After teasing us with an EP release back in September, Hozier is well and truly back on the scene with his latest album Wasteland, Baby! having dropped on March 1. The Irish musician won over a global audience in 2014 with his debut single Take Me To Church and now, five years later, has returned with an album full of those signature, sultry tones and an unexpected upbeat flavour.
The album begins with Nina Cried Power, the title track of his teaser EP, which features gospel and RnB heavyweight Mavis Staples. Driven by the syncopated drum beat and gospel backing vocals, Nina Cried Power is a strong, powerful opener that sets up the darker undertones this album contains. Next on the track list is Almost (Sweet Music), an energetic love song that packs a rhythmic punch. The syncopated clapping beat that can be heard throughout the song is so interesting to listen to; in the beginning it seems a bit out of place paired with the equally unusual rhythm of the guitar chord progression but once the chorus comes in, everything settles and falls into place. The balance between all the different offbeat rhythms in this track is excellent – nothing feels forced and it all falls exactly into place.
The album takes a complete 180 with the next song, Movement. Hozier’s soft, breathy vocal tone coupled with the eerie backing vocals make the beginning of this track quite haunting and ominous; a theme that is carried throughout the album. The instrumentation and layering develops further and morphs into a more robust sound, similar to that of the first two tracks. No Plan follows, with a harsh distorted electric guitar riff and dreamy, flowing melodic line. This song has a nice mellow groove to it but it’s definitely not a standout track.
Next on the album is Nobody which, in the beginning, didn’t spark much interest. However, as soon as the pre-chorus hit and Hozier’s vocals reached for the stars, it was as if everything aligned. The delay on the vocals are such an interesting touch and the guitar riffs on the ends of phrases add just the right amount of flavour to this boppy tune. To Noise Making (Sing) is another fantastic track off this album; its bouncy piano and light-hearted subject matter make for a nice reprieve from Hozier’s typical darker thematic content. It really is the perfect song to get people singing “just for the love of it” as the lyrics encourage.
As it Was follows, bringing back the mysterious, folk sound that Hozier does so well. His dark and yearning vocals are gorgeously complimented by the string instrumentation in this track. Shrike has a very similar instrumentation with a peaceful, lilting melodic line lifted along by a three four time signature. This track has very strong Irish folk influences from the poetic lyrics to birdsong-like twiddling of the acoustic guitar.
Talk is another slow and dark track, centred around the minor tonality that Hozier seems to love so much. The fact that this is song is so repetitive and simplified as compared to the other tracks on the album make it very difficult to try and find the will to listen to it more than once. Hozier’s edgier, rock influences come out in the following track, Be, that is driven by a simple kit drum beat and distorted electric guitar.
Dinner & Diatribes is another song on this album that explores interesting and intricate rhythms; the electric guitar skips all over the place while a steady kick keeps the tempo going at a marching pace with no roo to breathe. It’s a song that makes you want to listen to the intricacies of every part and unravel the layers it hides – if you enjoy delving into nitty gritty of how a song is put together, you’ll appreciate the production of this one. Would That I brings back the acoustic, folk sound before barraging us with a belting, hard chorus. The contrast in mood between the verses and the chorus is a stark one and makes it quite disjointed. There are a lot of repeated choruses in this track and its belting melody gets old after a while and starts to sound a bit shouty and overpowering.
Nearing the end of the album, the homophonic gospel backing vocals return, propelling the harmonic progression of Sunlight. This is really the only point of interest for an otherwise mediocre song. After genre-hopping and exploring Hozier’s rhythmic and lyrical capabilities, the final and title track of the album has finally arrived. As the epitome of dark and depressing subject matter being turned into something beautiful, Wasteland, Baby! speaks of the end of the world through a quaint melody that carries such grace and poignancy with every note. It wouldn’t be a song you’d listen to on its own, however in the context of the album it works very well as a culmination of the journey that you are now, unfortunately, at the end of.
Speaking of endings, that’s it for my track by track review of Hozier’s album, Wasteland, Baby!. Let me know down in the comments if you want to see more album reviews from me or if you have any suggestions on what I should review next. I hope this post inspires you to have a listen to the album and bask in the glory of Hozier’s rhythmic prowess!