Only the most ardent At The Drive-In zealots would argue against the fact, that to date, Sparta's output has been largely hit or miss. Often referred to as the 'other' group that formed from the ashes of At The Drive-In, it would appear that this at times overshadowed outfit are finally hitting their stride. "Threes" is not only an album that signals this change, but also the one that sees them landing a new label deal with Hollywood Records and welcoming Keeley Davis of Engine Down fame on guitars and backing vocals.
Putting their best foot forward, "Threes" starts off with four solid tracks, each showing off a lingering, if not guarded, sense of beauty and struggle. While the most exciting of the bunch take on a heated approach that echoes post hardcore and not so oddly traces of Engine Down and At The Drive-In, there is also a sparse, haunting acoustic number included in the batch as well. The driving energy of these tracks, which eschew straight-forward musicianship for layered, twisting, indie rock, comes off underdog enough that not only are they invigorating, but empowering as well.
Sadly though, this winning streak for the band doesn't continue, for by the time track five hits, delusions of U2-styled grandeur emerge. This mindset traps the songs into an array of bland melancholic rock that strives to be epic and winds up feeling bloated instead. Indeed filler takes up residence on the latter half of this record and while there are moments where the band do fight their way out of it, mostly to sound like early Radiohead, it's not long before they are pulled right back under.
With such a strong start this turn of events is rather disappointing. The ponderous rhythm section is almost always accounted for, but the fire and drive that enlivens the first few tracks is all but absent throughout the latter half. Another misstep taken is the under-utilization of Davis' backing vocals. They readily compliment those of frontman Jim Ward, yet their voices rarely intertwine and rob the band of what could have been a very powerful combination.
This problem isn't limited to only Davis however. The band also enlist Merry Clayton of the Rolling Stones' "Gimmie Shelter" fame on the albums closing track "Translations" - only to bury her soulful performance under the guitars. Clearly Sparta's collective highs and lows weighed heavily on their shoulders throughout the writing of this album and they strived to document that for the listener. But with an abundance of self-questioning and labored attempts at reinvention, making it through the turgid second half of this record quickly becomes a daunting task.
(3.5 / 5)