Album Review: Neck Deep- ‘All Distortions Are Intentional’
Since 2012, Neck Deep have been tirelessly pushing the boundaries to create music that is inventive and innovative, carefully escaping the clutches of the genre that seems to have such a tight grip upon them. Recently, Neck Deep released their highly anticipated studio album, ‘All Distortions Are Intentional’; a celebration of new stories, new journeys, and a fully re-conceptualised sound. Submerged in the essence of a band that is confident within their messages, morals, and perspectives, Neck Deep continues to prove that although you ‘can’t kick up the roots’, you can certainly climb upon them to reach new heights.
Sonderland presents itself as our first invitation into the new world Neck Deep have created; a world that is both fictional, and an extension of our own realm. Its opening is intrusive. From the earphone, it already holds an opening that could introduce them to any stage, local or worldwide. Extending upon this is the nature of the track’s deep and melodic instrumentals. Seamlessly, they intertwine with that of Ben’s vocals, skilfully executing a perfect partnership and cohesiveness; essential to developing the somewhat assumed paradise that Sonderland presents itself as. Speaking of Ben’s vocals, they evidently amplify the tone, which is one of great emotion and motivation, exuding the feelings of a persona yearning for something greater, albeit something we are still privy to within this first track. In our own personal world, Sonderland plays upon the lack of consciousness within today’s society; “As they all keep talking in their sleep, I am wondering”. Lines, such as these, become essential in allowing us to ponder if we could be the next individual to make a change, to break the mould of a society so infatuated by the manufactured. Although there is a detachment from what we once knew, we are yet to see if this division is for the better- amplifying the aims of this complex story-line, where we gain knowledge as the personas do! Skilfully, this track is both a nostalgic and heart-warming introduction, opening a portal to Neck Deep’s new world and commentary.
Just one of the many celebrated singles, ‘Fall’ cements itself into the album through its glorious transition from ‘Sonderland’. The simplistic instrumentals that encompass this track once again place emphasis on Ben’s vocals. Evidently, this reliance on vocals to assert the story stems from immense development in both skill and confidence- which is something notable throughout the entirety of this album. ‘Fall’s’ anthemic choruses ring throughout for many listens to come, lingering and impactful- the true trademarks of a passion-filled song that ultimately ingrains itself within the audience. From an early stage, it is evident to see that although subtle, each song is packed to the brim with emotion. Upon my first listen, this album made me feel fragile, vulnerable and on the verge of tears (whether that be from how proud I am, or because of the songs themselves)! In more ways than one, this is a true depiction of the processes of the band with this album, and how it was clearly one undertaken with ounces of pain, passion, and purpose.
‘Lowlife’ is the ultimate change of pace, placing a large emphasis upon the reminiscent and nostalgic nature of the band’s punk past, as well as their many punk influences. This intertwinement of the both the old and the new subsequently creates a unique mould for the next era of pop-punk. Although vulnerable, it still maintains the foundational pillars of angst, rawness, and outspokenness. In a new way, instrumentals carry the song into an unexplored realm of self-awareness; all done with a beat that is both definite, yet unexpected. Of course, this level of personal reflection is only strengthened by the lyrics; “I’m a lowlife, living the slow life, baby, I’ll see you in Hell”. Fun and protruding from its more-serious pals, ‘Lowlife’ is an anthem for the underappreciated, and a timeless tune for those seeking reassurance for themselves.
Already one of my favourites, and quickly becoming a fan favourite, ‘Telling Stories’ presents a new exploration of thought and delivery. The instrumentals within this track act as a bridge, plastering the gap between this transitional phase of music for Neck Deep.. Unlocking their own sense of self, all cards are on the table- from old roots to new beginnings. However, there is never a moment where their sense of individualism and identity is not maintained, which is perhaps one of the most spectacular things about not only this record, but this band. Although it seems cliche to say, ‘Telling Stories’ is also one of the most profound representations of the ability to tell a story (although this skill has never gone astray within Neck Deep albums). Perhaps key to this is the utilisation of both high and expected vocal notes that create almost a conversational piece- allowing us to intrude upon the thoughts fleeing through the world of Sonderland. Through jarring lyricism and effective instrumentals, more than the story is communicated; instead, it is the delivery of emotion, rawness and the leeway for personal connection that makes this so incredible.
When You Know
Coming from its podium as yet another strong stand-alone single, ‘When You Know’ contextualises and grounds itself within the album of ‘All Distortions Are Intentional’ by contrasting those around it. Slower and sombre, the track is evidently drawn from personal experiences, only developed through the recurring in-song discussion of the Sonderland story line. The track follows a realisation of feelings, a revelation that the ‘something’ that is inside cannot be restrained. In many ways, the deeply personal discussion of what it means to connect only amplifies the paramount connection between artist and audience. There is an allowance for the ideas within this song, taken from the world of Sonderland, to intrude upon our own lives, allowing for reflection and realisation. The reflective and intimate nature of this track creates something truly diverse. Although an exploration of personal ideals, we as an audience are expected to associate our own lives within the song- creating the ultimate tool for connection.
In a direct juxtaposition through tone, instrumentals and vocals, ‘Quarry’ is an unexpected but necessary inclusion, permeating through the album due to its almost central placement. When contrasted upon the ideas of the songs that reigned before it, it is jarring and rattling. Notions of self- awareness and assuredness crumble into a sense of both longing and unknowing. Skilfully, this acts as an accurate representation of the life we have come to know, filled with jarring personal changes that have only been able to occur through the instability of life. Through its distant nature from the album, yet its ability to maintain a consistency to the story, Neck Deep have displayed a highly sought after duality- unlocking a versatility within their sound that many others fail to reach. Although shorter than anticipated, ‘Quarry’ is packed with emotion and hard-hitting vulnerability, the trademarks of a track infused with passion.
Picking the pace back up, but still maintaining a level of sombreness, is the next track, ‘Sick Joke’. From first listen, there is one thing that stood out to me, that being the striking combination of this double-edged metaphor and simile; “And I’ll hold on to a moment, like a sad kid to a blanket”. These lyrics, for me, play upon the futility and mortality of our human life. In a greater way, it becomes a representation of our comforts within life, and how they are quickly fraying away. Ringing true for me as a listener, lyrics, such as these, highlight the importance of connection in music, and how they can be the pillars for personal change and revelation. Personally, I feel there is a level of awareness this song provides; particularly that of recognising what you have, whilst also acknowledging that what we place our livelihood within may not be there forever. These notions are certainly played upon throughout the rest of the track, especially through the unexpected placements of vocals. In turn, these subtle elements play upon the frailties, fragility and constant shifts of what surrounds us, therefore presenting itself as unexpected and different. Already one of my favourites, ‘Sick Joke’ is powerful and intrusive, once again illuminating the power of connection within Neck Deep tracks.
What Took You So Long
Yet again, the band have utilised new creative directions to present their songs in a new and unseen way. Although beginning very stripped and weary, ‘What Took You So Long’ flourishes into a piece encompassed in confidence and sturdiness. So too, this song grasps onto the universality of its contents. I think upon listening to this album, one of the key elements lies within the application of the stories of Sonderland to our own individual lives. It is with this in mind, that songs like ‘What Took You So Long’ become anthems for the individuals enduring their own personal exploration of emotion and experiences.
‘Empty House’ is personally one of the most profound pieces of work from this album, presenting messages of hopelessness and existentialism- fitting for a time like this within our own society. Perhaps this bold claim is best shown through the line; “cause all this doom and gloom, is clouding me and I can’t see past you”. There is a sense of defeat that expands upon the past exploration of self, alluding to the fact that perhaps this sudden change is stemming from a realisation. From a past place of clarity, ‘Empty House’ presents the true nature of the battles within our existence; the certain becomes uncertain, and a lack of concreteness grows within what we thought we once knew. Seamlessly, Neck Deep utilises the instrumentals to help plead this case- holding their own dire tone, illustrating a sense of longing towards the answers of the questions that we can never answer. Shifting the tone, this track is vulnerable and profound, only adding to the complex stories that Sonderland reflects back upon our own world.
Although it is an acoustic track, ‘Little Dove’ certainly does not feel tokenistic. This is primarily due to its place in not only the Sonderland story-line, but the story that we as a listener have been immersed into. There is a sense of growth that comes from not only the nature of an acoustic track, but the vulnerability derived from the lyrics. Despite the tone, there is not so much sadness, but perhaps a sense of longing for what once existed- a recurring theme that exudes through many tracks. The nature of modernity is also commented upon, expressing that values we have adopted, and the values that we have decided to abandon, have perhaps caused our own detriment. Bravely, this song is a bold commentary upon the nature of our own world, alluding to the ways we have stripped ourselves from the answers, from freedom, and from a state of being content with what surrounds us.
I Revolve (Around You)
Before the album was even released, this was quite an important song for me- particularly due to my participation within the ‘Neck Deep Puzzle Challenge’. After hours of dedication and sleuth work, I was fortunate enough to crack the code. But most important to this endeavour was the experience. I gained friends from far and wide, and became encompassed within a community of kind and compassionate individuals. Without even hearing the track, I knew that from that moment, the song would hold connotations of the experiences of that night; experiences shrouded in kindness, compassion and unity. Upon listening, I certainly was not disappointed. In fact, my own personal attitudes became amplified by the personas of the story. ‘I Revolve’ juxtaposes that of its previous tracks, highlighting the realisation of boundless and unrestrained love. Interestingly, I feel this song also presents a pivotal moment within the journey of Sonderland. This track makes a reference to Carl Sagan, which in my humble perspective, presents a large allusion to the power of imagination; “Imagination will often carry us to worlds that never were” (Carl Sagan). In this hidden gem, I feel as though we, the audience, are finally equipped with the tools that allow us to become consumed by the world that Neck Deep has created. Without imagination, not only do we limit ourselves from the portal into Sonderland, but we place the ultimate hindrance upon the connections that can be made. ‘I Revolve’ is a beautiful track that extends from its title as the prize from the Neck Deep Puzzle Competition, instead becoming a rightful contender for one of the most heartfelt tracks on this album.
As the last track, ‘Pushing Daisies’ had many shoes to fill, and many knots to tie. In a different but realistic approach, this track does not hold all the answers, nor does it conclude the journey of Sonderland. Instead, this track asserts the feeling of being content with the uncertainty, as this is what fuels us to want, to know, and to live for something more. Through this song, Neck Deep allows us to find solace within the previous feelings of instability, instead directing us to find comfort within the fact we are all walking upon the same path, shaped by the same world. ‘Pushing Daisies’ solidifies that although we may not extend from the same roots, we all have the opportunity to grow to the same heights.
Through its diverse track-list and dual story-line, Neck Deep have revolutionised what it means to solidify your stance within a shifting world. ‘All Distortions Are Intentional’ is not only an exploration of personal endeavours and the world of Sonderland, but is a pathway for audience connection, allowing listeners, like myself, to find comfort and solace within the lessons and morals of the story-line. Removing themselves from boundary constraints, Neck Deep have created something that is rightfully their own; unique and beautiful, it is truly a work of art. ‘All Distortions Are Intentional’ is all hype, all heart, and an all-encompassing commentary upon what it means to be human.