(ABOVE: Long Neck performing live at WFMU’s Monty Hall—Jack Silbert photo)
by Jack Silbert
No, Lily Mastrodimos didn’t write a COVID-19 rock opera; this record was composed and recorded well before the world ended. But, for me personally, music keeps me sane, it keeps me human. It is a throughline in my life, bad times and good. Maybe that’s true for you, too. Well, Lily and her Long Neck bandmates have crafted a thrilling new album, World’s Strongest Dog, and if there is one word to summarize the record, it is: strength. Which is what we desperately need right now. That the message is wrapped in precisely played kick-ass rock is a sweet bonus.
If you are new to Long Neck, this is a pretty ideal time to catch up. Those who’ve kicked around the Mile Square for a while might have seen little Lily — playing, crying, laughing, scrunching up her face — with her cool folks Jim and Meaghan and delightful sister Ruby. Papa James Mastro was a member of Maxwell’s legends the Bongos, led the mighty Health & Happiness Show, and owns the Guitar Bar shops, where you can still get online music lessons and Little RocknRoller sessions, FYI. (Man, am I glad I caught the reunited Bongos in Asbury back in January, because their March 20 show at Montclair’s Outpost in the Burbs was one of the countless gigs postponed due to coronavirus. Ah, at least Outpost has launched a virtual concert series, including one on May 9 starring Richard Barone of the Bongos. But I digress.)
Lily was in the band Jawbreaker Reunion, but all the while composing her own tunes. That eventually led to a home-recorded solo album in 2015, Heights, released under the name Long Neck. In 2018, that was followed by Long Neck’s first full-band album, Will This Do?, which sure did. The record earned praise from Rolling Stone and The New York Times. Long Neck was poised for global domination as they prepared their next full-length. But alas, a couple of things happened. First, it was revealed that the well-regarded indie record label that released Long Neck’s albums was screwing over some of their artists (unfortunately not entirely uncommon in the industry, ever). So Long Neck did the right thing (not always the easy path) and parted ways with the label. They then set the challenging wheels in motion to self-release the new album. But then this pesky pandemic happened, less than a month before the release date. WTF! Nevertheless, Lily persisted.
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I am so glad she did, because World’s Strongest Dog, expertly co-produced by Hoboken’s own Tom Beaujour, is a tremendous achievement that deserves to be heard far and wide. The band — which on this recording includes Alex Mercuri (bass, and on staff at Guitar Bar Jersey City), John Ambrosio (drums), and Kevin Kim (guitar) — is firing on all cylinders. Lead track “Campfire” appropriately begins warmly, including some subtle, pretty piano from Mercuri, before regally rocking out. It’s a declaration of independence and responsibility. In the bouncy “Cicada,” the narrator has an argument with herself, acknowledging the crutch of self-deprecation and the debilitating effects of self-doubt, but vowing to overcome. I heard this song last week on the World’s Greatest Radio station, WFMU, on the Evan “Funk” Davies Show, which EFD has to broadcast from home while Scott Williams, alone at the station, twiddles the knobs. Needless to say, they wouldn’t make so much effort if “Cicada” wasn’t so friggin’ great.
There are a couple of kiss-off numbers here: the rocking “Untitled,” which slightly puts me in mind of fellow New Jerseyans Screaming Females, and the devastating dismissal “They Shoot Horses,” where Lily firmly states, “You have no claim on it: my body, my heart, or my friendship.” The lyrics of “Birds” take the form of New Year’s resolutions, to stand taller, to be… stronger.
Hit-single-in-a-just-world “Backseat” is relentlessly upbeat musically — Ambrosio’s drums clickety-clacking all over the joint — counter-programmed by complex lyrics: youthful awakening to mortality/disappointment/endings, learning to fake it and hide our feelings around our friends, but the lifelong importance of LETTING IT OUT. “Slowly, Slowly” is propulsive (wait, what?) with a cool echoey guitar effect, while “Broken Ring” is a return to the solo acoustic splendor of Heights. “M.D.P.” is unapologetic in words or in big rock. Hello, fuzz guitar! Album closer “Bad Words,” like the opener “Campfire,” starts sweet and strummy. The band enters, gently at first, Lily harmonizing with herself — “Maybe if I clean up my act, someone will love me back” — building to a glorious finish.
A line in that final song, “My love’s too big to fail,” reminded me of bailouts, and how they often don’t benefit the right people and places. Where’s the COVID-19 Indie Rock Rescue Bill, huh? No touring and no club gigs has really hurt so many musicians. You can help just a little by buying this terrific album, World’s Strongest Dog by Long Neck — available on vinyl (which will take a bit longer to receive, because everything is delayed, but you get the download immediately) or digitally. Tell your friends too. And buy records and merch from other bands you love, tip generously when they play livestream performances, and contribute to fundraisers for venues and their employees. Support music, because music supports you.