The Earth was a completely different planet last summer. We could leave our homes, there was still hope for a socialist future as the DNC had not yet called in the dogs to take down Bernie Sanders, and New Jersey rock and rollers Long Neck had just submitted their new album, World’s Strongest Dog, to their previous label, anticipating smooth sailing towards a spring 2020 release. They had done everything right after all, paying to record this album themselves with the money they made touring their assess off the past few years. But, as she often does, the universe had other plans. Adult Mommy, Long Neck’s former touring partner and labelmate, was forced to file a breach of contract with their label to get the rights to their masters back after years of unpaid due royalties. Both to support their friends and to protect their own financial interests Long Neck parted ways with that label as well, but was stuck having to purchase back the newly pressed records from the label at cost. The band took their talents to Indiegogo and set up shop with this new record, hoping to eventually break even on the investment that was just forced on them. Long Neck was ready to do whatever necessary to make this album happen and had a variety of tiers giving fans unprecedented opportunities to connect with the band. One bundle promised a private Long Neck concert for you and your friends, another got you “A Nice Spaghetti Dinner” where the band would cook you the aforementioned nice spaghetti dinner. The band even gave you the option to have dinner at their place our yours, the only caveat being that you needed to tell drummer John Ambrosio that his homemade sauce was “the best”. In another tier lead singer Lily Mastrodimos would write a song about whatever you wanted, which she said “Makes an equally great gift for a loved one (if it’s a love song) or a bitter enemy (if it’s a diss track)”. Two people took her up on that offer and I really hope those two tracks end up popping up on the next album. Long Neck put the campaign up January 28th and hit their goal in literally four hours, which I am sure is not a surprise to anyone who just read those tiers for the first time and is pissed they missed out on the opportunity to double up and have a song written about having a spaghetti dinner with the band.
That being said, the music alone here is good enough where it could have sold this album in four hours, even without a trophy tier or the many merch options. World’s Strongest Dog builds sonically and lyrically on the foundation the band created with their fantastic 2018 debut Will This Do?. Cynthia Schemmer put the evolution best on Long Neck’s bandcamp page, “The hardships addressed on the debut now emerge as revelations: [Lily] holding herself emotionally accountable, a further understanding of herself and those around her, and first steps toward pursuing the person she craves to be.” The songwriting is some of the most thought-provoking, funny, and memorable I have heard this year. I know I will be thinking about the dog who was buried in his owner’s front yard so he can “spend his slumber standing guard,” who Lily described in the beginning of Backseat for quite some time. The album has a varied sound while still feeling cohesive. Long Neck can slow down and get quiet as they do on Broken Ring. It’s a beautiful song about wanting to reveal your world to someone but worrying that you may be saying too much, where Lily sings, “Maybe one night I’ll get drunk and I will tell you something honest // Don’t know if it’s a prediction or if it’s a promise”. The band too can bring in a reverb heavy guitar and soothing gang vocals for a heavier sound as they do to great effect on following song M.D.P. Long Neck can also kick things into drive and deliver some of the most fun and engaging pop rock tracks out as they do on Cicada, the album’s stand out cut. Cicada features the best use of an organ since Squeeze’s Tempted. Maybe it’s because I grew up walking through forests and swamps in New Jersey but something about that classic organ track and the crunchy imagery of the “Bike reclaimed by the ivy, Cicada latched to a locust tree” immediately brought me back to my childhood. Cicada a delightful & breezy track that I have a feeling will be finding its way onto playlists of mine for years to come. Lilly is an avid birder and a member of the NJ Audubon Society, as was noted by the Indiegogo tier that offered fans the chance to go birdwatching with the band. She goes as far as to compare herself to her avian counterpart on Birds where she sings about “Letting loose its feathers, as if I am molting, like I am shedding this year completely”. All in all the album feels like a long saunter through the woods, looking for birds with your trusted pooch as you recount the many mistakes you did and didn’t make, slowly realizing you’re a stronger person for them.
Long Neck shows growth in every regard with World’s Best Dog. The tracks are tight, no two sound the same, and the songwriting is as captivating as anyone in the scene right now. One could imagine that the Yankee Hotel Foxtrot-esque release cycle that took over World’s Strongest Dog has only made Long Neck grow closer as a band, and certainly has given them plenty to write about for the next one. We know for sure it’s got them at least two tracks of the way there so far.