by Clint Burgess
Sparta rose up out of the ashes of the emo super-group At The Drive-In and delivers big with their major-label debut, Wiretap Scars (DreamWorks). At the time it seemed ATDI would forever loom over the former members as an unrealistic measuring stick they would forever be compared to. This has not been the case thus far as Sparta continues to progress beyond the band that spawned them.
The quartet features three former ATDI members. Jim Ward takes up vocal duties as well as guitar on this record and proves he is more than capable of leading the latest incarnation of these outsider musicians from El Paso, Texas. He is supported by Paul Hinojos on guitar, Tony Hajjar on drums, and the only non Drive-in member, Matt Miller, on bass.
Wiretap Scars pieces together flashes of melodic madness coupled with spastic syncopation. Hajjar's impressive and eclectic beats serve as the clamorous backbone. "Cataract," for example, incorporates a spacey theme coupled with a hard-hitting chorus driven by explosive drums and searing guitar.
The band spent the better part of a year touring and writing the songs for this album. The lead track, "Cut Your Ribbon," is the perfect expression of the dynamic mechanics this band, together since '94, is capable of. Fans of ATDI will be able to revel in familiar sounds and be benefactors to new musical excursions as well.
One of the strong suits of this record are thoughtful lyrics, showcased by Ward's angst-ridden vocals, which portray pictures of cynicism, disdain for the past and sometimes even glimpses of hope. The songs play guinea pig to the band's studio experiments, which yield quality returns. A random perusal of the songs on this album reveals heavy effects on some tracks, piano and synthesizer on others and some simply bizarre sounds.
This group of guys could have been content to rest on their laurels but complacency isn't part of their repertoire. Rather than become casualties of the fallen At The Drive-In empire, Sparta is poised to claim the vacant throne of the emo kingdom and break new, progressive musical ground in the process.