Courtesy of Columbia Records

March 27, 2024

Hozier Cannot Be ‘Unheard’

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As a relatively new Hozier listener, I can’t really think of one word to describe his music. A mixed genre folk-pop-indie-alternative artist, he has such a talent at painting pictures with his lyrics and transporting his listeners to other worlds. The first song I ever heard of his was “Take Me To Church,” and I was immediately drawn in by his haunting yet beautiful sound, but I never really considered myself a full-blown Hozier fan until this past fall. I got very into Noah Kahan over the last year (as did most people), and after I had seen him on tour in Syracuse and listened to his songs so much that I could hear him in my sleep, I wanted to expand my scope by listening to more artists like him. A native New-Englander, I loved the familiar and comforting feeling Kahan created, so drawing on that folk-pop-indie vibe, I tried The Lumineers, CAAMP, Mt. Joy and Hozier. All of these artists epitomize late summer to early fall to me with their folk, mountainous, earthy feel, which is why I’m so captivated by Hozier’s new EP, Unheard. I typically listen to happy, upbeat music in the spring (think Taylor Swift’s “Fearless” or Lizzy McAlpine’s “Pancakes For Dinner”) and save the more moody folk songs for the fall, but after listening once to Hozier’s new EP, I immediately abandoned my usual listening routines.

Released on March 22, 2024, Unheard is Hozier’s fifth EP following his third studio album, Unreal Unearth of 2023. It contains four unreleased songs that, according to a letter to his fans, were intended for that album: “Too Sweet,” “Wildflower and Barley” featuring Alison Russell, “Empire Now,” and “Fare Well.” Hozier’s creativity shone through in his description of his previous album, as each song in the album was split into the different circles of Hell outlined in Dante’s “Inferno.” According to his post, “Too Sweet” would have been in gluttony, “Wildflower and Barley” in limbo, “Empire Now” in violence, and “Fare Well” would have been the outward ascent. I think this is such a creative way to outline an album, and after hearing how it worked on Unreal Unearth, I was super excited and curious to hear how the new EP would compare.

I was most familiar with the leading song on the EP, “Too Sweet,” from its popularity on TikTok, particularly with many creators analyzing the chorus, “I take my whiskey neat / My coffee black and my bed at three / You’re too sweet for me.” Hozier first caught my attention with his unique voice and style, but his lyrics have such a powerful way of using metaphor and religious allusions that do such a great job at keeping the listener engaged and interested. This song is no different, with his notorious falsetto and belt over a catchy rhythm beat and guitar that act as an earworm and epitomize Hozier’s style. My favorite part of the song is the use of bells (that sound like church bells) in the second repetition of the chorus, which emphasizes how the narrator of the song is too bitter for another person who is too sweet for them. This is perfect for the circle of gluttony; the lyrics show the nature of a relationship where one person is “too sweet” for the other, and the inner battle that comes with trying to resist that sin.

The second song, “Wildflower and Barley,” is not my favorite on the EP, but it is certainly creative. A duet between Hozier and Allison Russell, the lyrics detail the “limbo” between death and the entrance to hell. It starts with a hauntingly beautiful picture of a peaceful scene of florals and nature and soon transitions into a more joyful song, featuring a more upbeat melody and soft instrumentals. It has a tinge of nostalgia, and poetic lyrics like “useful as dirt” turn what sounds like a love song on the surface into more of an allegory for stillness. His poetic words and way of making the listener feel things they can’t quite describe themselves is classic Hozier and is certainly showcased in this song, but I just don’t find the melody as catchy or captivating as the others on this EP.

“Empire Now,” the third song on the EP, is probably my second favorite. It is a pretty jarring contrast to the previous peaceful and nostalgic vibes of “Wildflower and Barley,” rooted in heavy bass and a more rock-like quality. It is much grittier and meaner, but still maintains the classic Hozier falsetto and airy quality. It pretty clearly represents the circle of violence, with its steady beat and heavy percussion creating an almost dystopian and mechanical feel. The lyrics also paint a violent picture of a future “so bright it’s burning,” and combined with the catchy melody and powerful imagery and background instrumentals that almost sound like pained cries, this song is a creative representation of the circle of violence.

The title of the last song, “Fare Well,” creates a double meaning of goodbye and experiencing good fortune. Again, it’s not my favorite, but I have to appreciate the creative word-play. The melody isn’t as catchy and it just doesn’t draw me in as much as the other tracks on the EP do. The opening is very peaceful and the vibes are more similar to “Wildflowers and Barley” than “Too Sweet” and “Empire Now.” It has a fun, campfire song vibe which isn’t what I usually associate with Hozier, which is maybe why I didn’t like it as much. Regardless, it is still undoubtedly a good song about feeling emotions no matter what they are. The lyrics “Let the sun only shine on me through a falling sky / I’ll be alright” ascend in pitch and reach a peak at the end of the phrase, symbolizing Hozier’s exploration of the ascent from hell, which I think is very creative. 

I usually consider myself a lyrics person rather than a melody person, but with Hozier, I don’t have to sacrifice on either. He usually delivers on both ends, and this EP is no exception. Each song individually has its own moments of mastery, and looking at the EP as a whole, the theme of the circles of hell ties them all together. I’m not sure how well the songs would mesh if they didn’t have this overarching literary theme, as the melody of each song is very different, but I think that might be what makes this EP so powerful. It exhibits Hozier’s vast vocal range, and combined with his accompaniment instrumentals and poetic and allegorical lyrics, he creates a story that cannot be Unheard.

Freya Nangle is a junior in the College of Arts & Sciences. She can be reached at [email protected].