When At the Drive-In, the greatest multiracial post-punk band ever from El Paso, Texas, broke up three years ago, half of its members formed Sparta and began ambling down a road from Over the Top Town to Well-Meaning Dullsville. Wiretap Scars, Sparta's 2002 debut, was At the Drive-In with none of the original act's energy and all of the earnest emo piety it somehow avoided. On Porcelain, Sparta seems to consider reversing directions: "Hiss the Villain" is a breakneck blast of sharp-edged guitar fuzz and spiraling strings, with singer Jim Ward giving his typically murky lyric a refreshing immediacy, and in "La Cerca," rhythm sectioneers Tony Hajjar and Matt Miller manage to inject a little swing into the band's stiff-legged grind. Elsewhere, the band deepens its attack with the occasional post-Radiohead synth squiggle or slo-mo power-ballad tempo. But these guys remain some of alt-rock's most serious, humorless practitioners. Hopefully they'll take a lesson from their tour mates this summer, Incubus; they once put out a record called Fungus Amongus.
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