Remember how the late 2000s were the “era of metalcore”? Chugging breakdowns and cartoony Hot Topic t-shirts dominated the aggressive music world back in the day, with teenagers in studded belts and neon-colored Vans reigning supreme as the genre’s most powerful tastemakers. Several years later, though, after those now-embarrassing metalcore days have been erased from the memories of former “scene” kids (and Attack Attack!’s discography erased from their iPods, hopefully), it seems as though the “era of pop punk” is upon us. Cargo shorts, backpacks, and pizza-themed everything are now in vogue, and the sudden resurgence of bands daring to offer a more accessible take on an abrasive sound are riding the ever-growing wave of popularity all the way to the top.
With their 2014 full-length Wishful Thinking, UK natives Neck Deep cemented their place within the aforementioned group of artists, and capped off what was possibly the genre’s most meteoric rise to popularity in over a decade. In fact, last year alone, the band found time to record said full-length, reissue their first EP through pop punk stalwart Hopeless Records, and play Warped Tour as well as a dual-headliner with genre ambassadors Real Friends. All this, and yet the band hasn’t shown even the slightest sign of slowing down. Case in point: almost immediately after returning home from a brutal 2014 tour schedule, the band went into the studio yet again to record their sophomore effort, entitled Life’s Not Out To Get You.
Although the task of writing and recording a full-length record with such a small window of time to get everything done can be daunting, the Neck Deep guys deserve a lot of credit in that they essentially have gotten pop punk songwriting down to a science. Each track on Life’s Not Out To Get You is almost scarily algorithmic, with powerful riffs, sing-along choruses and driving verses weaving in and out of each other like variables in an algebraic function of sorts. The result is pure, summery, pizza-fueled joy, and when songs like “Threat Level Midnight” and “Gold Steps” kick in, it’s hard not to reminisce about golden high school afternoons spent with the windows down and the music turned up.
There is a downside to Neck Deep’s speedy, almost-too-perfect writing process, however; a lack of personality. It’s very difficult for pop punk not to seem as formulaic as it is, with bands like Knuckle Puck and The Story So Far essentially releasing the same record over and over again out of necessity. After a few listens, though, Life’s Not Out To Get You feels as though it’s been in your regular rotation for years, its sonic counterparts outlasting it in the metaphorical footrace of longevity by a wide margin. The hooks don’t make you nod your head in time anymore, the lyrics feel as though you’ve heard them a million times over, and you struggle to find a track that excites you when you hit play. Why? Because good songwriting takes time, and even though Neck Deep’s work ethic and efficiency in the studio is admirable to a certain degree, the result doesn’t hold up through several listens much unlike the work of their peers.
As a whole, then, Life’s Not Out To Get You suffers mainly because it feels hastily made. If Neck Deep were to take even a little bit of a breather in between their rigorous touring schedule and sitting down to make a new record, they might find that letting songs breathe and develop over time helps tremendously in terms of how the listener might process them once they’re released. The hard truth is that, especially in the music world, you get out what you put in. Life’s Not Out To Get You is a perfectly solid record when looked at within the context of 2015 pop punk, sure, but even though those looking for more of the same may eat it up, it could use a little more depth both artistically and emotionally in order to appeal to a wider audience.