Hinterland invites you to leave the familiar trails and burn the old maps. The record is a search for clues and insight at a time when confusion rules.

On ‘Beginner’s Luck’, the record’s opening tune, writer Naomi Hamilton calls on a painter, a sailor, a gardener and a judge. Each of them has a quality that can help to navigate this other terrain. She is looking for vision, direction, growth and grace.

The search never ends but on the record’s first single, ‘Morse Code’, the code gets cracked and the message is simple: “you are alive”. It’s a flicker that confirms the art and lights up the path.

Naomi was raised in Armagh and moved to Belfast to study literature at university. Back in 2015, the local music community was enthralled by her first demo release – all colours, sense-bombs and phrases that swerved in unexpected places. The work was informed by folk, grunge and the freewheeling rhythm of the beat poets. She was loaded on sensations and the talent was manifest from the start.

Those early songs were gathered on the first album, Parma Violets (2016). It included ‘Goji Berry Sunset’, a lakeside reverie, willing the day to end perfectly. The humour was there from the start and ‘Tonight I Feel Like Kafka’ was wry and sad, enhanced by the soul brothers of Franz Kafka and Kurt Cobain.

The music became richer as JOTB evolved into a band of wiry, receptive players. The second album Peninsula (2020) was recorded at Strongroom Studios in London. It was confident and inclined to swooning melodies. JOTB had become an international feature and rightly admired, but ahead of the record release, COVID took her away from audiences and simpatico places.

Naomi stayed home, set a canvas on the easel and got acquainted with the oil paints that sounded like the best songs: Alizarin Crimson, Burnt Sienna, Sap Green and Prussian Blue. She released a chapbook of 40 poems, called Heat of the Sun. The book also presented her photographic work, captured on a manual Canon 35mm camera. Then, over time, great music started to emerge.

One of the breakthrough pieces is called ‘Cynic’s Song’. You can feel the stress of the author in the words and the images of dereliction. But almost against Naomi’s own counsel, the arc of the song turns towards the light. The harmonica sighs and the germ of creation will not be denied. “Maybe there’s a universe inside a fresh acorn,” she supposes, like William Blake in a joyous reveal.

So, Hinterland became a pattern of different pathways. On ‘Borderwalker’ the character is bidding a farewell to the Vanity Fair of Pilgrim’s Progress. There’s no malice in the leave-taking, and the writer even sees a former self in the fashions and foibles. But a sea passage has been booked and a new life stage is waiting for the traveller, who exits, “soft as a ghost”.

‘Out of Orbit’ also sounds like a leave-taking, an abdication. Like many others, Naomi was doomscrolling and fixating on the churn of media during lockdown. She decided instead on a process of non-attachment, “untethered as a milky balloon”.

Lightness and laughter also win out. Naomi has always laced her songs with one-liners and self-depreciation. She survives the incoming babble of ‘Inside Outside’. And on ‘Not Today’, she deflates heteronormative culture by throwing defiant poses and mocking the haters.

Naomi moved from Belfast to the east coast of County Antrim. Since light pollution was less of an issue, she could watch the night sky and pick out the constellations over the Irish Sea. It was ideal therapy and a reminder of the cosmic expanse. The record’s closing track, ‘Ursa Minor’ is a contemplation of the best of this, accented by the perfume of the pine snow and the moment’s immensity: “you’re exactly where you need to be”.

Hinterland, like Naomi’s previous work, was produced by the Irish producer Declan Legge. As before, the core players were Peter Close (bass), Jamie Hewitt (drums), Ciaran Coyle (guitar) and Matt Evans (piano, synths). On the track ‘Quiet Blues’, the cellist Laura McFadden enhanced the melancholia and the kinship to those old Nick Drake records.

The recording sessions took place at Big Space Studios in Newry and at Analogue Catalogue by the slopes of the Mourne Mountains. The label designation for the previous album and this one is Canvasback / Atlantic in the US and Parlophone in the UK.

In her early interviews, Naomi talked of beat poetry, in particular Allen Ginsberg. Some of those cadences, mantras and illuminations are reflected in her own work. The inspiration goes deeper, back to the untamed figure of Walt Whitman, American sensualist, vagabond and laureate of the wild spaces.

Whitman is an unofficial spirit guide to Hinterland and Naomi calls him up on a track called ‘A Shárú’. The song title is an Irish verb (“to overcome”) and the aim is to transcend the petty and share a greater love. Over the closing moments, she reads from Walt’s poem, Come Said My Soul. It was written as an epigraph to his epic lifework, Leaves of Grass. The body and the soul are as one and the song will endure.

Whitman’s words resonate across the centuries yet the sentiments are from the same locality as this record. Hinterland is the only place to be.