Neck Deep
The Peace and the Panic
(Hopeless Records)

Neck Deep are known primarily for two things: a bright, sunny outlook and a pop punk style that sounds like it’s taken its roots more from Florida (New Found Glory, A Day To Remember) than the band’s UK roots. This was often to the band’s advantage, as the buoyant exuberance of 2015’s Life’s Not Out to Get You contrasted wonderfully with the sad and introspective pop punk that’s been all the rage the past five years. That said, a lot has happened in two years(possibly an understatement), both in the world at large and in lives of Neck Deep’s members. Vocalist Ben Barlow and bassist Fil Throrpe-Evans both lost their fathers while away on tour, and a close friend passed away as well. (The less said about the world at large the better). All that clearly had to effect Neck Deep’s notoriously optimistic outlook, and it certainly has; however, instead of pulling a 180 and going full-on downer, The Peace and the Panic tackles the duality of taking the good with the bad and living life to its fullest, even if we can’t find any meaning behind the madness. (“19 Seventy Sumthin'” is magnificently meaningful.) I would not have pegged Neck Deep for existential pop punk, but the hook from the excellent closer, “Where Do We Go When We Go” summarizes the album’s mindset quite well: “I just wanna get one up on life before it kills me.” For the band, the answer doesn’t lie with religion or politics; rather, it comes with living a life with purpose. Neck Deep haven’t become philosophers overnight, but their ability to wrestle with the frustrations of life lends some very welcome gravity to this fun record. Bubblegum hooks with a side of insight? Yes, please.

Musically, the band have expanded their horizons as well. Easycore is primarily the name of the game here, with big riffs and bigger melodies; Ben Barlow’s voice has definitely improved, and his vocal confidence is a welcome addition here. The record takes a nice turn with “In Bloom”, as that number a couple other second half tracks recall Yellowcard at their most earnest. “Don’t Wait” is a melodic hardccore classic in the making, with an outstanding feature from Architects’ frontman Sam Carter. There are a number of musical turns through the rest of the record (power pop, acoustic ballad, 50s swing/doo-wop punk) before closing with the record’s defining statement of living life to the fullest.

It’s clear that this newfound sense of purpose has reinvigorated Neck Deep. They’re at their creative peak, and the musical and thematic diversity on display throughout The Peace and the Panic is superb. The band’s third record serves as an impressive mission statement, and it’s clear that Neck Deep are relishing the chance to stay in the spotlight. The Peace and the Panic may go down as the best pop punk album of the year.

Purchase the album here.

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