Last year’s Crystal Falls LP was a real powerhouse; an ascendant, genre cross-breeding grower that belied the tender years of its trio of creators, one Welsh, one Scottish and one American. Not bad for an album with just two fresh tracks; a Frankenstein’s monster of previous EPs.
Spitting Daggers, then, represents Glasgow-based Sparrow And The Workshop’s first legitimately long long player. More than having simply loosened their limbs and cut their teeth, the band have already – in the likes of I Will Break You and The Gun – produced genuinely outstanding tracks in which singer Jill O’Sullivan, guitarist Nick Packer and drummer Gregor Donaldson sound as if they’re simultaneous battling one another and working in glorious tandem.
No immediately apparent changes to the formula presented themselves then, and none are forthcoming here: Spitting Daggers parades the same post-rock/folk fusion, the same severity of conviction, the same sensual menace that made Crystals Fall such an absorbing listen. A year on the road has vulcanised the three, tightened their set, and this is the result.
They waste no time on their sophomore effort as they dive headlong into folky-grunge with Pact To Stay Cold, O’Sullivan’s tremendous voice sounding like a furious, adamant and slightly demented – that is to say, disappointed to be rescued – Alela Diane: “On an uncontrollable night / I look around / and to my dismay / you appear with a spade in your hand / reaching down and digging me out.”
There are, of course, embellishments above and beyond the established Sparrow mold: You Don’t Trust Anyone is their most modern-sounding effort to date – coming across like early Yeah Yeah Yeahs material – while Faded Glory is less bitter fairytale, more Polly Harvey tour de force.
It is with pre-industrial roots, however, that the band reach their highest highs. Besides being splendidly entitled, Our Lady Of The Potatoes – based on a novel about Louis XV’s 14-year-old Irish mistress, apparently – sees Gregor and Nick pick up trombone and tenor horn respectively, having learned to play in the weeks leading up to the album’s recording. It’s a seat-of-your-pants approach that comes across well, particularly in conjunction with O’Sullivan’s character actor performance.
Beyond the title track, which dares approach the considerable peaks of their debut, there’s also Snakes In The Grass; surely one of the tracks of the year so far. Each of the trio excels – drums thump viscerally, guitar sounds tangibly earthy, vocals wheel and resonate – in a three-minute spell that leaves no doubt as to Sparrow And The Workshop’s thrilling authenticity.
The slow burners shine too: Father Look perfects the timeless blueprint driven at in Crystals Fall, especially during spine-tingling harmonies – likewise for the gorgeous Old Habits – while album closing Soft Sound Of Your Voice’s darkly intimate confession draws the listener in all over again.
Spitting Daggers encapsulates Sparrow And The Workshop from the opening sparks to the dying embers; a scintillating international trio whose reverence for tradition does not prevent them from performing utterly in the here and now. They don’t make them like this anymore. Apart from this one.