DreamWorks - 2002 - 49 minutes

One of the most frustrating knock-ons of the success of El Paso outfit At the Drive-In in 2000 was the media's tendency to focus on vocalist Cedric Bixler and guitarist Omar Rodriguez and not give enough credit to what drummer Tony Hajjar, bassist Paul Hinojos and guitarist Jim Ward brought to the group and sound. Many times, it seemed as if ATD-I got split into two camps: "the guys with the hair" and "the other three".

Since the band's demise early last year, Bixler and Rodriguez have gone on to form The Mars Volta, while Ward, Hajjar and Hinojos hooked up with new bassist Matt Miller and continued playing together as Sparta. The fact that their new band has been together less than two years, makes 'Wiretap Scars' all the more remarkable. While retaining some elements of ATD-I, Sparta find their own space, playing around with light and shade and coming up with a really memorable collection of songs.

Assuming singing duties, Ward has the fantastic ability to come across as either livid or lost, often on the same track – an approach which will bring them comparisons with Fugazi. But it's a case of inspiration rather than influence because the songs here are strong enough to live on their own. And while the anger is as pure and focussed as anything on ATD-I's breakthrough 'Relationship of Command', what really shines is the beautiful instrumental passages existing within them. There's an ambience and a sense of possibility on 'Wiretap Scars' that will have you playing it again and again.

The split which last year seemed so catastrophic now sounds like one of the best things to happen in ages. A contender for strongest debut of the year and more importantly, one which should find Ward, Hajjar, Hinojos answering more questions about the future than the past.

Harry Guerin

Tracklisting: Cut Your Ribbon - Air - Mye - Collapse - Sans Cosm - Light Burns Clear - Cataract - Red Alibi - RX Coup - Glasshouse Tarot - Echodyne Harmonic - Assemble the Empire