By Samuel Stevens
Release Date: July 24, 2020
Genre: Pop Punk, Rock
Label: Hopeless Records
The Welsh pop punk group Neck Deep return looking to raise the stakes once more with their fourth album, All Distortions Are Intentional. Neck Deep’s brand new work is the biggest and boldest step in their creative evolution as songwriters over an ongoing eight year career.
All Distortions Are Intentional is an immersive conceptual journey from its beginning to its end featuring multiple bangers. The twelve track release was produced by Grammy nominated producer Matt Squire, who has worked with some notable talent such as Panic! At The Disco, Underøath, Ariana Grande, and One Direction, to name a select few. The album was recorded at the acclaimed Monnow Valley Studio, where Squire and Neck Deep’s creative juices organically began to flow. Finally, the album was mixed by vocalist Ben Barlow’s brother Seb Barlow, who has been a long time collaborator of the band. By the end of the entire process, Seb grew so fond of this album’s material that he formally joined the band as their new bassist.
All Distortions Are Intentional is centered on the storytelling of classic rock, has all the shades of the punk genre seen in the past, a light sprinkling of pop, and is rounded out with a modern dose of pop punk to drive the band forward with no set genre to hold them down. The band has always stood out on their own, but have created their own sound that’s absolutely and unapologetically Neck Deep. All Distortions Are Intentional is Neck Deep’s first exploration into writing a concept album, which is rich with themes of disconnection, existential confusion, the search for meaning, and more. The whole album revolves around a character named Jett, who lives in a place referred to as “Sonderland,” a combination of “wonderland” and the word “sonder,” which means “the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own.”
Jett feels disconnected and disillusioned until he falls in love with a girl named Alice. Even this new relationship brings it’s challenges; Jett is a victim of limerence and the only thing he loves about the world is Alice. Some of the album’s songs also explore Alice’s view of Jett. As their story unfolds over the twelve tracks, the importance of meaning and purpose for each other shines bright. Vocalist Ben Barlow believed it was best to write a concept album that connects with the fictional and real world. The current state of modern music is based around the single whereas writing an album -let alone a concept album that’s heavy on it’s storytelling- isn’t held nearly in the same regard as it once was.
Jett and Alice’s story starts with the opening track, “Sonderland,” setting the story in motion with a track describing the world these characters are living in, while also setting the mood of some of the subject matter and what Jett is going through. Barlow belts the choruses lyrics; “Welcome to my dark despair / Everyone here is a nightmare / As they all keep talking in their sleep / I am wondering if it surely gets better than this.” As he sings, the story begins to fall into place.
“Fall” is an infectious tune touching on excess and escapism found through substances and social situations to cope with the internal struggles of life. Jett and Alice’s life as outcasts and living with no cares is showcased in another infectious tune, “Lowlife.” Jett’s realization for his love of Alice can be heard in the track “When You Know,” as heard in the song’s lyrics, “Sunshine, we don’t belong here / We got no flowers to grow / But it feels so good with you on me, baby / Yeah, it feels so good when you know.” At the midpoint of the album comes the track “Quarry.” This particular dark, ninety second interlude style track brings the album down with a little gloom.
Following the eeriness of “Quarry,” the darker themes continue as Jett begins to question his existence, wondering if he’ll wake up one day and if it will all be over. Tracks “Empty House” and “Little Dove” are All Distortions Are Intentional‘s acoustic guitar driven, acoustic pop tracks. Acoustic tracks have always been a centerpiece for the band on all three of Neck Deep’s previous albums Wishful Thinking (2014), Life’s Not out to Get You (2015), and The Peace and the Panic (2017).
“We drift like lonely planets and feel like, like cold moons / Like satellites drawn to your gravity / I revolve around you,” sung during the chorus of the penultimate track, “I Revolve (Around You),” once again touches on Jett and Alice’s love for each other with how they get by every day by being with one another. All Distortions Are Intentional ends with the disheartening and explosive track, “Pushing Daisies.” Jett shares his final view of his entire life as he’s preparing for the end resulting in the perfect send off to this world, these characters, and story that was created by Ben Barlow and his band mates Dani Washington, Matt West, Sam Bowden, and Seb Barlow.