(Photo Manipulation by Catherine Goodman)

Hozier’s latest extended play (EP) “Unheard” blends folkloric and natural imagery to engage listeners in a variety of topics that discusses the complications of love, the healing process and the practice of mindfulness. In a message to his fans, Irish singer-songwriter Andrew Hozier-Byrne, known simply as Hozier, explained that he originally intended to release these tracks on his third studio album “Unreal Unearth” (2023). For various reasons, he did not include the four songs in the album and instead released them on March 22.

Like his 2023 album, the EP draws inspiration from Dante Alighieri’s poem “Inferno.” Each song resonates with one of Dante’s nine circles of Hell. In the announcement, Hozier said the songs best correspond with gluttony, limbo, violence and ascent. 

Hozier previewed perhaps the most anticipated song of the EP, “Too Sweet,” on TikTok a week before its release. The song has now been used in over 48,000 posts. The track pulses with a charismatic charm. There is an alluring quality to the music, which seems contradictory to its message about a lover’s rejection. The narrator flatters his partner, “You know you’re bright as the morning / As soft as the rain.” Yet, the narrator believes the differences between himself and his significant other are too extreme. 

“I’d rather take my whiskey neat / My coffee black and my bed at three / You’re too sweet for me,” Hozier sings.

The structure of the song itself likewise feels contradictory as the dark and persistent bass line juxtaposes dramatically with the soaring bells in the chorus — bells that might mimic wedding bells or death knells. Few of Hozier’s songs are straight-forward love songs. For example, in Hozier’s song “Talk” (2019), the narrator waxes poetically about how passionately he will love his partner in the verses. However, the narrator admits in the chorus that his dedication borders on obsession. There is usually a double-edge to his lyrics, which can also be seen in the multiple interpretations of “Too Sweet.” 

Shifting away from the dark nature of “Too Sweet,” “Wildflower and Barley” is a softer track. The acoustic opening, accented with gentle bird calls, captures the essence of springtime tranquility. With this in mind, it is hardly surprising that the opening line is “Springtime in the country / Each time I’m shocked by the light.” The lyrics describe the beauty of nature and the importance of appreciating one’s place within it. The narrator chases after mindfulness and tries to accept the reality of human mortality. Nearing the end of the song, the narrator learns to shoulder both “grief and sweet memory.” 

The featured artist Allison Russell weaves in and out of the chorus with her vocals. Her smooth, clean delivery of her high notes only accentuates the track’s themes of healing and acceptance. 

The EP takes on a radically different tone in “Empire Now.” The song is deceptively hushed in the opening, yet it shakes the listeners with a striking beat drop on the first pre-chorus. Due to its cinematic qualities, “Empire Now” feels like it would serve a dystopian movie well. It could play in the background as the leader of a revolution delivers a rousing speech, readying their people to fight against a cruel despot.

Hozier often writes songs about oppression, resistance and the role of history in the modern world. In “Empire Now,” the lyrics describe the narrator’s fierce desire for a future of liberation, with Hozier singing that “The future’s so bright it’s burning / Sun coming up on a dream come round / One hundred years from the empire now.” As an Irish singer-songwriter, Hozier may be referring to Ireland’s long fight for independence from Great Britain. Nevertheless, Hozier imbues his music with universal themes such as subjection and persecution, producing projects that ring with relatability. 

The final track, “Fare Well,” leads in with subdued guitar strumming and Hozier singing in an almost-murmur. Then, the guitar amplifies cheerfully, despite the disheartening lyrics it accompanies. The track consists of many hyphenated compound words that describe the mental state of the narrator as Hozier sings, “Hedgehog-under-a-van-wheel kind of wouldn’t fare well” or “A kitten-cozy-in-the-engine type of wouldn’t fare well.” The narrator feels dispirited and vulnerable within the context of his life. He considers himself to be close to death, yet the exaggerated hyphenations give these musings an irony, especially in light of a line that comes later in the song: “I’ll be alright.” It is as if the narrator is self-conscious of his own melancholic tendencies.

The narrator resists these feelings of defeat by trying to appreciate everyday pleasures. He makes a vow to himself at the end and promises, “I’ll deny me none while I’m allowed / With all things above the ground.” In short, he plans to live life to the fullest. 

“Unheard” retains the thematic intricacy and dynamic storytelling of “Unreal Unearth.” Hozier compounds meaning throughout his songs, proving himself to be a musician and poet. His music acknowledges the gravity of life’s struggles, while still providing hope for listeners. “Unheard” respects the fact that life and death are intrinsic to one another. Lastly, the EP helps listeners realize that the beauty of life is most clear when the strange contradictions are appreciated, not ignored. 

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