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New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

Review: Hozier’s ‘Unheard’ draws fans deeper into his conceptual art

Consisting of outtakes from his most recent album, Irish musician Hozier’s newest EP captures audiences with sound as immersive and captivating as its storytelling.
Alisia Houghtaling
Hozier’s “Unheard” released on March 22, 2024. (Illustration by Alisia Houghtaling)

From the way Hozier’s lyrics have been analyzed and dissected with every release, one might assume him to be a modern bard, poet or well-established author — his songs often become more resonant once the words behind the rhythm are understood. “Unheard,” his latest EP, has been no exception.

The EP comes on the heels of “Unreal Unearth,” Hozier’s 2023 concept album inspired by Dante’s “Inferno” and the nine circles of hell illustrated within. Each song corresponds to one of these circles, or an associated concept. The “Unheard” EP consists of outtakes from the recording sessions for “Unreal Unearth” and each new song is steeped in similar theming and imagery.

“Too Sweet” depicts a relationship filled with passion, but hindered by a sense of incompatibility. While one character is meticulous and dedicated to self-care, the song’s narrator prefers to live in a more spontaneous, reckless fashion. In comparison to some of Hozier’s more metaphorically-driven songs, “Too Sweet” is a fairly straightforward, tongue-in-cheek series of observations: “You treat your mouth as if it’s Heaven’s gate / The rest of you like you’re the TSA.”

The piece emanates anguish without being critical, with the narrator claiming his partner is “sweet as a grape,” acknowledging their apparent purity while expressing a desire for them to stoop down to their level: “If you can sit in a barrel / Maybe I’ll wait.” Nonetheless, they are content with their lifestyle and averse to compromise, imploring “But who wants to live forever, babe?” Set to a catchy bassline and chorus, “Too Sweet” could easily be considered the EP’s standout. More interesting than the song itself is the reaction it has elicited online, prompting analysis from its words to the background instrumentals: Are those wedding bells behind the guitar, or a death knell?

From his raw depiction of colonialism in “Butchered Tongue” to dissecting the culture behind toxic masculinity in his 2022 single “Swan Upon Leda,” Hozier has never shied away from depicting political concepts across his discography. In “Empire Now,” Hozier utilizes imagery like the “Sun comin’ up on a dream come around / One hundred years from thе empire now.” It strongly alludes to Ireland being freed from the United Kingdom in 1922, a history personal to the Irish singer-songwriter. Hozier preaches that “The future’s so bright it’s burnin’” with searing power and pride behind his voice, the gusto of gritty acoustics and an orchestra serving to back it up. The song feels intensely personal, with clever wordplay and vocal power culminating into an outstanding track.

“Wildflower and Barley” takes on a softer sound and features Canadian singer-songwriter Allison Russell, where the two together sing of a longing for dynamism and change. Initially written during the COVID-19 pandemic, the lyrics of “Wildflower and Barley” paint the human idleness of lockdown by evoking natural imagery, “The grass cryin’ out to be heated by bodies,” or “I feel as useful as dirt, put my body to work.” Russell complements the lead vocals in a mellow, responsive harmony, providing the song with a beautiful texture and matching Hozier in tone.

“Fare Well” carries a similarly soft, optimistic tone, featuring light acoustics and a syncopated rhythm — the melody is so upbeat that the track is perhaps the most sonically uninteresting, but it regains intrigue through its ominous lyrics. In the pursuit of “tryin’ to feel good again” — whether that be through the short-term of a drug high or a more permanent state of contentment — Hozier claims that “I wouldn’t fare well / A kitten-cosy-in-the-engine type of wouldn’t fare well / A dog-deep-into-the-chocolate kind of wouldn’t fare well.” Hozier lists scenarios bound to end in disaster with a sense of relentless hope, remaining optimistic in his search for light: “Let the sun only shine on me through a fallin’ sky.” An outtake from the outward “ascent” portion of his album, “Fare Well” asserts that happiness can still be sought out, even in the world filled with imperfection, anxiety and violence that he sings of in the prior tracks of “Unheard.”

The EP feels at times deeply personal and at others closer to fiction. It’s hard to imagine that the songs are not all inspired by Hozier’s own experiences because of the dexterity with which he can handle intimate themes, from unique interpersonal dynamics to complex unvoiced emotions. The songs of “Unheard” could have easily found success on “Unreal Unearth,” placing different facets of the album’s concept on display. Hozier’s newest release further establishes him as a reliable storyteller whose songs appreciate in value with every listen.

Contact Eleanor Jacobs at [email protected].

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About the Contributor
Alisia Houghtaling
Alisia Houghtaling, Illustration Editor
Alisia Houghtaling is a first-year in Applied Psychology in Steinhardt and one of WSN's Illustration Editors. In her freetime, you can find Alisia drawing, painting, reading, eating pasta or autopilot walking around SOHO to window shop or stare into windows and say "I want to live there." You can find her on Instagram @_alisiart_ and send Italian restaurant recommendations or ridiculous real-estate listings in the city.

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