Album Review: Heart Under by Just Mustard
By Sam Dynes
Heart Under, the sophomore album from Dundalk five-piece Just Mustard, has been released at the cusp of the wrong seasons. Nothing about the cavernous, melancholic sounds the band play with over the 45-minute record suggests that this is an album for the sunny weeks leading up to summer, but it is a testament to the atmosphere that Just Mustard creates that it feels just as rich and engaging as it no doubt will in the darker months of the year.
Having just finished supporting Fontaines D.C.‘s EU and USA tours, playing to some of the largest venues of their career so far, Heart Under finds itself as a conclusion to the sonic evolution Just Mustard has undergone in the four years since the release of their debut, Wednesday. While their first album seemed to lean towards more traditional shoegaze at points, the band now find themselves embracing the more unique industrial elements of their sound, which came to the forefront in their string of singles released in 2019.
Just Mustard shines brightest exploring these lesser-travelled musical back alleys, contorting every instrument at their disposal as far away from its traditional sound palette as is physically possible. On ‘Seed’, guitarist Mete Kalyoncuoglu morphs his guitar into a gothic techno drill, chugging away under the surface as Rob Clarke’s basswork and David Noonan’s wailing guitar falls on top of it, sounding like something that would play in one of those clubs in a film where everyone looks a little too prone to go on a murder spree. ‘Still’ continues exploring this territory, with one guitar barely playing any kind of discernible riff for considerable portions of the track and instead being used to create a dance beat for the other members to work off of. Drummer Shane Maguire is vital to the success of these experiments, playing with an incredibly precise rhythm like a human drum machine which makes every track gripping from the first few seconds.
That isn’t to say the dreamier cuts have disappeared completely as the band stretches out their sound. ‘Mirrors’, which still carries the same ultra-rhythmic drumming and wailing guitars, leans more towards mellow psychedelia, even finishing in a much more soothing climax than some of the previous tracks on the record. The atmosphere remains cold and brooding, but the change from the much more sonically aggressive tracks it’s surrounded by is vital for the pacing of the record. Likewise, closing track ‘Rivers’ carries a polite melancholia through the use of gentler guitars and a much slower tempo than much of the rest of the album, acting as a perfect ending point to an adventurous record.
The one constant across the album is found in vocalist Katie Bell. Her ominous vocal delivery and abstract lyricism acts as the linchpin to the atmosphere the band attempts to create, and separates them from, for example, fellow Irish noisemakers Gilla Band (fka Girl Band), whose experimental approach to guitarwork seems to be a clear influence on Just Mustard’s warping of guitars into mechanical machinery. Lyrically, ‘Rivers’ is a particular highlight, where the wistful tone of the track is complimented by Bell’s longing lyrics, asking “Could I have changed a thing?” before her vocals are swallowed up by the rest of the band whose instruments become progressively louder in the final moments of the song.
In a year which has already been successful for Just Mustard, with their support slot for alternative mainstay Fontaines D.C. and a sold out UK tour last October, Heart Under is another victory for the band. An album which pushes the borders of genre to their limits and cements the quintet as one of the most interesting of the moment.
Listen to Heart Under here on bandcamp.