Back in February 2020, Neck Deep announced the release date for their upcoming album All Distortions Are Intentional that was finally dropped on July 24th via Hopeless Records.
The Welsh pop-punk group consists of members Ben Barlow, Seb Barlow, Sam Bowden, Matt West, and Dani Washington. Coming from their debut album Wishful Thinking, Neck Deep have continually progressed in layering their music with richer context for every release. Nowadays, Neck Deep is unafraid of producing a highly conceptual album and All Distortions Are Intentional highlights this storytelling ability in the most beautifully haunting way.
Their 4th LP focuses heavily on immersing listeners into a fictitious world and character who is followed throughout the entirety of the album. The album starts out with introducing fans to the world of “Sonderland” where we meet our main character Jett. Leader singer Ben Barlow admits that this character is drawn heavily from his own experiences as a teenager and growing musician. However, Jett acts as a universal symbol for those who have ever felt depressed, lost, or are unsure of where they fit in throughout the world.
The deep subject matter of mental health is one that acts as a backdrop for the story that contrasts the classic pop-punk vibe the band nails so well, like an abundantly poetic Blink-182. As Jett struggles to handle his mental illness, he falls for a girl named Alice. As this relationship unfolds throughout the album, we learn about the nuances of life through upbeat vocals and riffs. Love cannot cure you, but it can bring you light. You may not ever feel like you perfectly belong, but you can learn to feel more accepted wherever you go. With every song, we are given a message that although you may never achieve perfection and your struggles will not ever vanish completely, you can learn to grow stronger through your own determination and the love that you experience.
After being introduced to Jett’s negative mental state in “Sonderland,” the album progresses to “Fall” which embodies Jett’s decision to party his depression away. However, this is where he meets Alice. The track is filled with more of an essence of happiness; softer instruments and melodic vocals from Ben that sing “fall into night, fall into light” make chills go down your spine. Jett has found a little slice of heaven within this song.
Next is the song that inspired the whole album, “Lowlife” that was released as a single in February. This song originally welcomed fans into Sonderland and introduced them to Jett and his love Alice. The track truly reveals Jett’s reckless attitude toward his behavior and possesses an edge of messiness that creates the feeling of chaos present in Jett’s mind. The vibe has a punk strength and perfect imperfection that really makes the track stand out.
After the bout of recklessness embodied in “Lowlife,” the next couple songs delve into the love that Jett is developing for Alice and introduces two minor characters, Jack and Emily. “Telling Stories” and “When You Know” are upbeat, vivacious, and reflect a time when Jett’s mental state is more stable.
Then, the album shifts once again to a darker tone to mirror how someone with depression changes rapidly from feeling okay, perhaps even happy, to trending back down to rock bottom in an instant. This descend is represented in “Quarry” and “Sick Joke,” some of the group’s favorite tracks produced for the album. Seb explains to Kerrang how he loves “the juxtaposition of having ‘When You Know’ – which is probably the sweetest song on the record – be followed by ‘Quarry,’ the darkest and most out there.” He explains how the group was at first hesitant to incorporate such a stark transition in the middle of the album, but “Ben reasoned that the fact Jett is bipolar and flits between emotions made these kinds of gearshifts make sense.”
The album transitions less starkly into “Sick Joke” which Ben explains as his favorite song on the album. The track is Jett questioning if everything that has happened to him throughout his life is just a sick joke. With more of a rock tone to the track, you can feel the negativity and sadness within it. The riffs are slower and more somber but still engaged, and the lyrics showcase that of a hurting soul. The poeticism is clear, Ben telling Kerrang the track has “one of the best metaphors I’ve ever written on it… ‘I hold on to a moment, like a sad kid to a blanket,’” which is truly how Jett and many other sufferers of mental illness feel — like a child trapped in a nightmare.
The rest of the album focuses again on Jett and Alice’s developing relationship strengthened by mutual pain and finding points of positivity in life through one another. “What Took You So Long,” heartfelt and raw, is Jett describing his experience in finding Alice as the one point of true light in his life, at one point stating “I was not me until I discovered you.” After this, the story saunters into “Empty House” which embodies the couple’s first real tribulation after a length of pure connection. The song hosts a more uneasy feeling, arguably the most classically Neck Deep sound with interesting spots of genre manipulation alongside Ben’s vocals layering hard and soft appeal with signature punk aesthetic.
“Little Dove” softens back up with Jett and Alice’s resolution, and “I Revolve (Around You)” is the culmination of their love, pain, struggle, and joy into a metaphor of outer space — otherworldly, gravitational, beyond comprehension, and absolutely undeniable. Jett realizes he revolves around Alice just like our planet revolves around the sun.
“Pushing Daisies” is the final track that wraps up this poetic pop-punk story of battling mental struggle with the dedication of love. Ben explains in the album description on Apple Music how he wanted to spread the message that “you don’t have to change the world, but you can change your world,” a message invaluable to those struggling in the same way Jett struggles. There is truth to the fact that not all of us can change the world especially for those of us prone to mental illness. In these scenarios, you are not weak by focusing on improving yourself. By doing this, you are not only helping yourself but also those around you, and that is something to be infinitely proud of.
This album will leave Neck Deep fans satisfied with a similar aesthetic and sound that has carried with them ever since their debut album Wishful Thinking. Without losing their roots, Neck Deep has vastly expanded their creative potential with the incorporation of different genre aesthetics and an insane ability to provide a conceptual narrative through music. The message they are spreading with All Distortions Are Intentional is one that can potentially save lives and impact the world far beyond music, filled with powerful mental health awareness and advocation. People coming to get some pop-punk flavor may not expect to be blasted in the heart with existential universalism. When you indulge in the profoundness of All Distortions Are Intentional, you will get a fresh musical narrative disguising a motivational speech you didn’t even know you needed whispered to you through the creative potential only Neck Deep can provide.