Sparrow & The Workshop | Murderopolis

Words by Lee Adcock

Never assume, dear readers, that “folk music” always entails gentle, quiet acoustic ballads. Sparrow and the Workshop, folk deviants from Glasgow, are about to unleash their first release Murderopolis for Edinburgh-based Song, By Toad Records (their third in general), and it’s a mighty force. No subtle melodies or wide-eyed freak-outs here – this LP blazes forth with the raw, snarling guitars, brooding bass lines, and galloping drums that usually characterize a tough-as-nails rock band. Yet, the sweet charm of their folksy roots still shines through – indeed, nearly every track slips seamlessly between bitter menace and soothing light.

Sparrow and the Workshop demonstrate this duality perfectly on the opener, Valley of Death. It steals in with sultry, brooding verses, but reaches a sweet, wistful peak that showcases Jill O’ Sullivan’s lovely, spirited voice. Even more masterful is the beautiful and mellow Odessa – after Jill’s haunting intro, the track unravels at a flowing, relaxed pace, although the vocals remain unsettling and tense. At 3’45”, however, the drums suddenly gallop forward and drive the rest of the piece to a dramatic conclusion. Elsewhere, the title track unites a noodling bass line with crashing drums and, inexplicably, a bright and pointed vibraphone.

Not every track pivots between savagery and beauty, though. After the ultimately pleasant opener, Darkness is a true wallop, that builds from its crawling bass line and terse guitar to a MASSIVE, pounding chorus. In contrast, Water Won’t Fall, is the least aggressive track on the album, with its lonesome Western vibe and sparkling vibraphones, although Jill still delivers an outright captivating performance. Ah, but the most impressive imbalance could easily be Shock Shock, which coincidentally is also the LP’s lead single. It’s a bold, snappy number, with a shuffling start-and-stop rhythm and a commanding chorus, at once memorable and climactic. Yet there’s also the heavy, heavy The Faster You Spin – the wild and repeated cry of “FAME WHORE” always brings sheer delight.

The tender heart of Murderopolis, on the other hand, rests within the final three tracks. The curiously titled Flower Bombs may open with a skin-crawling, post-punk-esque bass line, but bursts into a gloriously triumphant chorus. This is followed by the most endearing track on the album, The Glue That Binds Us – but behind those robust riffs and twinkling bells hide a rather complicated love/hate relationship, as the final verses suggest: “I don’t like you anyway / But I could use you in my life”. The closer, Autumn to Winter, is simply stunning – those beautiful, billowing harmonies sweep upward to pristine highs.

After turning through Murderopolis many, many times, I can only conclude that Sparrow and the Workshop have concocted a winning combination here. Although they’ve built a veneer of menace and snarl, their sound remains as inviting as ever.

Murderopolis is released on May 27th. Pre-order via Song, By Toad here.

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