Jealous Of The Birds is a solo project from Irish multi-instrumentalist, Naomi Hamilton. On her debut album, Naomi has expanded on her bedroom-demos, adding more instrumentation and recruiting producer Declan Legge, who’s previous credits include SOAK and Silences.
Whilst early recordings were firmly in the bedroom indie-folk styling, a world of hushed vocals and lightly strummed guitars, on debut album Parma Violets, Naomi stretches her wings a little more. Whilst her folky roots shine through, there’s also hints of turn of the century indie-rock, scuzzy-garage punk and lo-fi bedroom electronics. The glue that binds these disparate ideas together is Naomi’s breathy, Cat Power-like vocal, and her introspective and honest lyricism.
Naomi is from County Armagh in Northern Ireland. Armagh is the smallest of Northern Ireland’s six counties, and takes it’s name from two Irish words, Ard meaning height and Macha, who was an Ancient Irish Goddess associated with war, horses and sovereignty. Famous Armagh residents include the second First Minister of Ireland, Ian Paisley, Pulitzer Prize for Poetry winner, Paul Muldoon and Clockwork Orange actor, Paul Magee. Probably the counties most famous musician, is the so called Bard Of Armagh, Tommy Maken; whilst in recent years there’s a thriving “suburban folk scene” featuring Jealous Of The Birds as well as fellow artists such as Ciaran Lavery and No Oil Painting.
It was only March last year that the first Jealous Of The Birds EP, Capricorn, was released. Recent single, Goji Berry Sunrise received regular airtime on the various BBC Radio stations (as well as a premiere on this site) and last week Naomi released her debut album, Parma Violets via Big Space Records.
You might not realise it, but if you’re a regular radio listener there’s a good chance you’ve already heard the albums lead single, Goji Berry Sunset. With its wistful, whistling chorus, and mellow acoustic-strum, it is exactly the sort of song that you would imagine making a musician into an overnight sensation. It’s an excellent track, but at the same time, we’re delighted the whole album isn’t quite so straight forward and saccharine.
Across the rest of Parma Violets, Jealous Of The Birds proves to be a flexible and intriguing talent. Recent single Russian Doll, is a Colleen Green-like mix of processed drum beats and scuzzy grunge-tinged guitar riffing, littered with all the doubt and self-deprecation, that are near universal themes of growing up. Elsewhere, Tonight I Feel Like Kafka, incorporates burbling electronics reminiscent of Blur at their most melancholy and The Zodiac Bar has a surprisingly effective proggy-breakdown.
The most complete of the albums louder moments is Purple Octopus, it’s riotous bedroom-punk in the mould of Tacocat or Trust Fund. Its energetic musical racket is paired with a somewhat scathing discussion on modern living, “nowadays I don’t feel alive everything we’re doing’s so contrived” Naomi notes, before marking herself out as the voice of the disenchanted modern 20-somethings, “none of us will ever be content, with our college education and our rent.” Naomi has spoke of wanting these songs to “sound like a real friend talking”, and she certainly has an accessible and relatable quality to her lyric writing.
It’s also to Parma Violet’s credit that it is not an album that entirely forgets the folk scene it came from; Marcus is a short sharp blast of youthful romance, full of play-fights and the spilling of cherry red blood whilst Mountain Lullably is laced with the sound of Appalachian folk that wouldn’t sound out of place on a record by Fleet Foxes or Mountain Man. Dandelion add’s a cello to the acoustic strum in a method familiar to fans of Nick Drake whilst the closing string crescendo is reminiscent of the best moments of Fionn Regan.
The highlight here though is the title track. Parma Violets is a dark acoustic meander, underpinned by a delightfully melodic piano motif that brings to mind Ryan Adams’ Love Is Hell. Lyrically it’s an open and honest account of wanting to help a friend in the aftermath of a suicide attempt, the chorus, “Please don’t you swallow pills like Parma Violets again” spells the message out loud and clear, but in the verses Naomi touches on some real honesty and human emotions, noting, “I wish I could call you, what the hell would I say?” It’s the songs human quality that it truly shines, Naomi has described the song as, “an expression of compassion – a hand of loving kindness reaching towards another human being across the widest chasm.” She ultimately notes, “we’re different shades of the same blue”, touching on the idea that ultimately in the darkness, you are not alone and you are not the only one experiencing these lows.
Parma Violets is probably three or four songs too long, and sometimes, as on Trouble In Bohemia which sounds way too much like Len and Powder Junkie, which suggests a liking of the Red Hot Chilli Peppers, it can sound like she’s just trying a little too hard to throw more ideas at the record. Still, forgive a young talent the odd musical car crash, because amongst the albums highlights are some real gems.
Parma Violets is out now via Big Space Records. Click HERE for details of all upcoming Jealous Of The Birds shows.