When weighing the 12 months that fell between September 2015 and September 2016, the New Jersey-based songwriter Lily Mastrodimos holds little back. “It was, plainly put, an extraordinarily bad time,” she explains via email. She was working a job she describes only as “demanding and demoralizing,” dealing with “a ton of emotional bullshit,” and she experienced the loss of three of her grandparents in the course of six months. “It felt like my family was falling apart and I was just watching it happen from a place outside of my body,” she says “This entire time period was dominated by grief, intense depression and anxiety, and heartbreak of all kinds.”
So Mastrodimos, now 24, did what she does; she wrote some songs. As a member of Jawbreaker Reunion, and now as Long Neck (once a solo project, but now a full-fledged band that she leads), she’s become one of the best songwriters in the crew of DIY-minded musicians who elevate mundane experiences into universal sentiments on the back of simple, homespun rock songs. She’s equally adept at full-throated anthems and cobwebby, fingerpicked ballads, all of which take on even more emotional significance on her new Long Neck album Will This Do?, due Friday January 26 on Tiny Engines, which charts the course of that awful year.
The songwriting process, as it always has been for Mastrodimos, was a way of untangling the grief and anxiety she experienced. “When I was writing the album I was in the thick of the worst shit I’ve ever been through,” she says. “But I don’t want to forget it all happened. When I sing these songs now, they’re reminders that I survived it. These moments became a part of me; they showed me what I was capable of, how I respond to dire situations and how I communicate intense feelings to others. I want to memorialize this period because it made me stronger, because I want to remember the patience and empathy and kindness that others gave me and live right by them.”
Consequently, the record doesn’t only feel haunted by loss—it’s more a portrait of hard-won resilience as the world crumbles down around you. The record’s high points—like “Milky Way,” a fuzzy ballad that might have been on Dinosaur Jr.’s Bug in another life, or the foggy anthemics of “Lichen”—billow with a winning self-assuredness, confronting romantic dissolution and even mortality with a head held high. Will This Do? can be as impossibly funny (mark this winning couplet on “Lichen: “When you bury me, don’t put lillies in my fist / Put a beer bottle there, cause that’s how I lived”) as it is heavy, lending a fullness and light to this depiction of dark times, a reminder, as Mastrodimos suggests, that there’s always a way through.
Part of this ballast comes from the addition of her band, which coalesced in the wake of her last record Heights. There’s a new dynamism in songs like “Hive Collapse”—the title of which refers to the phenomenon when all the worker bees in a colony disappear. Bass flourishes and drum accents that lend Mastrodimos’ musings about ecology and perseverance a sense of naturalistic eruption, every song bubbles up and boils over in a loose, unpredictable arc. Originally put together as a one-off after she graduated college, the band quickly became a source of comfort for Mastrodimos too. “As the year wore on and became punctuated with loss and bullshit,” she says. “The band became a support system that gave me solid ground. It was—and still is—a source of catharsis when I needed to shout and yell.”
The record’s title carries a heavy weight, knowing the year that preceded it. It’s a sort of supplication, a prayer wondering if anything you’ll ever do will be quite good enough—even for yourself. Mastrodimos says that the title comes from one of the records sparser tracks, “Matriarch,” written shortly after the passing of her maternal grandmother in January 2016. “It details this desire to do right by the people we’ve lost, to make them proud and honor their memories," she says. “You can’t drain yourself trying to get approval from people who can no longer give it, but it can be so easy to lose yourself in that drive. I’m still working on ways that will let me be ok with what I create. I’m getting better at it.”
Long Neck's new album Will This Do? is streaming above ahead of its release Friday January 26 on Tiny Engines.
Colin Joyce is an editor at Noisey and is on Twitter.