Words by Natalie Blacklock
Jim Ward has had a long association with Australia since touring with At The Drive-In in the now infamous tour of 2001 (p.s. if you don’t know about what went down, look it up!) From that fleeting yet eventful introduction into the Australian musical psyche, Ward has returned many times under a number of musical monikers – as a solo artist, with alt-country outfit, Sleepercar and most notably as the frontman for post-hardcore band, Sparta. Over the years and across all of his musical endeavours, Ward has always been synonymous with creating a varied palate of music that crosses genres and challenges stereotypical assumptions about what music is and what it should be.
Jim Ward (Vocals & Guitar)
Gabriel Gonzalez (Guitar)
Matt Miller (Bass)
Cully Symington (Drums)
Following the demise of At The Drive-In, Sparta was born in 2001 by founding members Jim Ward, Paul Hinojos, and Tony Hajjar. Since their formation, Sparta have released three albums and an EP critical acclaim and have built a strong fan base across the globe – despite two periods of extended hiatus in their career. To many fan’s excitement, Sparta are set to release their fourth full-length album, ‘Trust The River’, on April 10th via Dine Alone Records and let me tell you, it is an absolute banger. The ten-track album is the result of a multi-month song writing process that culminated in some of the most inspired recording sessions of Sparta’s journey thus far as ‘Trust The River’ explores detail-rich storytelling that is all about the song, the melody, and the lyrics.
‘TRUST THE RIVER’ TRACK LISTING:
- Class Blue
- Cat Scream
- Turquoise Dream
- Spirit Away
- Graveyard Luck
- Dead End Signs
- Empty Houses
- No One Can Be Nowhere
‘Trust The River’ has certainly been a long time coming, with many fans (including this reviewer) having waited patiently since 2006 for another full-length release to make its way to the masses. With primary songwriter and frontman Jim Ward having performed in heavier acts and as well as his more melancholic solo work, the songs of Sparta and particularly the ten tracks on this new album feel like the logical meeting point of his expansive musical influences and this is evident right from the first song.
Opening track, Class Blue starts off with steady drums and delicate guitar work before rising through the chorus, offering an infectious feeling through Ward’s powerful vocal range. Short, fast and loud is the order of the day when it comes to the overtly energetic Cat Scream. Coming it at just over 2 minutes in length, it was an early indicator that a Sparta reunion was on the cards, when it was first released as a single in 2018. It’s definitely a great addition to the record – and is sure to be one of those tracks that you simply NEED to experience in a live setting. Next up is the dreamy and aptly-named Turquoise Dream, which sounds like it would easily have a place on the next Boy and Bear or Holy Holy record, demonstrating the band’s diversity of sound and Ward’s wide range of influences that infiltrate his music.
Spirit is a slower and much much darker number – complete with strings and 2-part harmonies akin to the sounds of Nick Cave. Although, a change of pace from the record thus far, this track is definitely an early favourite, which is very obvious right from the first listen. Believe, one of the tracks already released from the album, has been recorded in numerous versions by Ward over the last 10 years, finally finding a place on ‘Trust The River’ – and with Ward’s smooth vocals and Symington’s pulsating drums keeping time, the track is a promising sign for the mid-point of the album.
Graveyard Luck was first released as a standalone track in 2017, but has made a reappearance on this release and is certainly bringing back the fast-paced rock ‘n’ roll we’ve come to expect from Sparta. With clever guitar riffs from Gabriel Gonzalez and Cully Symington’s expertise behind the kit, this short and sweet number will surely be an album favourite. The heavily Piano-driven Dead End Signs is by far the rawest track from ‘Trust The River’. It is a poignant and reflective moment which forces the listener to really sit and think and question almost everything around them – which is somewhat of an unexpected feeling to get while listening to a post-hardcore record.
Miracle, another album single, really comes into its own. Talking of lines that shouldn’t be crossed, the song is bitterly sad, but all the same uplifting, with the song ending in a call of “sometimes miracles come late” – and sometimes they really do… In a time of uncertainty for us all, it’s never been more important to be reminded to not give up on love or faith or hope, but rather believe that better things are coming. Sparta beautifully capture the spirit of an undercurrent anxieties in Empty Houses through a cauldron of tense drumming and twirling guitars. Taking on a somewhat folksy Americana flair in the guitar melody and subdued rhythms, the track is reminiscent of some of the south-western influence and attitude (yes, I’m referring that line… “I said, fuck it”) that predecessors At The Drive-In exhibited in their early days.
The closing track on the album, No One Can Be Nowhere is definitely a groovy slow-burner, that you cannot help tapping along to. Examining some of the harsher truths of life, the song is almost like the revelation that one needs before moving onto bigger and better things, emphasised by Ward’s soaring vocal bridge, where he passionately screams out the song’s title over and again.
Although it has been a long time coming, Sparta have absolutely not disappointed with this record. The moodiness of the instrumentation paired with frontman Jim Ward’s vocal range and quality, ‘Trust The River’ is confronting, honest and raw from start-to-finish. The unique mix of deeply personal thoughts teemed with a roller coaster of realism, optimism and self-deprecation, matched with the signature post-hardcore synonymous with Jim Ward and Sparta, ‘Trust The River’ is everything we didn’t know we needed in this exact moment, and is definitely worth a listen (or 10).
‘Trust The River’ is out Friday April 10 via Dine Alone Records.
With thanks to Six Boroughs Media