Sparta: Wiretap Scars

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Album: Wiretap Scars
Label: Dreamworks
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Album: Wiretap Scars
Label: Dreamworks

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The intense, politicized Texas punk band At The Drive-In broke up last year, just as its Relationship Of Command started selling. Striking while the iron was hot, three-fifths of the group—guitarist/vocalist Jim Ward, guitarist Paul Hinojos, and drummer Tony Hajjar—recruited new bassist Matt Miller and formed Sparta. They quickly signed with Dreamworks, raising questions from fans about their commitment to their previous incarnation's grassroots sincerity. Sparta's debut album, Wiretap Scars, doesn't do much to quell the grumblers. Dialing down At The Drive-In's ferociousness and concentrating more on its exploration of dynamic, textured volume, Sparta has made a smartly produced, superficially exciting record full of deafening electric hum, full-throated shouts, and quiet, intricately picked guitar breaks. When the formula comes together most sweetly—on the roiling, confident "Mye," the wistful "Collapse," and the pummeling ballad "Red Alibi"—Sparta sounds like the band it has to be, providing easily won emotional catharsis with a little Cure/Gang Of Four-derived post-punk aura-building. Even when the songs aren't as well thought out as the attitude, Wiretap Scars provides an anonymous jolt of guitar-stoked adrenaline. Still, in the year that the members of Sparta have been inactive, At The Drive-In's brand of contemplative noise has lost some of its refreshing necessity, thanks to the wave of neo-garagers, New York underground rockers, and no-holds-barred splatter-punk acts. There's more personality and sonic excitement in the likes of Radio 4 and ...And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead than there is in a group of sincere, insular guys obsessing over the precision of their dual guitar patterns. Wiretap Scars holds fast to a narrow line, and though it's suitable for filling an empty room, it doesn't carry much relevance in the outside world.

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