Photo Credit: Steve Gullick
On their fourth album, All Distortions are Intentional, Wrexham, Wales rock band Neck Deep gives us a little bit of everything. Well, maybe not everything, but certainly a lot, and they tend to give us quite a bit more than we might expect on quite a number of the album’s twelve tracks. This dedication to musical flexibility is apparent right from the first cut, “Sonderland” (the title alone is nicely ambiguous), which starts out with a solid, rocking opening. The song then introduces us to the vocals of lead singer Ben Barlow, which frankly come off as fairly typical in the pop punk genre. However, the vocals also alternate – almost spoken, and recorded in that “tinny” way – which make a compelling contrast and give cause for one to stick around for the rest of the album.
Which, for the most part, delivers, incorporating the same sort of approach where different musical styles and ideals are used within the same songs. We can hear this right from the very next track, “Fall”, which comes off more like an uptempo ‘80s alternative rock song but also features an aside into ‘60s-style pop and even briefly features violins (or at least synths that sound like violins). Yet, the song never loses track of its own symmetry. “Lowlife” also includes a nod to the ‘60s psychedelia simply by including a lyrical reference to a “Purple Tangerine,” (groovy!) but is framed by a stomping beat and a hook also reminiscent of ‘80s pop (and perhaps Semisonic).
“Sick Joke” is another nod to ‘80s alternative guitar sounds, this one offering yet another Cracker Jack-like secret surprise in a short but very cool fuzzbox guitar solo. “Little Dove” is perhaps the album’s biggest twist, an acoustic ballad which echoes the Beatles or perhaps more concisely the White Stripes at their most comfortably mellow. “Pushing Daisies” is both a strong closer as well as being another surprise, with the total downer theme being contrasted by the uptempo nature of the music (and like just about everything on the album, it works). “Quarry” even digs a bit into hip hop (or at least the hip hop-inspired pop which Beck had originally became known for).
As eluded to, Barlow’s vocals are perhaps the least distinct aspect of Neck Deep, as he frankly could be fronting any rando pop punk band on the planet. It’s probably for this alone that the group has invited almost systematic comparisons to acts like Blink-182 and Fall Out Boy. However, in the end this perhaps actually helps to set Neck Deep apart, since so many other aspects of their sound ultimately transcend or even contradict this. The band’s instrumentalists – guitarists Sam Bowden and Matt West, bassist Seb Barlow (Ben’s brother and a new edition to the band) and drummer Dani Washington – are all spot-on. Other than a handful of artists spread out over half a century (Badfinger, The Alarm, Super Furry Animals) Wales has always been notorious for seemingly being unable to get out of the shadow of the other parts of the UK (England, Ireland, Scotland) when it comes to producing music and culture. All Distortions are Intentional suggests that Neck Deep could help work towards changing that.