Listen Up: Wednesday, September 15, 2004
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A D V E R T I S E M E N T
A D V E R T I S E M E N T
Sparta

Porcelain (Geffen Records)

By Anthony Mariani

At the onset of retro rock songcraft a half-dozen years ago, the Afro-ed boys of El Paso’s At The Drive-In (R.I.P.) assumed as their duty the demolishing of empty garage rock with heavy-metal guitars. They created a new kind of sound while they were at it.

On their second full-length, Sparta — which includes three of the four members of ATDI — kick out the jams — but only when racing downhill. The slower numbers on Porcelain twist themselves into big invisible piles of cotton. Pointy “scremo” guitars whine and wind aimlessly. Song fractions mimic one another, precluding jagged parts from sharing space and thus making stuff interesting, dramatic. Relatively senseless lyrics and a low mix on Jim Ward’s howling whisper create a vortex that instead of sucking, repels. You may at times forget you’re listening to a rock record, though your stereo volume is on 10.

Yet Sparta does deliver crashy heaviness. The best tracks rip forward, rejecting delicacy and indecision. An ominous, buzzing bass line escorts “The Guns of Memorial Park” into Led Zeppelin territory, a sprint loaded with weighty bottom chugs and triple paradiddles that slows to methodical foot-stomp during the chorus. And “Splinters” ain’t exactly speedy, but for the most part it is loud. A high stringy riff weaves throughout, and while it’s occasionally the only noticeable guitar action happening, it suggests agility and bite.

Old-school spirit occasionally bestows upon emo kids the ability to make rock but rarely lays it on so rich and brutal. The Sparta boys could do better than treat the ghost of their interred harder self like a stranger.


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