The Gospel according to Hozier
Carlos De Loera | Tuesday, September 11, 2018
In 2014, Irish singer-songwriter Hozier took us to church. Now, four years later, he continues to preach his gospel of soul with his newest EP, “Nina Cried Power.” The title of the EP is a reference to the singer, Civil Rights activist and high priestess of soul, Nina Simone. The four-song EP evokes the sentimentality of American blues and soul, while still maintaining Hozier’s affinity for Irish folk music.
The opening track, “Nina Cried Power,” features vocals from rhythm and blues legend and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee Mavis Staples, paying homage to what Hozier has called “the spirit of protest.” This spirit refers to the courage and bravery demonstrated by musical artists during the civil rights movement, including Patti LaBelle, Joni Mitchell, James Brown and Woody Guthrie. While the song is not particularly special in its composition, mostly consisting of a repeated chorus; it is exceptional in its execution. The track is the perfect example of two top-notch singers just going for it. The intensity and strength behind both of their voices is impressive, in every sense of the word.
Track two of the EP, “NFWMB,” finds Hozier calling back to the Irishman within himself. Nothing says “Irish song” like the repurposing of biblical imagery and allusions to poet W.B Yeats, all while telling a tale of love in the time of apocalypse. The song also places Hozier in the unusual position of the assertive, over-protective lover — note that the title of the song is an acronym for “nothing f—s with my baby.” This lies in stark opposing to songs off of his debut album, such as “Take Me to Church” and “Cherry Wine,” where Hozier takes on the role of the submissive lover that worships like a dog at the shrine of his lover’s lies and readily welcomes emotional abuse as a consequence of love.
In “Moment’s Silence (Common Tongue),” Hozier begins with a bluesy guitar lick that serves as the backbone of the song. It’s a track that stands out for being sleek and cool in the same manner that a B.B. King classic might be. In the track, Hozier, once again, reverts to imagery that he called upon in “Take Me to Church.” He sings, “Me and my babe relaxin’ catchin’ manic rhapsody / All reason flown, as God looks on in abject apathy / A swollen lord that measly a prayer in perfect parody.” In this he is again comparing sexual encounters to religious practices — saying that they should be revered with the same amount of piety. For him, his lover is his religion and their body is his temple.
The final song, “Shrike,” is a contemplation on lost love and the anguish of heartbreak — an authentically Irish song. The track takes its name from the small carnivorous bird of the same name. The bird is known for its use of thorns as vehicle for impaling its prey and for its variant vocalizations. Hozier compares his lover to thorn to which he, the shrike, is invariably drawn to as a source of nourishment, while singing in a rise-and-sink method like the bird. The tale and the metaphor is beautifully tragic and emblematic of the Hozier’s ability to create an irresistible narrative.
The EP clocks in at 17 minutes and 20 seconds of well-calculated lyricism, powerful vocals and understated musicality. Dancing between the voice of his people and the voice of his idols, Hozier crafts an EP that lives up to the incredibly high expectations that will continue to follow him. So turn an ear to hear the Gospel according to Hozier.
Album: Nina Cried Power
Favorite Tracks: “Shrike,” “Moment’s Silence (Common Tongue)”
If you like: Vance Joy, James Bay, Tom Waits