tangents, they relay the tale of protagonist Jett’s lovelorn and existential travels through the make-believe world of Sonderland. You can go as deep as you like with that, or you can admire the surface sheen, but whatever level of input preferred, there is much to be gained. The opening rush of Sonderland, Fall, Lowlife, Telling Stories and When You Know offer a lesson in dynamics, switching seamlessly between high-octane yet tuneful bursts and holding back to let the melodies really breathe. Quarry operates like a sonic dam, grinding into a moody, hazy slouch before the more contemplative second half of the record explores all sorts of multifaceted pop jams with impressive maturity.
Where they were once in obvious thrall to their heroes and the limiting tropes of the pop-punk scene, All Distortions… finds Neck Deep confirming what previous albums have in their own ways hinted at. This is a band who have found their own voice, with a self-assurance and expansion sewn into the sound and the songwriting that makes for more than the sum of its parts. Bringing the older Barlow brother in on bass is a canny move for a band whose ranks have been subject to some instability in the past. Just as smart is hiring the guiding, experienced hand of GRAMMY-nomminated Matt Squire (Panic! At The Disco, One Direction) on production duties, hitting a sweet spot that allows the personality inherent in the songs to shine while simultaneously elevating them to heights previously only imagined. Perhaps the grand environs of the legendary Monnow Valley studio helped too, but it all adds up to something special that the gang of kids who started out on this path all those years ago could have never dreamed themselves capable of making.
‘We’ve come so far / So far from where we were before’ Ben sings as penultimate track I Revolve (Around You) slides into view, inadvertently summing up what his band have managed on All Distortions…. He reserves even stronger words for the closing dispatches of final song Pushing Daisies, but no spoilers here. Needless to say it’s a fiery sign-off, delivered with relish, and like the record on the whole, designed to shut down any dissenting voices. Job very much done.
For Fans Of: All Time Low, Boston Manor, Trophy Eyes
Neck Deep’s new album All Distortions Are Intentional is out July 24 via Hopeless Records – pre-order/pre-save your copy now.
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