“Can we breathe some new life into this scene please?” and just as soon as they were asked, these prayers were answered!
James David Ward served as co-founder to post-hardcore group At the Drive-In with singer Cedric Bixler-Zavalez and guitarist Omar Rodríguez-López from The Mars Volta among others in 1994 when he was just seventeen. Subsequently he began playing rhythm guitar and singing lead for the band Sparta. During the lifespan of both projects he has released a number of EPs under his solo title Jim Ward, though his newest solo album Daggers is preceded by almost ten years of radio silence from the project; and perhaps it is to the end of producing Daggers we did not see James Ward returning to At the Drive-In during their 2017 reunion.
Along with the composition and energy the production quality on this thing is a clear virtue; everything is punctual and clean with special attention given to the vocal tracks that often bear a raw, live sound almost reminiscent of a Hendrix or a Sabbath album, while leaning toward Alice in Chains or even a bit Rise Against at other times. It’s a very metallic thing, sleek at times (“Paper Fish”) while covered in ages of rust at others (“I Got a Secret”)–accentuated by the heavy, sheerly dissonant chords that grow into something almost organic and living.
The drum work, even in keeping with the relatively simple style of everything on the album, is particularly enjoyable. Most often simply keeping the classic 4/4 signature, the loops are swung in an interesting manner, dancing around the metronome and hesitating or jumping, sometimes at the start of the beat. This keeps the album interesting and fresh, allowing for a dancing quality which could often be found in At the Drive-In’s tracks. Furthermore one would be hard pressed to single out a best or worst track on Daggers, there is no slack in it, and the styles vary nicely between tunes. This is one of those rare works which is consistent all the way through.
While the 80’1s are obviously apparent in Ward’s Daggers, its also very clearly a contemporary and fresh album, reminiscent of both At the Drive-In and Sparta, that works to breath new life into the hardcore, art-punk, and American gothic scenes. These songs are tinged with tragedy and perseverance, comprised of traditional American symbolism and phrasings, featuring fairly simple but striking and powerful lyricism by Ward. This somewhat obscured aesthetic is compounded by the aforementioned sound and the clean yet simple art on the album’s cover displaying a lynx fighting an airborne snake. This style, while growing stale in the mid-2000’s, seems now to be making a resurgence as something new and appetites are wetted!