Sparta

Trust The River

Written by: PP on 24/12/2020 14:28:26

I can't say I saw this one coming: a brand new Sparta album - their first in over fourteen years. Sparta, of course, is the other half of At The Drive-In's implosion in 2001 that also saw the formation of The Mars Volta, two bands that have absolutely nothing in common stylistically which explains the artistic differences part of the breakup story. Jim Ward is still with Sparta, however, Paul Hijonos quit already after their sophomore album "Porcelain", and this time, drummer Tony Hajjar has also jumped ship, replaced by Cully Symington of Cursive and Beach Slang fame.

What started as visceral, albeit atmospheric post-hardcore back in 2002 on the debut album "Wiretap Scars" has dramatically changed on the fourth album "Trust The River". Drawing from his solo project Sleepercar to an extent, Ward has morphed the Sparta expression more towards indie rock with adjectives like ambient, calm, and contemplative describing the album rather than post-hardcore or subtly heavy. Yes, there are nuances and undertones of post-hardcore present on "Class Blue" and "Cat Scream" to an extent, but songs like "Turquoise Dream" is much more gentle and focused on far-reaching, expansive melodies much akin to indie rock bands rather than the raw energy found on the first two albums. This is particularly evident in "Spirit Away", which is heavily influenced by Nick Cave given the deep baritone vocals, which are contrasted by softly sung, calm female vocals by Nicole Fargo.

Then you have songs like "Believe" and "No One Can Be Nowhere", which source from U2 style arena-ready alternative rock/pop. The focus is on a spacious soundscape that allows Ward's vocals to widely echo and crescendo to heights previously unseen. It works surprisingly well, as long as you're ready to accept that the post-hardcore influence is all but gone in tracks like these, replaced by grand melodies and uplifting soundscapes.

Fortunately, not all tracks here go all-in on indie, pop, and ambient. "Miracle", alongside the two first tracks on the record, offers a slightly heavier and crunchier guitar. The louder melodies do wonders to Sparta sound, here acting as a perfect contrast to the higher-pitched, echoing vocals of Ward. Still, it's notably more subtle than say "La Cerca" from 2004's "Porcelain".

Given the subdued nature of the material here, it naturally also means these songs are growers. What might sound a little anonymous and nothing saying at first quickly evolves into a complex, rewarding listening experience once you've given the songs enough time to absorb. Sure, the album isn't without weak tracks: "Graveyard Luck" and "Dead End Signs" don't really do much at least for the undersigned. But they are in the minority.

In the end, "Trust The River" is a very different Sparta record that may turn off some fans. However, it's also showing signs of maturity where Jim Ward has clearly left post-hardcore largely behind him, desiring to explore different stylistic influences and ideas instead. It's a good record in that context, however, it's just not comparable to "Wiretap Scars" or "Porcelain" to be brutally honest.

Download: Class Blue, Miracle, Cat Scream, Turquoise Dream, Believe, No One Can Be Nowhere
For the fans of: U2, Far, Sleepercar, Snow Patrol, Brian Fallon
Listen: Facebook

Release date 10.04.2020
Dine Alone Records

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