Just because Neck Deep is gradually changing its sound doesn’t mean it won’t forever be a staple of pop punk. Bands can’t be expected to remain the same forever — especially if you consider the heaviness of Neck Deep’s own debut EP, Rain in July — but the Welsh five-piece has made a statement with its latest album, All Distortions Are Intentional, or ADAI: when you refine your sound and fix the kinks without departing from the genre completely, magic happens.

Neck Deep released two EPs, Rain in July and A History of Bad Decisions, in 2012 and 2013 respectively, but the group didn’t make music its priority until the success of its debut LP, Wishful Thinking, in 2014. Over half a decade later, Neck Deep has become a household name within the pop punk community and shows no sign of stopping its grandeur any time soon.

Fans who have watched their favorite bands transition into something almost unrecognizable, a typical situation within the heavier genres, may worry Neck Deep is stepping onto the same path, but ADAI only proves it isn’t even considering the idea. The band revealed ADAI is a concept album exploring the emerging love of a couple, Jett and Alice. However, it’s safe to say it’s based on the real love of frontman Ben Barlow and his longtime girlfriend, Niamh Holmes. 

The bridge of “Fall” hits a little too close to home, but the track perfectly embodies the feeling of knowing the love you’re experiencing will last in the long run. “Sick Joke” has blunt lyricism and a roaring guitar line that’ll echo in your brain for hours. The filler “Quarry” is simply unnecessary, but it’s not bad by any means. The acoustic guitar and mood of “Empty House” are reminiscent of Rain in July’s “A Part of Me,” but Barlow’s vocals are refined, and it has a more hopeful undertone. A change in style shows growth, and Neck Deep seems to be aging like a fine wine.

Here are the best five tracks from ADAI:

5. “Little Dove”

“Little Dove” is a track that stands out for being most out of Neck Deep’s element, but it seemingly makes the pacifying guitar and otherworldly strings its own. Barlow, as Jett, isn’t afraid to discuss how society’s constant need to be online and updating social media feeds brings him down when all he wants to do is live fully. His wish is to go far away with Alice and show there’s more to life than a glass screen and likes: “A thousand miles away, there is an island with no connection across the airways / This modern living will slowly kill us or bring us together / It’s all that anybody talks about.”

4. “When You Know”

Jett has fully realized everything is good in the world when he has Alice by his side on “When You Know.” The feel-good guitars by Sam Bowden and Matt West and smooth drumming by Dani Washington help emphasize how even when you’re in the wrong place, the right person can still make you feel at home: “Sunshine, we don’t belong here / We got no flowers to grow / But it feels so good with you on me, baby / Yeah, it feels so good when you know.” Barlow’s tone has never been better.

3. “Telling Stories”

Barlow digs into the soul and doesn’t hold back for a second on “Telling Stories.” Surrounded by roaring guitars, Jett feels as if he has no one and finds himself comparing his life to that of those around him. Finally, he decides enough is enough and gives himself the best advice possible: “Don’t waste my time telling stories / I’ve wasted mine … It’s a shame / It’s not the things you know; it’s the friends you make.” With lyrics like “Have you ever felt lost in a window, desperate to be loved and just be thrown out?” how could you not be enthralled?

2. “What Took You So Long”

“What Took You So Long” is a love song for the ages. When you finally meet the right person, whether that be a lifelong friend or a lover, it’s easy to wonder why the universe didn’t bring them to you sooner, and that’s exactly what Jett is thinking about Alice here. Soothing guitars help accentuate Barlow’s tender vocals as he delivers some of the band’s cutest lyrics to date: “Before you, I could not see how I would coincide with the big world and such little time / I was not me until I discovered you.”

1. “Sonderland”

Neck Deep said Jett and Alice are from a place called “Sonderland,” which blends the words “sonder” and “wonderland.” Kicking off the album, “Sonderland” is the epitome of why this album is the band’s best yet: it’s different, but it still maintains that feel-good yet simultaneously aggressive sound that makes Neck Deep so special. Jett is feeling particularly angsty, pondering whether his life is destined to get better or not: “Welcome to my dark despair / Everyone here is a nightmare / As they keep talking in their sleep, I am wondering if it surely gets better than this.” Of course, it does get better for Jett (he just needed to give himself more time, as we all need to do sometimes). “Sonderland” is a fiery opener, and it’s the best on ADAI.

Rating: 4.5/5