Review Summary: /vər.ˈsxrɪ.kə.lək/
I’ll always be the first Dutch-speaking individual to condemn the language to the fiery depths of hell. Yet, even if it lacks any trace of aesthetic appeal, it is an absolute god-tier language when it comes to swearing. No ‘sh*t’ or ‘f*ck’ can weigh up against the sheer gratification of firing a ‘godverdomme’ at someone, stressing the hell out of that repulsive ‘g’ sound. What this has to do with the new Neck Deep record? Well, the most appropriate word to describe All Distortions Are Intentional
might just be ‘gedrocht’. Approximately pronounced like a grizzly bear attempting to devour a chainsaw, this word roughly translates to ‘freak’, but with a bit more grit.
Because, honestly, that’s what this album is: a batch of poorly conceived ideas doing its best to appeal to whatever’s within its reach. Whereas the band’s previous output mostly relied on energetic performances and competent songwriting, none of this appears present on All Distortions Are Intentional
. Instead, the band expands on their 2017 hit ‘In Bloom’ by sticking to this fuzzier, calmer sound all throughout the record. However, while many artists use such distortion as a stylistic device to enhance (an aspect of) the songwriting, Neck Deep opts for employing it to hide a lack of memorable qualities. The chorus of ‘Sick Joke’, for example, is drowned in reverb, hardly effectively disguising the fact that there is no vocal melody, no riff, no above-average drumming to keep the listener’s attention. Yet, rather ironically, when vocalist Ben Barlow does manage to belt out a quality chorus on ‘Telling Stories’, its impact is diminished as there is no distinguishable instrumentation present to complement his vocals.
This does not mean that Barlow’s vocals can be deemed a highlight of All Distortions Are Intentional
; quite the opposite. On previous records, especially the excellent Life’s Not Out to Get You
, he sounded like the perfect fit for a pop punk band: energetic and gritty, with a healthy flair of carelessness typical for the genre. Here, however, his voice has deteriorated into annoyingly nasal territory. To make matters worse, it often feels like Barlow can't be bothered putting in any effort whatsoever, resulting in a performance a far cry from the oddly charming way his vocals occasionally faltered on previous records. The sickeningly sweet ‘Little Dove’ showcases this through an absolute overdose of autotune, giving the song a rather unpleasantly robotic feel. Similarly, the aforementioned ‘Sick Joke’ contains a pre-chorus where it is unclear whether the vocalist is tripping over his own words, attempting to rap or just not even striving to achieve a controlled flow. My money’s on the latter.
To make matters worse, the lyrical content Neck Deep bring to the table here is rather atrocious. Allegedly a concept album, the love story set in Sonderland is incredibly hard to follow or care about at all, with lead single ‘Lowlife’ containing incredible lines such as ‘I like some purple with my tangerine
’ and ‘Oh well, oh well / You’re a normie
’. Similarly, the horrendous interlude ‘Quarry’ strives for depth by briefly mentioning the loss of a friend, but throws it all away as Barlow croons ‘That’s S T R E S S next to S
’... whatever the hell that may mean. Neck Deep have never been known for poignant lyricism, but with some of the absolute nonsense present on All Distortions Are Intentional
, the pop punk tropes of hating one’s hometown and vague political commentary almost seem like a stroke of genius.
Thankfully, it’s not all bad. Opener ‘Sonderland’ is a surprisingly energetic track, boasting a nice hook that’s most reminiscent of the band’s previous work. ‘When You Know’ and ‘Pushing Daisies’ are the only songs that fully and successfully realise All Distortions Are Intentional
’s worship of fuzzy, 90s-inspired alternative rock. Especially the former is a delightfully cheesy singalong cut, even if it ends up feeling like a carbon copy of ‘In Bloom’. Elsewhere, almost the entire back half of the record blends together. While this can be seen as indicating a lack of aspects to actively dislike, it also showcases an inability of the songs to stand out or possess memorable qualities altogether.
It’s a shame: Neck Deep clearly aim for an audience ready to soak up reverb-drenched pop, yet sadly forgot to write any quality songs in the process. From the dreamy production to the frequent use of acoustic guitars, it is almost impressive how unimpressive this album is. With the exception of ‘Fall’s horrendously repetitive chorus, there is little to actively dislike on casual listens, yet a closer look at All Distortions Are Intentional
reveals its incredibly poorly constructed nature. There is very little to bite one’s teeth into, and simply put, there is very little to enjoy. What a gedrocht… it really is quite verschrikkelijk (/vər.ˈsxrɪ.kə.lək/).