Review Summary: Though quaking, though crazy...that's wasteland, baby.
On paper, I should not like Hozier. The name is oft-mentioned in the same breath as artists such as Ed Sheeran, American Authors, The Lumineers, and others that I usually intentionally avoid. When it comes time to write, he can’t seem to choose between soul, blues, indie-rock, and pop. His breakout track – which annoys me to no end – is the only one that most people would immediately recognize. Yet he occupies more time in my streaming history than many other bands that I have championed for years. Nearly every song with his name attached sounds like it could be a single, and every genre attempt is executed flawlessly. The hooks are endlessly catchy and refreshing. The lyrics are always relevant, yet rarely cliché. But despite achieving notoriety after just one incredibly successful record, the music community often glazes over him. And with the sheer amount of talent in question…that’s a damn shame.
After five years of practically zero new material, Andrew Hozier-Byrne reintroduced himself with a brief EP called Nina Cried Power
. The four tracks were a sort of sampler platter to give people a feel for what would follow in the coming months on his second full-length album, Wasteland, Baby
. The EP exposed a few threads that, once pulled, led to equal parts familiarity and exploration. The title track, which also serves as the opener on the full-length, is a protest song to be reckoned with that shares the spotlight with Mavis Staples for one her most impassioned and noteworthy features. In contrast, a couple other tracks were simple reminders that Hozier still knows how to effectively utilize his knack for soulful, acoustic storytelling.
spends much of its time wandering around a vast array of atmospheres and sounds. Some are completely new to Hozier’s repertoire, such as the hazy summer evening vibe of “No Plan” or the bouncy, drum-driven “Nobody.” Just as before, these endeavors into intersecting genres shed light on his impressive versatility as a musician and as a songwriter. This could prove problematic and overwhelming for many artists, but Hozier pulls it off with ease. Granted, without these tasteful forays, things could grow stale rather quickly. I still regularly spin the singles from his 2014 debut, but an additional 14 songs of the same nature would have the staying power roughly that of a Coors Light. We start to see this nuisance budding in tracks like “Be” and “Sunlight” – songs that are fun enough on their own, but tiresome in the context of the discography.
One of the most crucial components allowing each mood to fully come to life is, unsurprisingly, the man’s voice. It’s the low hanging fruit, but I wouldn’t be doing the album justice to ignore that facet altogether. Hozier’s stunning range and ability to convey countless emotions is arguably the centerpiece to his success. The dynamics in his vocals allow “Talk” to keep a low profile with a hushed, seductive quality, while other songs like “Would That I” can suddenly burst with energy and power between breaths. The sentiment carried through each moment is involuntarily imbued upon whoever may be on the receiving end, and that ability is an invaluable one.
Hozier’s intentional and poetic lyrics complement his voice in nearly every instance where they can. This might be best demonstrated in the title track through his depiction of finding love and keeping it amidst the woes of metaphorical apocalypse: “And I love too, that love soon might end / Be known in its aching / Shown in the shaking / Lately of my wasteland, baby”; “In the stench of the sea and the absence of green / Are the death of all things that are seen and unseen.” It is the perfect bookend to this record, and it might be Hozier’s most important song. After 13 tracks recounting injustice, lust, anxiety, and regret, this is all that is left and all that is needed. The stripped-down, hallowed acoustic plucking digs out a quaint space for the mind to unwind and reflect on whatever joy should remain in the aftermath of an addiction, a toxic relationship, a death, or what have you. The landscape is truly that of a wasteland, and the final minutes are spent standing and gazing, delicately picking up the pieces scattered across the ground, putting back together whatever is left.
is the appropriate follow-up to Hozier’s debut, but not only because it showcases his strengths; it also shows room for growth and, more importantly, an eagerness to grow. It would have been easy to churn out another assortment of upbeat, cheesy love songs, but this record instead sees Hozier challenging himself by trekking into diverse musical territory and dabbling with new lyrical themes. And through all of this, I detected very few signs of exhaustion. Taking five years to slowly and deliberately craft these tunes was surely the right approach, and if he must do it again to achieve the same level of output, I am willing to wait.