Sound — 8
Somewhere between the teenage heartthrob factor of 5 Seconds of Summer or All Time Low and the more mature, edgy qualities of post-hardcore bands like A Day to Remember, the Wrexham hailing quintet have seemingly been able to strike the perfect balance between the two with their sophomore album: "Life's Not Out to Get You." "Mature" would probably be the most fitting word to describe this release which demonstrates a more measured approach towards not only the lyrics, but also the structure of each song and the "catchiness" of the choruses. Timidly dubbed "The pop-punk album of the year?" by Kerrang!, the sound of the record will be familiar to long-time fans with the punchy guitar chords and intricate harmonies heard in last year's "Wishful Thinking," yet it is still a vast improvement, showing Neck Deep's growth over the past year. One of the most important aspects of any post-hardcore album is song variation and the Welshmen have made sure that each song is different from the last with slower, more emotionally charged tracks like "December" and "Serpents" sitting nicely alongside more lively ones such as "Threat Level Midnight" and "Can't Kick Up the Roots." The latter is a perfect example of the group's more refined, accessible sound and by far my favourite song on the record. That said, although the harmonies are impeccable throughout, I feel that they have been over-used in places which detracts from Ben Barlow's vocals. If his vocals had a little more exposure, I think it would be a major overall improvement.
Lyrics — 9
The lyrics is where Neck Deep distance themselves from the other more mainstream pop-punk acts of recent years. Despite the fact that the majority of the themes focused on in "Life's Not Out to Get You" are nothing ground-breaking: love, being poor, home, getting over the hard times in life etc. They convey the messages through perceptive metaphors and down to Earth language. Not only are their lyrics intelligent and easy to relate to, but they are also written with genuine conviction. The messages in the lyrics are of utmost importance and the sound second, not the other way around which is so often the case in artists of this genre. Influences from pop-punk heavyweights including ADTR's Jeremy Mckinnon have had a profound effect on the lyrics which give this record that mature edge which was missing from their début. Furthermore, Barlow has chosen not to sacrifice each song's meaning for the sake of making the words rhyme which is an admirable quality and reminiscent of Panic! at the Disco in that sense. This is encapsulated in "Can't Kick Up the Roots" and "Kali Ma," the former an ode to their home town of Wrexham in North Wales.
Overall Impression — 8
While every album has it's own individual flaws and strengths, Neck Deep have been able to avoid many of the pitfalls into which post-hardcore bands so often fall. It cannot be overlooked that some of the songs do blend together but the sheer volume of incredible tracks like "Threat Level Midnight," "Lime St.," "Serpents" and "Can't Kick Up the Roots" propel this record up to greatness. Perhaps the most impressive feature is how the group have not been afraid to try something different, branching into Sum 41-style skate punk in "Citizens of Earth" alongside "Blink 182-esque" riffs in "Rock Bottom." There may still be a fair chunk of the year left to go but it's going to take something seriously special to beat this record in the race for "pop punk album of the year."