Jealous of the Birds is the solo project of hotly tipped Irish songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Naomi Hamilton. Her debut album Parma Violets, due out in April, matches introspective indie-folk with fiery post-punk. Beautifully crafted songs have been given contrasting arrangements, veering from stripped-down acoustic guitar to full-band indie-rock anthems, all overlaid by Naomi’s compelling layered vocals. Equal parts light and shade, the songs are poignant and vulnerable, bursting with honesty and raw passion.
Hailing from County Armagh in Northern Ireland, Jealous of the Birds emerged from the vibrant suburban folk scene, alongside acts such as Ciaran Lavery and No Oil Painting. Naomi quietly unleashed her debut EP Capricorn in March 2015, where her wonderfully understated bedroom indie-folk won her an ever-growing legion of support. The entire EP is a stunning lo-fi collection of tunes recalling Girlpool, Karen Dalton, Cat Power, Laura Marling and even The Moldy Peaches at times. Describing her music she has said; “My only hope is that the songs sound like a real friend talking.”
Keen to move away from a purely “folk” or “singer-songwriter” tag, for her debut full-length, Hamilton throws her net wider, moving from bedroom recording to a real studio. With a more extensive range of instrumentation and producer Declan Legge at the helm, the sound is much more sonically expansive and dynamic. Refusing to be pinned down by genre, the tone of each song is contrasting yet complimentary.
EP highlight “Goji Berry Sunset” has been re-recorded with a more ambitious accompaniment and now opens the album. Perhaps the most whimsical track, it is about the first flourish of a romantic relationship, with lyrics steeped in quirkiness and infectious melody. As Naomi explains: “It’s a mellow kind of sweetness that never grows sour.”
Songs such as “Dandelion” (a summery love song to the listener) and “Marcus” (a dark enigma of a song) encapsulate Jealous of the Birds’ ability to convey an awful lot in a very simple and captivating way. Both songs pair beautifully layered vocals with stark acoustic guitar. Where “Dandelion” builds to a stunning string crescendo, “Marcus” has a childlike quality and eerie nursery rhyme vocals, blurring the lines between innocence and ignorance, passivity and violence.
In contrast there are post-punk firecrackers, such as “Russian Doll” (delving into the idea of trying to re-mold one's perception of self at the end of a relationship) or “Purple Octopus” (an upbeat confessional track that explores ideas of adolescence, creative frustration, authority and apathy). Whereas “Powder Junkie” is a dark and sensual song about the dangerous chemistry between two people, pulling the listener into a whiplash world of attraction.
The album is named after the single “Parma Violets”, specifically referencing the lyric "Oh please don't swallow / pills like parma violets again." It goes back round to the sense that it’s like a real friend talking. In this case it’s as one person offering real compassion and empathy to another struggling with suicide. As Naomi explains: “In essence, it's an expression of compassion – a hand of loving kindness reaching towards another human being across the widest chasm.”
Parma Violets is a startlingly realized offering, poignant and beguiling, the album has a lo-fi organic integrity that is utterly bewitching. No longer to be Jealous of the Birds, here Naomi Hamilton proves that she can fly just as high.