New Jersey's Long Neck
New Jersey's Long Neck
Courtesy of Long Neck

New Jersey's Long Neck Turn Grief Into Songwriting Gold

"And I just fucking lost it” isn’t a phrase that has a triumphant ring, but Lily Mastrodimos fills those syllables with proud defiance when she chants them on “Milky Way.” The penultimate song on Long Neck’s 2018 album Will This Do?, it’s a fuzzy guitar workout that would sound right at home on an Archers of Loaf or Dinosaur Jr. album. But it’s hard to imagine either Eric Bachmann or J. Mascis being able to sound as empathetic and empowered as Mastrodimos does when she spits those words out over and over again. She sounds as fervent as an exorcist commanding a demon to hit the bricks.

That spirit permeates Will This Do? Mastrodimos confessed in interviews that the album was written and recorded during one of the worst periods of her life: trapped in an awful job while watching her family come apart at the seams as three of her grandparents died in rapid succession. The LP’s title touches on that profound feeling of grief, as Mastrodimos sings on “Matriarch”: “You asked me why I didn’t write a ballad yet / will this do?”

That’s not to say that Will This Do? is a bleak affair. While the lyrics often touch on regret and loss, Mastrodimos and her Long Neck bandmates (John Ambrosio, June Amelia Rose, and Kevin Kim) infuse the songs with poppy melodies and a surging, anthemic energy. Even the ballads on this album have a feeling of momentum on them. Like Springsteen’s best work, these are sad songs you can sing full-throated while barreling down the road. Maybe it’s something in the water; just like the Boss, Long Neck hail from New Jersey.

For an album about loss, it kicks off with a stirring reminder why those absences hurt so much. Opening song “Mine/Yours” will probably go down as the best love song any indie band will record in 2018. It’s unclear whether Lily is singing to a friend, a family member, or a lover, but the sentiment she is singing crystal clear: “I wanna be mine / And I wanna be yours.” A song about life on the road, it’s about the push-pull between wanting to preserve your own identity and chase your dreams while also longing to become a part of something greater than yourself.

Like any great poet, Mastrodimos knows how to complex powerful emotions through vivid imagery and simple language. Consider how she cuts through the ringing clangor of “Lichen” by singing “When you bury me, don’t put lillies in my fist / Put a beer bottle there, cause that’s how I lived.”

Long Neck weren’t always a full band. It originally started as a solo project for Mastrodimos, an avenue for her to write and release songs that didn’t fit with the vibe of her other band, Jawbreaker Reunion (one of the all-time great trolling names for a band). A talented multi-instrumentalist, Mastrodimos colors her songs with heaps of guitars, bass, keyboards, Wurlitzers, stylophones, pianos, and even a bouzouki, a type of Greek string instrument. Her bandmates add to the intricate structures of her songs, creating compelling soundscapes that can evoke Fleetwood Mac just as easily as they pay tribute to the punk and riot grrrl scenes they came up from.

Will This Do? is the kind of album whose lyrics would have been carved into the back of spiral notebooks at school or used as AIM away messages if they had come out earlier this millennium. It makes one person’s sorrow feel universal. Title Fight may have sung “Your pain is mine now,” but Long Neck songs actually transmit their deep well of grief and joy into their listeners’ eardrums.

Long Neck. 7:30 p.m. Friday, August 10, at Trunk Space, 1124 North Third Street; thetrunkspace.com.

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