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Just Mustard – Heart Under

todayMay 13, 2022 110

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Back in the heady, pre-plague days of 2018 Just Mustard marched on to the scene with their astonishing debut album Wednesday. I hadn’t heard anything quite like it. There was a definite shoegaze aesthetic to the thing but it was more, it was different. Then came the singles ‘Frank’ and ‘Seven’ in 2019. Both of which only hooked and reeled me in further.  Since then, their music has continued to thrill and bamboozle me in equal measure. When you can’t quite pigeonhole a band to one genre you know they’re doing something special.

So, here we are in 2022 and the Dundalk five piece are back with their second album and first for Partisan Records. The band say that Heart Under “is an album that asks you to forget what you know. At every turn, this remarkable record reconfigures and stretches the ideas and ambition of a rock band, and turns a year of lockdown and personal struggles into a breath-taking artistic statement.”

With an intro like that I was falling over myself to hit play. Let’s get into these ten tracks and see if the vision the band have had, has paid off.

The album opens on ‘23’. It’s a slow burn over a metallic, almost industrial soundscape. Katie Bell’s vocals are more in focus than on their previous work. Almost like a lost Lamb track except, bigger and edgier. Now I know this band have the traditional singer, two guitarists, bass player and drummer but I challenge anyone to pinpoint what noise is coming from where. This is what a band truly engaged in the art of musical exploration sounds like.

‘Still’ is next, coming in hot. Ball owns this track with a potent vocal performance. This is dark, dark territory we’re in. The bass looms large like an ogre, while the guitars rage against each other. It’s the drums, however, that surprise the most. Driving the funkiest groove under the whole thing they lift this song to another level.

Wafting in on a hypnotic bass line comes ‘I Am You’. Like a modern day ‘Trust in Me’ this track beguiles the listeners with its up close and personal vocals whilst disrupting the mood with an increasingly intense soundscape. By the time we reach the end we’re being pummelled from all sides. So when the band drops out to leave drums and vocals the change is much more effective.

‘Seed’ continues the hypnotic groove punctuated by explosions of static and feedback. Or is it that simple, I’m not sure. What this band are doing with their instruments continues to both baffle and excite me in equal measures. Ball’s vocal soars and ushers in the changes in fine style. This album isn’t letting up in both quality and intensity.

‘Blue Chalk’ begins as a barren, ballad driven vocal piece. Sound fragments and artefacts dance in and out of sight. And then comes the drums. Pounding, like a call to arms, they usher in the evolution of this song from something quite benign to a menacing, snarling maelstrom. This is compelling stuff folks and we’re only half way through.

The drums kick off ‘Early’, quite literally and in an alternate time signature. This is something new for the band. Channelling their creative spirit, they use that rhythm as a foundation to build, no, to sculpt a glorious auditory experience that envelopes and lifts Ball’s yearning vocal delivery.

That off kilter feel continues into ‘Sore’. Like a giant, lumbering through a haunted forest, it staggers into view. The screaming guitars erupt like light through the trees, burning and reshaping the path of the song. By the time we reach the final minute there’s a full-on forest fire and we’re running. This is a deeply affecting song and one that will only get better with repeat plays.

The band apply a dreamier approach to ‘Mirrors’. Primarily a duet this song has a lot more space than the rest of the album. The claustrophobia that reigns is lifted for a moment and we fly along. Pay particular attention to Rob Clarkes dancing, driving bass. It cleverly dictates and compliments the pace of the song at the same time. How is that possible? Again, the guitars, more recognisable here, cut through like interdimensional ghosts before slipping back through the rift to silence.

They are back in full effect on ‘In Shade’. Cutting in from the outset battling with Shane McGuire’s brutal and primal drumming. Like a call and response between them we get the band working as one, a many headed beast. For me, this is the albums calling card. Everything you need to know about Heart Under in one song. Tell me you don’t get goose bumps around the three-minute mark when the many elements come together to pummel us right up to the closing second.

The album comes to a close with ‘Rivers’. The band slip into a more meditative mode slipping in motifs from across this albums span. In describing how they wanted this album to feel the band said,

“We discussed the idea of wanting the listener to feel like they’re on a train going through a tunnel. In every facet of the album is a physical and emotional intensity, with each note of dissonant guitar, thwack of a drum or piercing lyric hitting you right in the chest, just as intended.”

For me this song feels like the train coming to the end of that tunnel, pulling out into darkness and solitude. A fitting end to this experience of an album.

What I enjoyed about Just Mustard back on Wednesday has only been amplified and brought sharply into focus on Heart Under. Those guitars. I mean, how are they even possible? David Noonan and Mete Kalyoncuoglu will surely be hailed as this generations Kevin Shields. There’s literally no one doing what they do with the electric guitar in their peer group.

Let’s not forget McGuire’s drumming, utilising the metallic sounds of the rims and stands as much as the drums themselves. Clarkes sub bass also plays a pivotal role in the sound, creating a sound that feels like an anchor at the bottom of the sea adding extra emotional weight to the record. Then there’s Katie. Her vocal prowess is now emboldened and undeniable. She leads these songs with authority and absolute confidence.

Heart Under is an album you feel as much as you listen to it. Surely that has to be the ultimate achievement.

You can grab a copy of the album from Bandcamp, Just Mustard’s official store or your favourite indie retailer. Make sure and follow Just Mustard on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.

Written by: Mark Anderson

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