Thursday, March 28, 2024

Hozier Treats the Universe Once More with the ‘Unheard’ EP

Irish musician Hozier’s recent and unexpected EP release, ‘Unheard’, has been taking over the internet as fans rush to listen to the songs that did not make the cut on his ‘Unreal Unearth’ album in 2023. 

Hozier has noted that he started reading Dante’s Inferno during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 and that he framed ‘Unreal Unearth’ around the themes of the novel and the concept of the nine circles of Hell. It is a retrospective look on society, his relationships, and the self. Hozier has provided that these unheard songs “might’ve made it to the circles of gluttony, limbo, violence, and the outward ‘ascent’ respectively” had they been on the original 2023 album.

The first unheard song is ‘Too Sweet’, and the longest song on the EP. It analyzes a relationship between two very different people. The narrator is enthusiastic about his gluttonous lifestyle, while the partner is asking him to join on a better path, one where they can “live forever”. Hozier simply cannot give up what he has, and in turn drags the listener under his indulgence spell, filled with a velvety and sultry voice. He asks his partner to join him in the pre-chorus, “Don't you just wanna wake up / Dark as a lake / Smellin' like a bonfire / Lost in a haze?”. He is adamant that taking care of himself is a waste of time because he can still have just as much fun, in fact more, by giving into his overconsumption while in contrast calling the partner “too sweet”. This song is co-written with Daniel Tannenbaum (aka Bekon) who has worked with artists like JojiKendrick Lamar, and SZA. The bass lines are reminiscent of early 2010s indie rock, similar to Young the Giant and Cage the Elephant, which of course make the song addicting (like gluttony).

Next is ‘Wildflower and Barley’ featuring Canadian singer-songwriter Allison Russell, the only feature on the EP. The opening feels like waking up, or like a warm hug, and the sound of birds chirping fills the space. Limbo is widely and popularly discussed as a situation in which nothing happens or changes. It is usually difficult to make decisions in limbo because you are usually waiting for something else to make the first move. As mentioned before, Hozier wrote these songs during the COVID-19 pandemic, and he captures that feeling of limbo the world felt perfectly during that time. Through gorgeous melodies and the talk of an unprecedented time, we can see Hozier himself is in limbo, unsure what to do without the world to lead him. While the world is at rest, and the world is still, the springtime has come and there is a promise of renewal of life: “The grass cryin' out to be heated by bodies / The streets for the laughter of young women and men”. However, it is disguised by an eerie unhappiness, longing, and yearning, as Allison and Hozier end the song, melancholic almost: “Would all things God allows remain above ground / Like grief and sweet memory, wildflower and barley”.

‘Empire Now’, the shortest song on the EP, is an anthem for Hell’s circle of violence. Emerging with Western guitars and a sound reference to work songs from the rugged landscapes of the Southern USA, we find ourselves in the midst of a rallying cry to fight. As we listen, we discover that the violence is not for violence’s sake, but to fight back for earth. The importance of the repetition of “one hundred years from the empire now” is that no matter how much time will pass, Hozier will always be unwavering for what he believes in. Fans have also speculated that the one hundred years Hozier is referencing relates back to Ireland gaining their independence from the UK in 1922. Hozier is known for being an activist, and in 2019, Hozier donated all the royalties from his 2019 protest song "Jackboot Jump" to the NAACP and Black Lives Matter movement following the George Floyd protests. He further wrote ‘Nina Cried Power’ featuring singer and civil rights activist Mavis Staples, as a tribute to the spirit and legacy of protest. 

Finally, we reach the level of ascension. ‘Fare Well’ reflects once more on all that has gone wrong in the narrator’s life, and throughout his tumultuous journey through the rings of hell. With a light acoustic guitar juxtaposed by imagery of animals dying, we see what the narrator sees: a world crumbling around him as he searches for the joy he believes is still out there. He is struggling but he is resilient, finding solace in the little moments during his hardship. In lines such as Any solitary pleasure that was sorrow in disguise / Let the sun only shine on me through a fallin' sky / I'll be alright”, the narrator finds solace in fleeting moments. He knows that climbing out of hell is hard, but he is relentless in his pursuit for elusive happiness.

The EP still has many feelings to be unearthed, literally, which Hozier invites his listeners to discover in tandem with ‘Unreal Unearth’. Overall the exploration of Dante’s Inferno mixed with Hozier’s magical lyricism and masterful storytelling ability to take us into his world is unmatched, leaving the listener wanting to go through it all over again and uncover something new each listen.

Molly Spencer


Image: ‘Unheard’ Official EP Cover

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