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Album review Scottish albums

Sparrow and the Workshop

The first time I saw them, they were stalking across a blustery field near Oban, backstage at Dunstaffnage festival, singer Jill O’Sullivan all cool country cunning, leaving no doubt as to her kudos. Their performance later that day confirmed in my mind their credibility, with an unwavering ability to deliver darkly country-tinged songs with effortless cool.

The album is called Murderopolis, at once a pastiche of crazed urbanity masked with Southern Gothic overtones, a Fritzean homage, a Faulknerian nod. O’Sullivan’s drawling American vocals soar through the darkened streets in this despairing city, clearing pathways, as the drums become juggernauts with crystal headlights powering past, into fading taillights. Opening track ‘Valley of Death’ is a thunderous descent into the ghosts of the past, the tragedy of failing love and numbed passions. Layered male/female vocals transmit a balancing of blame in this love gone.

The album is a slight departure from earlier work, some of the light being pushed out by creeping rawness and dark suppositions. Drums are heavy, guitar soaked in static charge, bass filling spaces with weight. There’s an edge of Blood Red Shoes at times, and an occasional similarity to Metric, with genuine crafting in each song. Third track ‘Odessa’ comes wrapped in ethereal haunted packaging, which opens to reveal pulsing depths, the chorus rising and giving way to distorted thoughts.

Single ‘Shock Shock’ has been receiving airplay on the much coveted Mark Riley and Steve Lamacq shows on 6Music, and its catchy guitar riff makes it a twisted line dance of a track, a cinematic tale with visceral energy. Other standout tracks are the quietly brooding ‘Water Won’t Fall’, with a delicate glockenspiel competing with its lilting off-beats; and ‘The Faster You Spin’, which is aggressively accusatory in every element. Title track ‘Murderopolis’ sounds angry, floor tom heavy, a thumping headache on a grey day, with O’Sullivan repeating the refrain ‘I’ve been running round without my head’, perhaps an excuse for promises left unfulfilled, deeds undone.

There are a couple of weaker tracks to my mind, one being the slightly seventies ‘Flower Bomb’, which seems to sit in a different realm than the other tracks in terms of sounds (a particularly nasty vocal reverb) and theme, but overall this is an accomplished album, a well-crafted and nicely produced piece which promises even more from live shows.

Murderopolis will be available on Song, by Toad, on May 27th