It’s the dream scenario: boy leaves university in his first year to start recording demos with a major label. A few years down the line, he puts out his first proper EP, under the name of Hozier, with a video that consequently goes viral and one particular song called Take Me To Church proves to bring him his big break. The anticipation surrounding the release of his debut album has been hard to ignore with the big question on everyone’s lips being a simple one – does the album deliver?
The simple answer to this is yes, it delivers. If Take Me To Church was the song that introduced Andrew Hozier-Byrne to the world, his self-titled debut should cement his status as one of the most talented and deserving major label success stories of 2014. Within the parameters of this album, there is the presence of something greater. In no way does it feel like a debut album from a new artist; rather it feels like it has come from someone with a depth, wisdom and warmth that far exceeds Hozier’s years.
The folky-blues that encapsulates the album is built almost entirely around Hozier’s vocals that shine forth as the centre-piece and are the focal point of everything around. The command and skill Hozier retains over his voice is staggering, particularly in its soulfulness and the way it captures the mood of the song, from dark desperation to soaring highs, Hozier rides the challenges with ease.
Songs such as Someone New and From Eden have something incredibly Van Morrison-esque about them, with their lovesick blues and masterful vocals. Think Tupelo Honey for the 21st Century, where the catchiness of the songs doesn’t diverge from the warmth or depth of the actual songs. This is seen in the way that Someone New is taken to new heights with its backing choir and the uplifting orchestral parts. Of course, these are the additives that comes with a high-budget album, but it is fortunate that these songs are only given more soul with by the big-label-budget and feel at home rather than over-produced.
The big blues of To Be Alone prove to act as a counterpoint to the more uplifting parts of the album, where the haunting backing vocals hit out against The Black Keys riffs and melodies, as Hozier’s vocals once again dive into the heart of the song and bring about that deep-seated emotion that we often leave at the bottom of our own hearts. The passion that marks every curve of these songs is so human, so needing that it is truly believable, and are heightened either in the howls of It Will Come Back or the longing of Foreigner’s God.
There is a constant darkness that lurks in the background of Hozier’s lyrics, a quiet poeticism that seems to come from a time long past. Take In A Week, that despite its deceptively uplifting folky melodies and the way it plays out as a traditional Irish folk duet, sees Hozier utter the words “I have never known peace like the damp grass that yields to me/ I have never known hunger like these insects that feast on me” and tamper with the imagery of corpses becoming the flowers that surround the lovers. Yet, there is still a warmth that encapsulates the song, as Karen Cowley’s own beautiful vocals entwine with Hozier’s to mesmeric effect.
Emotive, warm and incredibly mature, this is a debut that is at once refreshing and has a soul that permeates every layer. From the pounding piano chords to the powerful strings and blues guitar riffs, there is an emotion that keeps the album feeling refreshingly new, but also feels instantly familiar, like a new jumper that you instantly know will become your favourite.