by MATT BACON >
So Neck Deep are back with another record.
I know I’m a little behind he ball on this one but I wanted to spend some time looking at this album and figuring out where it fits in the general pop punk canon. A genre that has really won a place in my heart in the last few years I’ve decided to apply my weird bug person brain to spending more time than necessary trying to figure out what this album is all about. Neck Deep have very rapidly ascended into the limelight, in a matter of three years they’ve gone from a buzzed about band in the underground to one of the most important groups in the scene. With their third record since 2014, The Peace And The Panic finally hitting our earholes there is a whole lot to unpack here. In a genre increasingly dominated by political correctness and the changing needs of a young fanbase, Neck Deep have shifted what they represent and created a truly fascinating piece of music.
What’s struck me about Neck Deep ever since I discovered them a few years ago is how perfectly polished they are and how everything about this band seems ideally calibrated to sell to a specific audience. That being said – the songs were always strong enough to overcome this. The band has always banked on truly great songwriting and positive and fun lyrics. That being said, Neck Deep has always had a much harder edge that I think has helped make them special. The sense that you got throughout the first two records was that sure the guys were playing pop punk but they could break out a few hardcore covers if they wanted to. They were always a fairly mosh band. This album pushes a little bit outside of that, adding a more pop element and even delving into moments of straight pop rock. That’s always a poser for a band like this one and suggests a strange new future for a band who made their reputation on being hard edged.
I think what really strikes me about this record though is the much more mainstream pop sensibility you feel throughout.
There are some straight up pop ballads here, just look at a track like 19 Seventy Sumtin’ a total retrospective. In many ways tracks like this one, of which there are a handful on this record take away the bands teeth. Whereas on Life’s Not Out To Get You the track December was a standout and one that showed a more sensitive side to the band here we get those sensitive moments throughout. There are more than a few Tumblr esque quotes too, the sort of things you’d expect to see as a motivational meme. Now that’s totally cool, I get where the band is coming from – just look at how far Knuckle Puck have gotten with their positive anti-suicide message. That’s something you have to respect, but which takes away a little bit of what I think helped to make Neck Deep such a special band for so many people.
The shift here is essentially from a more nostalgic outlook, (Can’t Kick Up The Roots anyone?) to one that feels quite a bit more self aware, sentimental and even political. Sure there is a nostalgia ballad, Wish You Were Here, but again, it’s a ballad, it removes the balls that defined so much early Neck Deep. Even the track that was meant to prove that Neck Deep still have balls, Don’t Wait featuring Sam Carter of Architects seems to be the sort of polished metalcore stuff that is more the provenance of 15 year old girls than the easycore fanbase who started the hype around this band in the first place. That being said, there are a few harder edged moments here, like the final track Where Do We Go When We Go. Of course the poppier elements are hard to ignore and this oftentimes gets a little bit too preachy for my tastes. It certainly fits the band a lot of the time, but simultaneously I’m not sure if Neck Deep is where I want to go for facile political statements as much as I want music that relates to, what Modern Baseball called being “Stuck between my adolescent safety net and where the world wants me to be”.
That all being said, the band has been through a lot and their fans have too since 2015’s Life’s Not Out To Get You.
The Trump presidency, the deaths of family members within the band and a general shift to a darker era of human existence all seem to justify lyrics like “I never thought I would see the day that the world went up in flames” When it comes down to it, I, like many Neck Deep fans, am scared right now. Neck Deep is the music of growing up and growing up in a world like ours is a terrifying fucking prospect. Whereas previous releases assured us of the universality of the human condition this record reminds us that there is an inherent terror to everything going on that we just can’t move past. It remind us that we have an obligation to ourselves and to our friends to fight for a better future and to work together on creating the sort of world that we all want to live in. Sure the lyrics are a little preachy, but isn’t that just a part of growing up?
So, I guess what I’m trying to say is that while yes, Neck Deep have made a significant shift with this record and I don’t like this record as much as I liked Life’s Not Out To Get You. That being said – this is still a helluva record and represents an interesting shift for the band. It shows us that these pop punkers aren’t committed to just trying to shout out to their hometown and pizza but rather that they are starting to develop intelligent political opinions and starting to realize the true power that their influence can have over their legion of youthful fans. This is a step forward for the band and one that will make you ask questions, so go out and pick it apart, it’s an engaging listen if nothing else and it will certainly have you coming back time and time again.