Published Oct 07, 2014Andrew Hozier-Byrne, better known simply as Hozier, has been inescapable recently, his single "Take Me to Church" dominating rock and indie airwaves. On his full-length debut album, the Irish-born artist dives into the deep recesses of human understanding, forays into the occasionally subversive and is always insatiably inquisitive. The passionate examination of spiritual subject matter is supported by vocals that echo in the distant space of giant halls and empowered by choruses thick with gospel choirs.
The son of a bluesman, Hozier imparts his musical influence on almost every track. On "Someone New," a slightly distorted chord progression introduces the overarching theme of love and theistic conflict, acknowledging that an approving He knows that "I fall in love just a little/ Oh a little bit, every day with someone new" and admitting to "Love with every stranger/ The stranger the better." While the grandeur of Hozier's majestic vocals explore atmospheric heights, they also plunge cavernous depths as he taps into things primeval and animalistic. "To Be Alone" finds him howling long and loud to the sky, sensually preaching that "It feels good/ Oh it feels good/ To be alone with you," while the guitar mumbles and growls electric for a single sustained note.
Hozier's experience as a member of choral group Anúna explains his range and ability to switch between soft, sweet cadences and howls. On the folky duet "In a Week," with fellow Irish born singer Karen Cowley, Hozier pleasantly muses about love, death and decay to the slow croon of a cello. Interestingly written songs about metaphysical mysteries are served by Hozier's versatility as singer as well as the choice of spacious instrumentation; which switches between falsetto and hollering just as easily as the music switches from blues to folk, with unwavering confidence and originality.
Outrage and indifference to the institutions that have steered the direction of Irish identity are in Hozier's focus. Either confronting the powers that be directly — "Don't you hear me howling? Don't you hear me howling?" — or passively stating that "Heaven and Hell are just words to me," depth and significance are communicated fully and with informal familiarity which is perhaps most astounding. He addresses God as an inflexible authority figure resisting the changes in attitude of modern relationships.
Those that settle for inaction or violence in His name are the targets for Hozier, whom he attacks poetically and with an innovative aesthetic in traditional genres. The understated maturity of the 24-year-old Hozier on his debut album is a beacon for young writers learning to craft significant compositions. (Columbia/Sony)