The Gentle Power of Unheard

Hozier recently came out with a new EP, Unheard. For those on social media, I’m sure you’ve heard “Too Sweet” to high heaven, but this EP is much more than those 15 second animatics and thirst traps would have you believe. His voice is powerful yet gentle. If he were a god, he wouldn’t demand sacrifices or a temple, rather a quiet worship would be enough. Because there are only four songs in this EP, I have enough time to talk about each song individually and give Hozier’s artistry the justice it needs.

On first listen, “Too Sweet” sounds like a love song. It surrounds an ambiguous “you” with beautiful images, so it feels like Hozier is talking directly to the listener. He calls you “bright as the morning, soft as the rain, pretty like a vine, sweet as a grape.” It’s no wonder that the song blew up online; he portrays you so highly that it’s like worship. However, it is this worship that prevents him from having “you.” In truth, this is a rejection song where Hozier believes he is unworthy of being with “you”. He is too bitter, drinking whiskey neat and black coffee in the late hours of the night. His entire being, from his bitter tastes to sleeping habits, is completely incompatible with yours. It is the most beautiful way anyone has ever said, “It’s not you, it’s me.” 

The guitar and drums start the song off with a rugged tune matching the subject. Then he moves into the chorus with church bells, a rather unconventional instrument but one that carries the thematic importance of the song. People use church bells on momentous occasions: weddings, funerals, mass, etc. When a bell rings, something important is happening. Their ambiguity adds intrigue to the stakes of this hypothetical relationship. Do these bells symbolize Hozier’s desire to be with “you” despite his incompatibility? Do they represent the funeral of this potential relationship? Do they ring as Hozier sings his worship of “you”? This is a powerful track that will make you feel the tragedy of a requited yet impossible love. Also, a bonus detail: I’ve seen a rumor going around on Tiktok that Hozier wrote this song about Brittnay Broski. While not the most founded conclusion, it is funny to think about. 

“Wildflowers and Barley” is the chillest of the other songs in the best way possible. Once again, it uses a rather unconventional instrument, birds. Immediately, Hozier draws us into a connection to the earth and nature and we slow down after the intensity of “Too Sweet.” The whole song sings the praises of the natural world and its beauty in association with human lives. One line he sings, “I feel as useful as dirt” seems negative at first, but really, it’s a high compliment. The earth nourishes everything and everyone on its surface. Kind of begs the question, why wouldn’t you want to be more like dirt? From its earthy tone to the theme of awakening, it’s hard to describe this song as anything besides spring incarnate. The drums and tambourine embody the idea of waking up to a brand new world of beauty and sustenance, such as wildflowers and barley. Even the more macabre parts of existence, like death and grief, are “things God [allowed to] remain above ground,” meaning they too are as beautiful as life is.

Remember when I said we slowed from the intensity of “Too Sweet?” Well, Hozier said sike and created “Empire Now.” In contrast to the gentleness of the previous song, this piece carries an almost mythological epicness to it. It starts with lone guitars before exploding into powerful drums and clapping. His voice takes a back seat to the instrumentals to further this level of impact, like he is small compared to the epicness he’s singing about. It’s almost like a prophecy.

Sun comin' up on a dream come around
One hundred years from the empire now
Sun comin' up on a world that's easy now
One hundred years from, one hundred years from

It talks about a bright future told from a present that is pretty grim. Once again, Hozier lets us thrive in his lack of specificity. Does this song talk to a historical civilization, telling them to wait for the hope of the modern day or is it talking to the modern day, saying that the struggles of the current age will make way for a bright future? Either way, this is a song about hope and the endurance of the human spirit to hold on to such bitter times for the sake of the future.

The last song of the EP is “Fare Well” and I really like this song for a really biased reason: it makes me feel like a child again singing surprisingly dark nursery rhymes during recess. It initially starts with a melancholic mood with a soft voice and a lone acoustic guitar and the play-on-words of “fare well” where instead it being a goodbye, it’s a way of describing how he does not tolerate certain situations well. Then its lyrics go very dark, where he likens his inability to fare well to a hedgehog under a van wheel, a cat in an engine, or a dog in chocolate. In these scenarios, the animal is going to die or be seriously harmed. At its chorus, the instrumentals pick up in vibrance with clapping and violins in the background, almost sounding like a folk song. However, they accompany his lyrics of wanting to “take any high” as if this vibrant instrumental is the high he’s taking in the face of his melancholy. On first listen, this vibrance takes center stage, which was what gave me the “dark recess nursery rhyme” feeling but more repetitions let the listener appreciate the different dimensions to this song.

Hozier’s latest EP is about humanity’s relationship to the world, whether that be to society, the planet, nature, or even each other. Hozier’s voice is fantastically epic, but he never lets it get in the way of the nuances and poetics of his songs. If you are someone who loves to analyze as they listen to music, this EP is for you.