Album Review: All Distortions Are Intentional // Neck Deep


Neck Deep’s 2017 release, In Bloom, marked a pivotal evolution of the band’s sound, moving away from the more generic conventions of the pop-punk genre. The heavier sounds of past releases, such as their 2013 EP, Rain in July, dramatically softened and the catchy, relatable lyrics of In Bloom made way for greater listening accessibility. Somehow, lead vocalist’s Ben Barlow’s angsty presentation of teenage resentment against your parents made the pop-punk genre seem considerably less daunting. Following their changing sound, Neck Deep left fans questioning until July 24 2020 how successful their musical evolution would be.

All Distortions Are Intentional is Neck Deep’s latest release and first conceptual album, telling the fictional story of protagonist Jett and his experience of falling in love with Alice, aptly named to fit with the track ‘Sonderland’: a portmanteau of ‘sonder’ and ‘wonderland’. Although this is not the band’s only personal album, with ‘The Peace and The Panic’ being largely inspired by the passing of Ben Barlow’s father, the album’s chronology follows a relatable journey, tracking emotions from love through to heartbreak. However, each song can be understood and felt just as intensely without knowing that Jett’s story runs the length of the album.

The album opens with ‘Sonderland’, forming an initial narrative insight Jett’s depressive tendencies and worldview, despising both himself and life around him; “Welcome to my dark despair, Everyone here is a nightmare”. The band carries out a lyrical critique on normalised aspects of society, such as social media and the injustice of life favouring “terrible people” – both of these are recognisable in the public and personal spheres of our own lives. However, despite the pessimistic content of ADAI’s opener, Barlow’s catchy lyrics alongside the combination of Dan Washington’s drums and Matt West’s guitar presents a deceivingly upbeat tune. The album opens with a beautiful irony, contradicting the depressing image of today’s society with an underlying hope for better.

From the tracklist, it is clear that All Distortions Are Intentional reflects the unpredictability of everyday life. More critical, pessimistic tracks such as ‘Sick Joke’ and ‘Empty House’ are interspersed by songs of infatuation and romance: ‘I Revolve (Around You)’ and ‘When You Know’ hyperbolically mark moments of falling in love. The album hits peaks and troughs of positivity and depression by the mostly upbeat music framing pessimistic lyrics. Perhaps this reflects the ups and downs of everyday life, perhaps a comment on the social pressure to act perfectly fine, hiding any indication of internal struggle and unhappiness. With both of these suggestions in mind, it is safe to say that All Distortions Are Intentional has something to offer for all listeners, making it Neck Deep’s most successful album in terms of relatability and personal connection. All this is achieved while simultaneously appealing to a more popular, less punk crowd with its lighter sounds and Barlow’s catchy, lyrical talent.

Despite the noticeable move away from the heavier, stereotypical pop-punk sounds that defined the band’s youth, there is no doubt that the album is evidently “Neck Deep”. ‘Little Dove’ is reminiscent of the band’s 2014 track ‘Candour’ with its slowness and emotional intensity. Both songs explore similar themes of loss and unexpected change through losing a loved one to death and breaking off a relationship. 

Whilst nostalgia for the band’s past sound flickers in brief moments throughout the album, a new sense of exploration into undiscovered territory is marked by ‘Quarry’, the shortest track on the album. The song portrays a dark state of mind in an almost slow motion, melancholic tone. Barlow’s monotonous vocals insinuates an alarming numbness compared to the emotional extremes reached by other songs on the album. Unlike any track Neck Deep has released before, ‘Quarry’ highlights the band’s curiosity to experiment with new genres and sounds, pin-pointing their determination to grow within the music industry. It is their willingness to experiment with unfamiliar sounds that intrigues fans and attracts new ones, keeping the band afloat and relevant. This ultimately makes their move away from the confines of stereotypical pop-punk a huge success, All Distortions Are Intentional soloidifying this achievement.

While we can currently enjoy one of Neck Deep’s most defining albums digitally, curiosity remains as to how the band’s new popular sound will translate live. Following Neck Deep’s re-scheduling of their UK tour from September 2020 to April 2021 as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, it seems fans of the new release will have to wait to see their question answered. However, Neck Deep’s ‘Live From Lockdown’ videos can give us an insight into the potential success of ADAI’s future live performance. 

Words by Flossie Palmer

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