Andrew Hozier-Byrne, aka Hozier, is a 24-year old up and coming Irish singer/songwriter who combines nuances from indie, pop-rock, and soul. He rose to fame in 2013 when he released his single ‘Take Me to Church’ off of his eponymous debut EP. From Eden received even more critical acclaim after its release in 2014 following a string of performances in Ireland and the United States. Yet Hozier isn’t wasting any time; he just announced the release of his debut solo record, Hozier, in June 2014.
Listen to From Eden just once and you could instantly tell that Hozier is influenced by an eclectic pool of artists. Though the EP is composed of only four tracks, it offers a diverse collection of sounds, moods, and genres that range from happy-go-lucky soul to ominous, fuzzy indie rock.
The first track ‘From Eden’ left me confused for a little while. Without listening to the lyrics, one would think it’s an upbeat, cheerful song. But pay close attention and hear the chorus lines that read, “Innocence died screaming, honey, ask me I should know/I slithered here from Eden just to hide outside your door.”
If you’re like me, then you enjoy the ironic interplay between music and lyrics. The broken piano melody along with the sustained organ notes left me in a contemplative state of content. But when I reread the lyrics that sounded oh so jolly, I admired how Hozier was able to mask a story about (what I assume to be) a hopeless, unhappy girl whom he understands and wants to help.
It’s a plot that is all too familiar yet still so touching: a strong, optimistic person is the anchor of their troubled, dependent lover. I suggest you give this one a light listen at first, then go back and read the lyrics to appreciate Hozier’s writing skills.
Moving on to the second song off the EP, ‘Work Song’, Hozier takes a turn towards calmer, gospel-like soul. Harmonious hums, sporadic bass drum hits and claps, and a minimalist bass line make up the melody. The focus of this ballad is clearly Hozier’s powerful vocals that tell a tale just as moving as that of “From Eden.”
While the lyrics aren’t as impressive as those off the first track (I grew sick of the word ‘baby’ after the first verse), he definitely has a talent for painting pictures with his songs. Listen to ‘Work Song’ for less than a minute, and you can almost feel the empowerment his “baby” gives him. Though this track isn’t my favorite, it’s a breath of fresh air compared to the rest of popular music made these days. This song in particular reminded me of ballads sung by the soulful John Legend and Aloe Blacc.
Check out ‘From Eden’ music video review here.
Hozier throws yet another curveball at his listeners with his third song, ‘Arsonist’s Lullaby’. Unlike the rest of the tracks off the EP, his belting singing style is tamed and his guitar is fuzzier than ever. The track begins with chorus-like harmonious hums, which verify Hozier’s past choral experience.
With the onset of the first verse, I immediately felt like I was listening to a male version of Florence Welch of indie band Florence and the Machine. Hozier’s dark analogies, empowering lyrics, and trickling piano melodies sound as if they are off of a track on Florence’s second album, Ceremonials. (If you haven’t heard it yet, you should definitely give it a listen.) The song builds up as a choppy, assertive drum beat supports the dark vocal harmonies before the music winds down and dies out. It comes to an end as Hozier advises, “Don’t you ever tame your demons/Always keep them on a leash.”
In my opinion, Hozier saved the best for last by concluding the EP with a live version of the seductive, bluesy track ‘To Be Alone’. As he’s accompanied solely by his guitar-playing, the song truly does justice to his impeccable voice. His finger-picking thumb on one string is both the metronome and backbone of the song, while his other fingers play along with the vocal melody. Just as I had hoped, his vocals waver between high and low, and soft and loud (or in Latin classical terms, pianissimo and fortissimo).
The song itself is divided into three phrases that repeat themselves, each with its own feel. What I admired most about ‘To Be Alone’ is that it reminded me that hearing a song for the first time is unlike any other listening experience. You never know what to expect, and that is especially true when it comes to Hozier. During the bridge, certain nuances in his singing touch a soft spot, while his falsetto lines that follow show off his impressive vocal range.
The version of ‘To Be Alone’ included on the EP is from a live session with LA radio station KCRW. Yet I’d prefer to share another live performance of the song which suits its rustic attitude much more. The acoustics of the empty ballroom in which he plays offer a natural echo that sounds even better than that of his other recordings. Also, call me old-fashioned, but I think raw vocals are best accompanied by the strings of an acoustic guitar. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!