On Sparta’s sophomore effort, 2004’s Porcelain, the El Paso band revealed that there was more to them than amped-up emocore and remnants of the former At the Drive-In. Though that album was by no means a complete departure from Wiretap Scars, their excellent debut, it did display a wider range for the band, mainly in their newfound similarities to U2 and their penchant for ballads and a few stadium-ready anthems. Two years later, creating a steady pattern of two year intervals between albums, Sparta seems to be continuing on that route with the streamlined, yet still rocking Threes.
Between this album and their last, the band has added a member, guitarist Keeley Davis, formerly of Engine Down, and at times, they seem to recall the subtle minor key melodies of their former Richmond, VA compatriots. Take “Unstitch Your Mouth,” for instance, which begins with moody acoustic riffs and builds into a heavier arrangement, but one still evocative of mood, and far less aggression-driven as their past rockers have been. This isn’t to say that they don’t still have those tracks on here; “Taking Back Control,” the first single and reported anti-Bush track, still kicks ass with the best of them, and “Untreatable Disease” hits with a straightforward punch of meaty guitar.
Still, many tracks find the band departing further from their past sound, and it’s refreshing to hear some diversity here. “Erase It Again” ushers in a clean melodicism, once again sounding like U2, and “Atlas” continues this pattern, with quietly strummed acoustic guitars and effects laden leads. And “The Most Vicious Crime” stands as an epic gem, a solid centerpiece for such a wide-reaching album. “Weather The Storm,” however, even takes on the spastic prog of their former bandmates in The Mars Volta, only with far less tedium. Nice job, fellas.
While Threes may be more adventurous, musically, it is a bit more uneven than Sparta’s last few records. They certainly deserve kudos for not becoming too comfortable in their melodic niche, and quite frankly, it’s nice to just hear them trying a few new ideas rather than record a carbon copy of Wiretap Scars. Threes isn’t the band’s masterpiece, by any means, but may be one stepping toward reaching such a lofty height.
U2 – How to Dismantle An Atomic Bomb
Engine Down – Engine Down
Brazil – The Philosophy of Velocity
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.