Glasgow trio Sparrow & the Workshop started well: Their 2010 debut, Crystals Fall was an invigorating reminder of the gothic furies at the heart of the British folk tradition. For its swift follow-up, 2011′s Spitting Daggers, they attempted to strike while the iron was hot, and succeeded only in bringing the hammer down on their collective thumb: The album sounded forced and rushed, with earlier subtlety subsumed by histrionics. Murderopolis, their third, bore the burden of needing to correct one of the worst cases of Second Album Syndrome as has been diagnosed this decade.
Murderopolis finds the balance more or less restored. It does not lack drama — drama, on any album blessed with Jill O’Sullivan’s arresting voice, is a given. “Flower Bombs” is a reminder of how much that first album suggested a reincarnation of Jefferson Airplane; “The Faster You Spin” gets outright metal, and “The Glue That Binds Us” is a kiss-off tune of singular directness and brutality. But Sparrow & the Workshop have rediscovered the merits of their more orthodox folk aspect, as well —¬ opening track “Valley Of Death” recalls the mournful modern country of First Aid Kit. And when they successfully negotiate a path between those extremes, as on the Fairport-Convention-play-The-Cure “Darkness,” they’re extraordinary. Welcome back.