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Album Review: Hozier – Hozier

 
By on Monday, 6th October 2014 at 12:00 pm
 

It almost seems irrelevant to write a review of Hozier‘s self-titled debut album at this point. His hit track ‘Take Me to Church’ has been all over radio and internet for months now, and the song’s themes of sexuality and rebellion against institutionalised religion have been discussed ad nauseum. He’s previously released two EPs, ‘Take Me to Church’ and ‘From Eden’ (the latter previously reviewed here), which contain the bulk of the material on the full album, as well as several individual tracks and videos. But, if you’ve been hiding under a rock for the past 6 months and haven’t heard about Hozier, now’s the time to come out and have a listen.

The album opens with the dramatic ‘Take Me to Church’, which despite its predictability is a strong choice, as it foreshadows the musical and emotional themes Hozier explores in the rest of the songs. The strong blues and gospel influence sets the sonic tone, and the two repeats of the ‘Amen’ section still give me the same goosebumps I experienced when I heard him perform the song live at SXSW earlier this year. Both this song and second track ‘Angel of Small Death and the Codeine Scene’ both reference the literary idea of la petite mort, or small death, which is often used as a metaphor for orgasm. Perhaps as important, however, as the sensual connotation is the subtler implication of having a deep emotional experience, and the music later on the album is nothing if not emotional.

Along with the prevalent religious themes in many of his lyrics, Hozier also employs a distinctly gospel sound in the backing vocals on several tracks, including the sultry ‘Work Song’ and the more pop-oriented ‘Sedated’. The upbeat track ‘Jackie and Wilson’ is Hozier’s wink and nod to his musical influences, with the playful final chorus line, “we’ll name our children Jackie and Wilson / raise ‘em on rhythm and blues”. But the earlier lyric in the chorus “with my mid-youth crisis all said and done / I need to be youthfully felt, ‘cos God I never felt young” might be more telling, as the depth in his songwriting belies his youthful age.

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cSWqxbswQAY[/youtube]

As the album progresses, several interesting facets of Hozier’s work come more sharply into focus. The album versions of ‘To Be Alone’ and ‘From Eden’ are more refined than the EP releases, with the howling chorus of the former shifted exquisitely to the backing vocals and the bridge section of the latter featuring an interesting string and percussion arrangement that fits perfectly with the song’s serpentine lyrics.

Along with the lyrically Romantic (note the capital R) ‘From Eden’, the album includes three tracks that might have been considered art songs if they were taken out of context, due to their emphasis on the vocal melodies and poetic imagery. ‘In a Week’, featured in a live performance here, is a delicate but earthy take on eternal love, performed as a haunting duet with Karen Cowley of Wyvern Lingo. ‘Like Real People Do’ is a gentle ballad, with a perpetually rocking rhythmic motion and angelically blended backing vocals between the verses. ‘Cherry Wine’ closes the album with a deceptively sweet finger-picked guitar melody and ambient birdsong behind its passionate lyrics.

Overall, the album is an intriguing mix of styles, blending the raw sensuality of the blues with the immediacy of rock and the tempered sensitivity of folk and classical song. Hozier’s fundamental idea of death as a dramatic reference reminds me of the Death Gospel genre explored most notably by American singer/songwriter Adam Arcuragi, who described the concept as “anything that sees the inevitability of death as a reason to celebrate all the special wonder that is being alive and sentient”. It’s unusual in this era of ephemeral pop music to hear such lofty intellectual artistic ideas receiving air play on mainstream radio, but Hozier presents them on this album in an impressive display of his blossoming musical prowess.

8.5/10

Hozier‘s eponymous debut album is out today on Rubyworks / Island Records.

 

Live Gig Video: Hozier’s duet with Karen Cowley ‘In a Week’ at Kilkenny Castle

 
By on Tuesday, 29th July 2014 at 4:00 pm
 

Soulful Irish songwriter Hozier has released another teaser for his highly anticipated debut album, which is scheduled for release on the 22nd of September. This live version of ‘In a Week’, sung as a duet with fellow Irish singer Karen Cowley, was recorded at Kilkenny Castle in Ireland and filmed by Feel Good Lost Media. (I was lucky enough to hear a live performance of the song earlier this year at SXSW 2014; read my thoughts on it here.)

You can view the video for for the earthy yet delicate live version of ‘In A Week’ below or at the dedicated Web site http://www.hozier-inaweek.com. If you go to the Web site and share the video with your Facebook friends or Twitter followers, you’ll receive a free download of the audio in your e-mail inbox.

[youtube]http://youtu.be/xOJq5SUeAXE[/youtube]

 

Live Gig Video: Hozier’s surprise appearance at the BBC Introducing Stage at Glastonbury 2014 (Friday)

 
By on Friday, 4th July 2014 at 4:00 pm
 

Yeah, I thought I was through posting Glastonbury 2014 coverage too. That is, until BBC Introducing released this video yesterday of Hozier‘s surprise appearance on their stage Friday. You can watch the entirety of the Irish up and comer’s set below, which included string accompaniment.

All of TGTF’s coverage of Glastonbury 2014 via our friends at the BBC is this way. Our writings on Hozier are here.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=px_9KS8kViY[/youtube]

 

Video of the Moment #1547: Hozier

 
By on Saturday, 14th June 2014 at 10:00 am
 

The latest offering from Irish singer/songwriter Hozier is a new single called ‘Sedated’, a slicker, more pop-oriented track than ‘Take Me to Church’ or anything on his recent ‘From Eden’ EP. Hozier’s lyrics are as gritty as ever, but the organic blues guitar is notably missing from this track, replaced by clean keyboard melodies and gospel backing vocals.

The accompanying video is heavy on strategic shadows and lighting effects, including projection screens displaying the aforementioned coarse lyrics in a crisp, clear typeface. The track production and video styling here create an interesting juxtaposition with Hozier’s raw, visceral musicality, but it does leave me trepidatiously wondering which direction he might turn next.

For previous TGTF posts on Hozier, head this way.

[youtube]http://youtu.be/6T46AdXR328[/youtube]

 

Live Gig Video: Hozier performs ‘Take Me to Church’ on David Letterman

 
By on Wednesday, 14th May 2014 at 4:00 pm
 

One of the most talked about artists from SXSW 2014 off his appearance at the Communion showcase on Friday night, Hozier, appeared on Late Night with David Letterman last night, which marked the Irish artist’s American network television debut. Watch him perform single and title track to earlier EP ‘Take Me to Church’ below.

Carrie reviewed his more recent release, the ‘From Eden’ EP’, here; it’s out now on Rubyworks.

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=63miJiYQBxU[/youtube]

 

Album Review: Hozier – From Eden EP

 
By on Friday, 2nd May 2014 at 12:00 pm
 

Hozier 'From Eden' EPIrish singer/songwriter Andrew Hozier-Byrne, better known simply as Hozier, has just released a new EP to follow up on his hit single ‘Take Me To Church’. This EP ‘From Eden’ is a collection of four darkly beautiful, blues-infused tracks that expand upon his previous ‘Take Me to Church’ EP release and prove that Hozier is most definitely not an industry-manufactured, one-hit-wonder.

Recorded in Hozier’s own home attic with production assistance from Dublin-based producer Rob Kirwan, ‘From Eden’ opens with the bright, upbeat title track, which continues the religious/romantic analogy of ‘Take Me to Church’. The smooth r&b feel in the verses comes as a surprise, but it’s a pleasant one, especially in contrast to the heavier tracks following it. Here, Hozier displays a uniquely classical facet of his songwriting, text painting a serpentine guitar line against the song’s chorus, “Idealism sits in prison, chivalry fell on its sword / Innocence died screaming, honey, I should know / I slithered here from Eden just to sit outside your door”.

While Hozier plays all the instrumental parts on the EP, it’s his vocal delivery that in the end makes the strongest impression. The meter of his lyrics is often uneven, the imagery sharply graphic in places, but his smooth, perfectly tempered vocals bring beauty to even the more grotesque moments, such as the chorus to ‘Work Song’: “When my time comes around / Lay me gently in the cold dark earth / No grave can hold my body down / I’ll crawl home to her”. And only in the richly sensual gospel context of this song could he get away with a lyric like, “My baby’s sweet as can be / She give me toothaches just from kissing me”.

‘Arsonist’s Lullaby’ reveals yet another metaphor for romantic love, this time comparing its passion to the intensity of fire, as in the chorus, “All you have is your fire and a place in me to reach / Don’t you ever tame your demons, but always keep them on a leash”. It may not be a particularly original analogy, but Hozier addresses it in a distinctively musical way, setting it to a dark blues rock in the vein of the Black Keys, with a forcefully insistent rhythm and ominous backing vocals behind its low, growling guitars.

The EP closes with a live version of ‘To Be Alone’, which we featured as a Live Gig Video here. The song opens with a wistful blues guitar solo, leading into the brooding despair of the first verse. In contrast to that heavy rumination, the chorus evokes pure physicality: “You don’t know what hell you put me through / To have someone kiss the skin that crawls from you / To feel your weight in arms I never use / It’s the god that heroin prays to”. Those lines are followed by a visceral falsetto wail that will haunt your mind long after the song ends.

The cerebral yet emotionally charged imagery in Hozier’s lyrics is provocative on its own, but his talent for conveying those same ideas in sound is unparalleled among current songwriters. I haven’t heard this range of expressive songwriting ability since studying opera and art song at university; Hozier’s songs are reminiscent in my mind of Gustav Mahler and Robert Schumann. While his American gospel, r&b and rock influences are clearly apparent, it’s the hint of classical aesthetics, employed without pretention, that sets him apart and gives him room to grow as an artist. Even if intensive music analysis isn’t your thing, Hozier’s raw emotionality and sensual blues style is sure to strike a chord.

8.5/10

‘From Eden’ is available now on Rubyworks. Hozier is scheduled to appear at the Longitude Festival in Dublin in July and at the Reading and Leeds Festival in August.

 
 
 

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