Least Hated: SPARTA 'Wiretap Scars'
But for as strange as it was, we were lucky enough to get an album like Wiretap Scars
Here at Lambgoat we have a reputation to uphold, so we can't say that these are our favorite, time-tested, go-to albums. Let's just call them Lambgoat's least hated instead.
When post hardcore/indie-rockers At The Drive-In split in 2001, the El Paso based group was at the height of their career. Relationship Of Command, their third full-length album—released the previous year on Beastie Boys’ Grand Royal Records—had vaulted the band from underground music’s favorite secret to torchbearers of the rising indie movement. MTV2 picked up the record’s lead single “One Armed Scissor” and the band made appearances on network TV shows like The Late Show With David Letterman and Late Night With Conan O’Brien.
But as the group started to become major players in the greater music industry’s punkification of the early 2000s, the band fell apart, splitting At The Drive-In’s members—as well as fans—between two camps. The spastic, afro-donned duo of vocalist Cedric Bixler-Zavala and guitarist Omar Rodriguez-Lopez began work on the high-concept art-rock band The Mars Volta, while the remaining three members—guitarist Jim Ward, bassist Paul Hinojos and drummer Tony Hajjar—founded the more approachable indie-rock driven Sparta.
Listening to Sparta’s debut record, one can hear the heavy hand Ward played in At The Drive-In’s material, his unique take on melody carrying over to his new band. On Wiretap Scars, he took on the role of frontman and main songwriter, stepping out from the shadows of his more animated former bandmates. And while the songs are built upon the same foundation as their previous band, they are corralled into more concrete, stable compositions, something ATDI hinted at on songs like “Invalid Litter Dept.” and “Quarantined.” Spacey guitar effects, ambient synths and catchy refrains run throughout the album’s dozen tracks, bringing to mind other indie-meets-alternative-rock bands of the day like Cave In and Minus The Bear.
One of Wiretap Scars biggest successes is in it’s loud-quiet-loud dynamic. Ward and company draw from the same playbook as more emo bands like Sunny Day Real Estate and Mineral, marrying serene somberness with blaring distortion, but approach it with a more hardcore-adjacent heaviness. Sparta excel at both takes, understanding when to hold back and when to let it all go, which somehow never compromises the hooky refrains in favor of one over the other. And hooky, they most certainly are. Choruses like the one heard in the album’s opening number and lead single “Cut Your Ribbon” or the driving “Sans Cosm” are oddly catchy without ever veering into poppy cheesiness.
It would almost go without saying that the musical relationship and shared language between the members on Wiretap Scars was impressive—three of the four members had played together for the previous five years—but the entire band sounds locked in on the record. The guitar interplay between Ward and Hinojos creates and interesting dynamic as delay-drenched leads spiral around the main melodies, and Hajjar’s percussion is an ebb-and-flow of rhythmic shifts that match the guitars’ variations. Bassist Matt Miller—the “new guy,” so to speak—fits right in with groovy, melodic basslines that particularly help round out the mellower moments.
Sparta’s lyrics are cryptic, with contributions coming from all members, but it’s difficult not to associate their words of sadness, frustration and anger with the demise of At The Drive-In. Lines like, “Do you remember the days / Did you forget those days? / What would the oddsmakers say?” and, “This regret, it kills, you never forget / Take this time, the time to say your goodbye” are creatively vague, but also feel entirely on-the-noise. Ward’s delivery of them bounces between melodic singing and gravelly screams, but not in the pop-punk emo variety that had taken the world by storm in 2002, in a more Fugazi-like post-hardcore manner. It was the final piece of an already engaging and exciting album.
The early 2000s was a weird time for underground music. Bands from our little musical corner of the universe were getting scooped up and pushed by the corporate rock regime, often with no regard or understanding of a potential audience. But for as strange as it was, we were lucky enough to get an album like Wiretap Scars, one that was based in indie rock sincerity while also stepping into wider marketability.
6 commentsPost Comment
Wiretap Scars > any full ATDI album.
"anonymous 57 minutes ago Lamgoat reviewers - the pretentiousness of Pitchfork writers without the writing skills." Anonymous Lambgoat Posters - The inability of reading comprehension enough to know what a review is and isn't while also having the cognitive dissonance to think they can comment on writing skills.
"But for as strange as it was, we were lucky enough to get AND album like Wiretap Scars"? come on, homies..
"indie-meets-alternative-rock bands of the day like Cave In" Wtf?
Never heard Jupiter, Tides of Tomorrow, Antenna or the second half of Perfect Pitch Black?
Lamgoat reviewers - the pretentiousness of Pitchfork writers without the writing skills.