-->
Music

Sparta: Threes

Sparta allows the "art" to return to the "rock," to decidedly mixed results.


Sparta

Threes

Label: Hollywood
US Release Date: 2006-10-24
UK Release Date: Available as import
Amazon
iTunes

I think it's safe to say at this point that At the Drive-In has officially disintegrated into little, disparate, utterly unrecognizable bits. Just as any vestige of that previous band was utterly obliterated by this year's Mars Volta release, the latest release from Sparta sees the less prog-inclined side of At the Drive-In finding a decidedly quieter, more refined, radio-ready sound than they've ever tried before. With Threes, Sparta sounds as though it has finally come to terms with the split, allowing the "art" to ever-so-quietly return to the "rock," and drawing comparisons to Radiohead and U2 in the process.

In drawing comparisons to such established and well-regarded behemoths of the industry, however, it's also easy to see just how far Sparta still has to travel to find their own identity and truly break from the ghosts of the past, to break from a fanbase that still, deep down, wants this band to be something it's not. If anything on Threes can make that break, it's the final track, a little ditty called "Transitions" that sounds an awful lot like the "Rain down on me" section of Radiohead's own "Paranoid Android". It's a quiet, contemplative tune in 6/8 (the perfect time signature for swaying back and forth) that happens to have some surprisingly inventive chord progressions and the equally surprising sound of a soulful female vocalist, one Merry Clayton, backing vocalist on such classics as "Gimme Shelter" and "Sweet Home Alabama". Clayton's inclusion does not go to waste, to be sure -- her vocals start as simple backing lines, counterpointing Jim Ward's restrained performance, but by the end, she goes all "Great Gig in the Sky" on us, letting her voice wail as only a true gospel talent can. It's a fabulous closer, and anyone who doesn't hold out to the end of Threes will be missing something truly revelatory, at least as far as Sparta songs go.

Of course, to get to the end of Threes is not necessarily an easy task, for in order to do so we must traverse eleven other tracks, songs rife with modern rock clichés and a surprising lack of energy. "Atlas" is, I think, meant to sound epic, what with its slow-burning structure, endless-chant-to-fadeout coda and the less-prominent presence of the aforementioned Clayton, but it's a little too slow, a little too dreary to inspire anything past indifference. That another slow-burn follows "Atlas" (this time the not-all-that-vicious "The Most Vicious Crime") doesn't help the sleepytime vibes. I admittedly like the way that "Red.Right.Return. (Straight in Our Hands)" begins and ends with a fade-in and fade-out of the same drumbeat, but the stuff in the middle is equally unexciting.

And so on and so forth. There's not much to sing along to, there's not much to get emotionally attached to, and there's definitely not much to admire from a technical standpoint. So what's left?

Well, when Sparta turns to rage, they can still rage with the best of the rock radio bands around today -- first single "Taking Back Control" is actually pretty catchy (in a "screaming your lungs out" sort of way), and has deservedly managed to snag the band the best chart positions it's yet seen for a single. Call and response vocals between Ward and new member Keeley Davis seal the deal, also unintentionally emphasizing how much better the album might have been if Davis were allowed to stretch himself out a little more (though his quieter instrumental influence is all over the album). The chorus of "Weather the Storm" is similarly explosive, the kind of song passage that makes you feel like the wind's hitting your face and you keep traveling faster and faster until...well, until Jim Ward's Bono-esque vocal histrionics on the verse and the overlong bridge put on the brakes. But hey, did I mention that chorus?

It's all enough to leave a listener wishing Sparta would just let loose a little more. The newest incarnation of Sparta has that "trying too hard" sound to it, a sound that's careful and measured, a sound that sounds just a little too bound to the studio for a rock band. Given their history and even their own past output, Sparta is capable of more. Threes' attempt at something new is admirable, but apart from a few scattered successes, ultimately not quite successful.

5

Kuinka appeal to ornery Renaissance royalty with a joyous song in their infectiously fun new music video.

With the release of Americana band Kuinka's Stay Up Late EP earlier this year, the quartet took creative steps forward to deftly expand their sound into folk-pop territory. Riding in on the trend of moves made by bands like the Head and the Heart and the National Parks in recent years, they've traded in their raw roots sound for a bit more pop polish. Kuinka has kept the same singalong, celebratory vibe that they've been toting all this time, but there was a fork in the sonic highway that they boldly took this go-around. In this writer's opinion, they succeeded in once again captivating their audience, just in a respectably newfound way.

Keep reading... Show less

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less
Music

The Best Country Music of 2017

still from Midland "Drinkin' Problem" video

There are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. Here are ten of our favorites.

Year to year, country music as a genre sometimes seems to roll on without paying that much attention to what's going on in the world (with the exception of bro-country singers trying to adopt the latest hip-hop slang). That can feel like a problem in a year when 58 people are killed and 546 are injured by gun violence at a country-music concert – a public-relations issue for a genre that sees many of its stars outright celebrating the NRA. Then again, these days mainstream country stars don't seem to do all that well when they try to pivot quickly to comment on current events – take Keith Urban's muddled-at-best 2017 single "Female", as but one easy example.

Keep reading... Show less

It's ironic that by injecting a shot of cynicism into this glorified soap opera, Johnson provides the most satisfying explanation yet for the significance of The Force.

Despite J.J. Abrams successfully resuscitating the Star Wars franchise with 2015's Star Wars: The Force Awakens, many fans were still left yearning for something new. It was comforting to see old familiar faces from a galaxy far, far away, but casual fans were unlikely to tolerate another greatest hits collection from a franchise already plagued by compositional overlap (to put it kindly).

Keep reading... Show less
7

Yeah Yeah Yeahs played a few US shows to support the expanded reissue of their debut Fever to Tell.

Although they played a gig last year for an after-party for a Mick Rock doc, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs hadn't played a proper NYC show in four years before their Kings Theatre gig on November 7th, 2017. It was the last of only a handful of gigs, and the only one on the East coast.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image