When you move, I'm moved: Hozier's 'Nina Cried Power EP' and 'Movement'
//by Kate Haselden//
3 years since his last full-length project, Hozier returns with an album that stays true to form
His first album was self-titled, murmuring, lamenting the human state of fallenness from Eden to Codeine. His voice prevails over every song, displaying a masterful control as it rises and falls to draw the listeners’ attention to individual words. ‘Take Me to Church’ is his most recognised example of this – “my church offers no absolutes” – “absolutes” rises edged with gravel-like condescension, an expulsion to see love not as sin but as worship, reflecting Hozier’s views on the established Church which he has spoken candidly about in different interviews. Since this debut in 2014, admirers of his work have waited for another release. On September 6th, Hozier released Nina Cried Power EP.
The EP is named after the first song featuring Mavis Staples, an American blues singer and Civil rights activist. Hozier said in a recent interview that the EP was born from a need to scream into a microphone late at night, isolating himself after his relentless tour following his first album (Billboard). The song opens in a crescendo of strength, steady rising drums forming their rhythm to introduce his first line “It's not the waking, it's the rising”. The song is a celebration of strength but an awareness of destruction. While producing the EP, Hozier described watching the world in the wake of the 2016 U.S. election, seeing everybody’s anger with the each other, “screaming their points of views into this furnace of discourse” (Rolling Stone). With his raw, orchestral delivery he fills the track with the sheer volume of his words, soaring on “power”, blending with Mavis’ roughened gospel and the backing vocal echoes, against the unrelenting drums and rising melody, the song itself is a screaming furnace in the most harmonious, thrilling way. We listen to the flames and take strength from their refusal to burn down, quiet to ashes, until the final reverberation of the drums carries us into ‘NFWMB’.
‘NFMB’ is defined by a murmuring, softer tone of Hozier’s voice – he seems closer to us, the song is more of muted susurration, heard by gentle guitar strings and rising just to fall from the verse to the chorus. We are taken through a narrative of motion; his voice carries us like a gentle sea, slowly lifting us to the pre-chorus but fast reminding us of his strength in the delivery of the chorus.
The pre-chorus is a magnificent display of Hozier’s lyricism. First “Ain't it a gentle sound, the rollin' in the graves?/ Ain't it like thunder under earth, the sound it makes?”, then the second “Ain't it warming you, the world gone up in flames?/Ain't it the life you, your lighting of the blaze? Ain't it a waste they'd watch the throwing of the shade?/ Ain’t you my baby”. The first speaks of the refusal for grief, for the dead, to lie still; they sigh under the ground, low and continuous. The lyrics resurrect a song from Hozier’s first album, ‘Work Song’, which falls in swathes of gentle humming, rhythmic clapping, cycling back to the chorus “Lay me gently in the cold dark earth/ No grave can hold my body down/ I'll crawl home to her”. The dead refuse to be still or silent across both albums. ‘NFWMB’ is a beautiful union between the natural destruction of branches and flames, and the human need to possess someone else.
The final two songs on the EP form what Hozier calls the “four corners of the world the album populates”. ‘Moments Silence (Common Tongue)’ draws on blues tradition, paced solo guitar, re-introducing the echoing claps recorded on the first album. Throughout Hozier’s music, there is a tension and often battle between human experience and religion – the song focuses moments on the body, the mouth in the wake of the manic and the ‘squall’ of religious apathy. Prayer, homily and rosary are all figured in the lyrics – on the closing line, Hozier screams “so summon on the pearl rosary”, refusing traditional prayer and figuring physical intimacy as his accepted form of devotion.
‘Shrike’ forms the closing, melodic lament of the EP. ‘Shrike’ is named after a small bird which impales its prey on a thorn after killing it. Returning to the simplistic, folk-like guitar and rhythm like on his earlier songs such as ‘Like Real People Do’, the song resonates with knowledge gained too late, the inability to speak in certain moments. He figures himself as different animal bodies; a shrike throughout, hunting yet now emptied, his goodness gone with another’s absence. The final chorus “Dragging along, following your form/ Hung like the pelt of some prey you had worn” suggests he becomes like a shadow following, reduced to violent decoration, doomed to follow a wandering figure as part of their own body. Existence with another resides in his most recently released single, ‘Movement’.
The song arrests like poetry. The entire song swells and moves like a body of water, muted glances of light through the water on the high notes. Prevailing over it is the sense of possessing and being with another – the constant refrain “when you move, I’m moved” speaks of a need to be united with what you love, the need for a kind of symbiotic existence with a lover. His command “shake like the bough of a willow tree” forms the central refrain of the chorus - a common symbol of forsaken love. The movement of the song is a tapestry of religious, literary and cultural references – he elevates his lover to the figure of Atlas in Greek Mythology, who holds the sky so it will not collapse on Earth. The song is poised to become a classic of Hozier’s body of work; it reminds me of Hozier’s words in an interview with the Irish Times in 2013:
“I found the experience of falling in love or being in love was a death, a death of everything.”
In the song there is a notion of ending for the individual. He joins his movement to her; everything reacts for her, to her, his memory and his breathing. There is a constant connection in his music between death and love, voice and silence, harmony and chaos.
The final chorus recalls the orchestral crescendo of ‘Nina Cried Power’ – all noise, all voice, all unrelenting harmony and vocal beauty. Hozier has returned in a frenzy of strength, lyricism and fervour, with the promise of a full album being released in early 2019.
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