Updated: May 9, 2020
Shakespearean Folk Rock: Poetry that tells a story in which the depth is determined by the listener, but is released into the ether by the artist with a grandiose sense of urgency.
If I am the first to coin the previously-defined term as a genre of music, Hozier is the first artist to whom it can be applied. Well, in all fairness, the definition as well as the term was crafted solely with him in mind. The music of Andrew Hozier-Byrne is epic, from both the literary and production standpoints. “From Eden”, off of his self-titled debut LP as well as an EP of the same name, tells the story of original sin from Christianity but in a modern way, likened to an affair started by lust but developing into a relationship in which the original aggressor or initiator sees their former self. It tells the story of innocence lost. While the overarching arrangement of “From Eden” is decidedly upbeat for the complicated tale it tells, “To Be Alone” paints a much darker picture with a finger-picked electric guitar melody rife with hammer-ons, synth bass, and a synthetic drum beat comparable to the beating of a steel crate giving the feeling of captivity. It is rather appropriate for a song telling the story of a brooding counter culture romance that neither party particularly wants to be a part of, but that neither can quit.
It is this subject matter with which Hozier’s debut album deals most familiarly. Relationships, whether hot and heavy like those described in “Take Me to Church” or those that are driven by lust as in “Angel of Small Death and the Codeine Scene” or “Foreigner’s God”. With a taste for the mundane aside from the dramatic, Hozier is also able to take loyal relationships and transcend their traditional lyrical tropes. Broken up into three separate stories, the album follows three separate protagonists through a series of relationships. The second story begins with “Sedated”, continues through “Work Song”, and concludes with “Like Real People Do” and tells the most compelling story of deep, true love. The protagonist finds themselves in a drug-riddled relationship in “Sedated” from which neither member can help the other stay clean before being saved and nurtured by an equally damaged partner in “Work Song” (protagonist: I was three days on a drunken sin, partner: Nothing in her room but an empty crib). But the gravity of caring for someone in that capacity, regardless of loyalty and devotion, mixes with the depression and instability coming as the result of losing a child. The situation proves too much, for in “Like Real People Do” the protagonist is murdered by their partner. But somehow, Hozier’s words and hypnotic arrangement of ethereal backing vocals overtop of a finger-picked acoustic guitar driven by a constant bass note, spin this story as solemn but not melancholic. The protagonist, back from the dead without recollection of the events that had transpired, would rather not know, preferring to forgive, forget, and return to the same love they had before, as though uninterrupted. The love established in “Work Song” prevails.
Although the album explores relationships through the lenses of love and lust, idealism and reality, the theme is never overdone or repetitive, but is constantly approached from a new perspective. But Hozier is not a one-dimensional song writer regardless of the quality of his lyrics. His words and penchant for epic arrangements mesh perfectly in the recounting of a fever dream in which the protagonist discovers their will to live while evading a perilous beast in the haunting bonus track “In the Woods Somewhere”. Similarly, ever the wordsmith, Hozier once again flips the script on love and story telling with his new single “Nina Cried Power”, a track driven by powerful R&B-esque drums, piano, and strong vocals from the man himself, a backing choir, and Mavis Staples. Previously implied in “Take Me to Church” and “Cherry Wine”, the song pushes ever further into the realm of social equality and awareness while also building upon the rhythmic arrangements employed in “Jackie and Wilson”, the darkness of “Take Me to Church”, and the ensemble backing vocals that have come to be emblematic of his music. “Nina Cried Power” is symbolic of a revolution, but also shows Hozier’s artistic evolution that pays homage to the stylings that shaped his sound.
Wherever this journey into uncharted territory takes him, we will be along for the ride and interpretation of the ensuing story. Please enjoy Hozier's "Shrike" below.
-Written by Timothy Lemon, a guitarist, singer and connoisseur of acoustic & folk music. You can listen to his music here :