Sparta Wiretap Scars

If there was any question as to who the real creative force behind the oft-lamented At the Drive-In was, the answer lies in Sparta's - the band that features the three non-Afro sporting members of that undeniably great band - full-length debut. Sure, spastic singer Cedric Bixler and rake-thin guitarist Omar Rodriguez-Lopez may have been the most identifiable guys in ATDI, giving the band its look, which became know as Afro Drive-In thanks to their abundant coifs, but it was clearly Jim Ward, Tony Hajjar and Pall Hinojos that gave the band its unique and always interesting progressive post-punk musicality. After ATDI's media frenzy-fuelled disintegration, and who could blame a band that spent years happily wallowing in relative obscurity for cracking under the pressure of magazine headlines screaming "the next Nirvana?," the matter of what the ex-members would do next became clear almost immediately as Cedric and Omar formed a dub-hop band called De Facto while the others put together Sparta. Wiretap Scars is every bit the logical continuation of where ATDI was heading with its last album. This disc is a scorching fusion of punk fury, brooding goth rock and textured, intricate instrumentation, with the standouts being too many to mention, as pretty much every track is outstanding. Lyrically and vocally it's not quite as powerful, compelling or interesting as the stream of consciousness rants Bixler spewed with great aplomb, but it's likely only a matter of time before Ward gets comfortable with being the lead vocalist, instead of Bixler's back-up singer. This uncompromising disc delivers on the great promise of Sparta's debut teaser EP of a few months back and is well positioned for a spot at, or at least very near, the top of the year's best records list. (Dreamworks)