Sparta – Porcelain
by Mark Hensch
Five Star: A look at albums
that are so good that they impress even the most cynical of critics. Very
few albums are superior enough to obtain a five star rating but occasionally
a band slips through the river of mediocrity that is the modern music industry
and they produce an album that restores our faith in the future of rock!
This series is a look at such albums.
Few bands on the alternative rock scene
have such a strange history as sonic rock group Sparta. For those of you
older Indie rock fans, you can probably recall the "buzz" band on the scene;
At The Drive In. At The Drive In was turning so many heads with their (to
this very day) unique and varied sound that many predicted that after The
Relationship of Command, the supercharged critical favorites would be signed
to a major label and would go down in the annals of rock history as truly
Alas, such dreams are often shattered by
cruellest irony. Due to inner turmoil within the band, there arose in At
The Drive In two factions with very different concepts of what kind of
rock should be played. These two factions exist today, inherent in sonic
rockers Sparta and prog rockers The Mars Volta. Both have styles at opposite
ends of the musical spectrum, Sparta playing frequently derided "safe"
sonic alternative rock while The Mars Volta have dropped an insane concept
album of maze-like guitar passages and enough styles to fill a shopping
After the early release of both the EP
"Austere" and full-length "Wiretap Scars," many felt that the Jim Ward
led Sparta faction would be kings of the hill. Those premature critics
and fans were astounded when "De-Loused in the Comatarium" was dropped
by the TMV, easily surpassing even At The Drive In for unique, artistic
Now eclipsed by the more experimental TMV,
Sparta had a lot of tinkering to do with their second album, the aptly
titled Porcelain. In an effort to show that they can be as visionary as
their former bandmates, the Texas rock outfit took their trademark sound,
a sort of swirling mellow to hard wall of sound that is textured and peaceful,
and added some interesting new twists to prove they too have relevance.
"Guns of Memorial Park" throbbs in with
some dreamy guitar parts, background static, epic wailing effects that
are subtle and quiet, and a rhythm section that is tight and varied throughout
the song. The bass lines add a little sprinkle of depth to the double guitar
layers, and this song is an excellent start, trademark Sparta easily. "Hiss
The Villain" is a song that kind of grows on one with each listen. It's
a weaker swirling pop rock song at first, but by it's end mutating guitar
parts and a understated set of strings in the back add some value to the
"While Oceana Sleeps" is the best sign
of what Sparta will probably evolve into, and I must say it's bloody good
stuff. It cascades in with a mellow bass line, quiet vocals by Jim Ward
(who is probably a very underrated vocalist) and a simply amazing guitar
rythmm that sounds like the lapping of ocean ripples on a secluded beach
break. At one point the guitars duel in that lapping sound and a melodic
solo that is amazing.
"La Cerca" will make a good choice for
a radio single for Sparta, as it is catchy, embracing, and still Sparta.
First single "Breaking the Broken"
opens with a riff that is kept through the song's entirety, and though
it might be a stretch for mainstream attention, this is a standout track
that really works.
"Lines in Sand" is another winner, the
sleepy guitar parts, soft drumming, breakout choruses, and classical effects
all coming together in yet another good cut.
"End Moraine" is a hard sonic rocker that
might have fit in with Wiretap Scars.
"Death In the Family" starts of as a mellow,
building track before erupting in another solid tune.
"Syncope" is easily one of the best instrumental,
timely, and beautiful instrumental tracks I have ever heard.
"Tensioning" allows Sparta to take that
mellow, sonic, and dreamy sound and turn it into a sinister intro followed
by a involved rocker that is personal and powerful all at once.
"Travel by Bloodline" is a cool groove
rocker that is again typical of changes apparent in Sparta's sound.
"POME" is another fun instrumental that
is all drums.
"From Now to Never" is a strange musical
medley of conflicting sounds; it is a oddly workable mesh of mellow, old-school
Sparta, and harder-edged newer Sparta. It is also a progression of different
melodies; by it's end, Ward is singing over piano effects in a barely audible
"Splinters" is an awesome guitar heavy
rocker that is an excellent end to a superb album.
I seriously debated for several nights
what final rating to give this album. It is every bit as good as Wiretap
Scars, if not better, and I don't think I have ever heard a more natural
evolution between two CDs from a newer band. Sparta has had an interesting
ride, and personally, if they continue down the path they are heading into
then we can expect some great things from this band. I am not sure if it
stacks up to De-Loused, but it is still a wicked good mellow CD and one
that any music fan should take a chance on.
1. Guns of Memorial Park
2. Hiss The Villain
3. While Oceana Sleeps
4. La Cerca
5. Breaking The Broken
6. Lines in Sand
7. End Moraine
8. Death in the Family
11. Travel by Bloodline
13. From Now to Never
the band's homepage to learn more
this CD online
out of review of the band's debut CD "Wiretap Scars"
a friend about this article
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