Since the release of their debut LP, ‘Wednesday’, Just Mustard have been leaning further into their darker side. Stand-alone singles Frank, October and Seven, while as impressionistic and dream-like as their shoegazing forebears, seemed to teeter on the brink between cool introspection and industrial noise.
On ‘Heart Under’, their second album and debut under the Partisan Records banner, these earlier blueprints have become fully realised.
Throughout the album, the band finds new ways to bend their instruments to their will. On ‘Wednesday’, lead singer, Katie Ball, suggests emotions via her soft, haunting vocal timbre rather than announcing them, while each track is buoyed by the coil-tight beats and melodic basslines of Rob Clarke and Shane Maguire respectively. Guitarists Dave Noonan and Mete Kalyon fill the spaces in between deftly, sometimes with klaxon like sounds (23), oscillating noise and punctuating stabs (Seed), sometimes with pensive, lucid soundscapes (Mirrors).
On paper, it should clash. In practice, they complement each other beautifully.
To call Just Mustard a shoegaze band at this point would be unfair and restrictive. While My Bloody Valentine are no doubt a touch point, there is so much more to their sound. Blue Chalk seethes with a muted rage, while Sore leans on post-punk. There’s also something intrinsically Irish about their sound without having to hang its hat on an accent or folk instrumentation.
With no real hooks to be gleaned from the album, ‘Heart Under’ has something of an experiential feel. This is music to be felt; to get lost in. Take the slow build, catch and release of I Am You, for example, which gradually rises to a boiling point. Notes become lost in themselves, while Ball raises her voice from a murmur to loud and clear diction on her “can you change my head” mantra. Still suggests itself via back-masked guitar scrapes and a persistent rhythm, which sees the band come off almost like Protomartyr via Portishead.
An album that reveals more of itself with repeated listens, ‘Heart Under’ teeters on the edge between brooding and exhilarating, while remaining incredibly danceable throughout. A bold, confident album, it sees the band explore the space in between its individual parts with a greater sense of curiosity, often leading the listener down a dark alley. At times cold and aloof, at times primal, its constant battles with its own dualities are what make it such an interesting and increasingly rewarding listen.