THE PRESS RELEASE: “Sparta, the El Paso band featuring Jim Ward, release their first full length studio album since 2006’s Threes. When it comes to his long and fruitful career in music, Ward is not guided by vanity or money or some grand narrative in which he’s the central player. It’s all about the song, the melody, the lyric. So in late-2017, when he began making heavier, more riff-laden music, he rang his Sparta bandmate of more than 20 years, bassist Matt Miller, and began work on Trust The River. Of their absence Ward notes, “I’ve made a real point to never break up a band, mostly because if you look at my history it’s filled with on-and-off-again projects. As much as I can control it, I don’t want there to be permanence.” Making the album was a multi-month songwriting process that culminated in some of the most inspired recording sessions of his career, with help from Miller, drummer Cully Symington, and guitarist Gabriel Gonzalez. Also joining them was Austin-based musician-producer, David Garza. Beyond Sparta, Ward has performed in various bands and under several monikers over his long and winding career— from the iconic post-hardcore band At The Drive-In, to a slew of solo albums and, recently, his alt-country project, Sleepercar. Having been a member of heavy bands but also showcasing his more melancholic side via his solo work, Ward says the new Sparta album feels like the logical meeting point of his influences. “Naturally it’s coming to this unity,” he says. “Those two worlds have always been on a path towards unity. And I knew in my heart that it was coming.”
MY TWO CENTS: If no man can step in the same river twice, it’s probably safe to assume he can’t play in the same band or make the same album. So don’t expect this new incarnation of the beloved post-hardcore outfit Sparta — formed from ex-members of the legendary At the Drive-In — to deliver the same cathartic punch as they did back in their urgently noisy heyday. Which is not to suggest that this impeccably crafted 33-minute comeback disc doesn’t have its share of hard-hitting and intense moments, both musically and emotionally. Even so, for the most part this feels like an older, wiser, mellower and more thoughtful version of Sparta. Of course, that should come as no surprise, given singer-guitarist and chief songwriter Jim Ward’s more recent move toward softer and moodier fare — and his stated desire to unite his various musical facets under one banner. Looks like he got what he’s after. And if Sparta’s patient fans are willing to cut him some slack, it just might be what they’re after too. If not, well, there’s always 2034.