Crystals Fall?  How about Bear Wolf Crystal Fucks Fall, just to make it properly Pitchforky?  Crystals bloody Fall my arse.

Anyhow, I am not all that keen on the name, but that’s about all I can find wrong with this album, despite the fact that it does a lot of things I don’t like.

There are too many songs, for starters.  And a lot of those songs are direct repeats of songs from earlier EPs, and a few are re-recordings – another bad sign.  And the result?  Well, it’s fucking brilliant isn’t it!

What I like about these guys is the sheer range of the emotions in their stuff.  For a mild-mannered, friendly bunch they can sound pretty fucking pissed off a lot of the time.  Jill in particular, the lead singer, rather contradicts her shy, hiding behind the fringe, trying not to look at the audience on-stage manner with the sheer vitriol of a lot of her delivery.  Her voice is something really special, though.  Fragile, vulnerable, warm, confrontational or downright vicious when it needs to be, it imbues the whole album with real emotional sincerity.*

And then there’s Nick on guitar: what a jolly, friendly, warm, unassuming fellow he seems, and yet on this record he’s like some sort of guitar gremlin – all cute and fuzzy until you’re stupid enough to pour water on him.  Given the kind of stuff he shows he’s capable of producing when needed – take the end of Swam Like Sharks or Into the Wild, for example – it shows tremendous humility, which an awful lot of musicians lack, to be as restrained as he is in applying his talents to the rest of this album.

And Gregor on drums?  Well he’s a ginger Glaswegian, so erm, yes, enough said.  Sparrow & the Workshop often reverse the roles of guitar and drums, using the latter as the lead instrument and the former to pin down the rhythm.  They can do this, simply, because Gregor is a fucking brilliant drummer.  The momentum and lightness of touch on this album owe no little debt to the brisk pace set by the percussion, and that’s before you even touch on the vocal interplay between his voice and Jill’s, which is one of the best features of the whole Sparrow & the Workshop sound.

They neatly sidestep the fact that this album has a few more songs on it than I normally think is wise by deft sequencing and snappy songwriting.  The songs themselves are pretty bloody lean – no noodling and no extra choruses – and at about that three-quarter mark, where fourteen-song albums can start to lag a little, the songs come at you thick and fast: five of six don’t reach the three minute mark.  So I may still have been tempted to trim the album down a little, but this kind of pace and the sheer energy of the actual band themselves give Crystals Fall real momentum.

A lot of bands get as far as a couple of singles and an EP and basically exhaust their material, and it gives me great personal satisfaction to see how Sparrow & the Workshop have consistently beaten this particular devil over the last couple of years.  Certain tracks, like the title song, don’t quite capture the sheer vitality of the band at their best, but in general every time a fresh batch of songs has emerged, they have been of the highest quality.

For music which is in most senses composed of pretty familiar elements, they also rather impressively manage to steer clear of being predictable.  You can hear folk, country and rock in there, but I can’t think of many bands to actually compare them to.  They’re bloody brilliant though, whatever they are.

Sparrow and the Workshop – I Will Break You

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Sparrow and the Workshop

*And if she doesn’t start playing that bloody violin on more songs I am going to take it from her and sell it on eBay – it’s beeeeautiful!

From the Song, by Toad Archives. Visit Song, by Toad for more from Matthew.

Photo Credit: SnapHappySJ