The day after Hozier released “Movement,” I was leaving the Christopher Columbus Educational Campus near Pelham Parkway in the Bronx, one of the old behemoth school buildings located on a tree-lined stretch of Astor Avenue. I had been there a couple of weeks before, and it was peak fall: every color of leaf you’d care to see, lipstick reds and goldenrod yellows and burnt siennas, set to a soundtrack of Iron and Wine, the Clientele, Bon Iver, and more.
But on this particular day, the day after Hozier released “Movement,” the weather had taken a dramatic pivot towards winter. Leaves were swept down from the august trees by the wind. Thousands and thousands of my fellow commuters were about to be trapped on roads and railways that weren’t prepared for a pre-Thanksgiving snowfall. And I stepped out of Columbus, headphones safely tucked away under the hood of my puffer coat, just as the bridge of “Movement” was concluding and the majestic percussion line leading into the final chorus was about to explode and reverberate through the pivot between minor and major chords. And it was snowing. Real, honest-to-God, wet, white snow, the kind that makes you appreciate your Bean Boots, the kind that promises Christmas and cocoa and the impending pleasure of watching the snow from behind your living room window while you sip something hot and spiked. And I walked down the steps of the building, out into the snow, and it was like the song had come down from heaven to manifest a wildly out-of-season storm.
I was embarrassingly late to Hozier. Like millions of other people, I listened to “Take Me to Church” over and over, surprised and impressed that a song like that—heavy, slow, full of big fat minor chords and those vocals that managed to be both anguished and soaring—was a hit. I probably even listened to the whole album once or twice without thinking about it too hard. But I didn’t get curious about what else he had to offer until the Nina Cried Power EP came out in September. I listened to the title track on repeat on my way home from work on the day of the Kavanaugh hearings, fuming and dry-eyed, my only consolation the idea that the story of anyone who isn’t a white man not being believed and trusted is a very old one—whether it’s the story of Irish women fighting to control their reproductive destinies or the story of people of color fighting for their full citizenship during the many struggles for civil rights in this country, both of which inspired “Nina Cried Power.” I listened to the rest of the EP and thought, Wow, I’ve been missing something about this dude. Let me take another crack at his first album.
See, the fall of 2018 was, for me, defined by hundred-minute commutes and writing my Artist’s Way-prescribed morning pages on the 2 or the 5 train, beginning every day with I am a perfect child of God and wellness is my natural state. And those commutes provided me plenty of time to scribble in my journal and catch up on The New Yorker and take dozens and dozens of deep dives into Hozier’s catalogue.
So, now, I could say more about why I love the production of “Work Song,” a deceptively simple tune that feels like a pagan spiritual, pain and shame and gratitude and adoration layered and clamped together and cranked up to eleven by a three-part harmony in the final chorus that’s just Andrew Hozier-Byrne singing, his voice tripled in on itself as if to illustrate that both the grave and the heart are, ultimately, lonely places. I could say more about how long I spent deconstructing the dark Celtic symbology of “Shrike,” with its allusions to the ominous blackthorn (a symbol more explicitly referenced in another Hozier song, “NFWMB”) perhaps portending the narrator’s rebirth as a particularly vicious little bird.
But for now, I want to meditate on a single image: tucking my headphones under my hood and stepping out into a swirl of snow just as that spectacular beat dropped. I crossed Astor Avenue as I listened to “Movement” all over again. I was just about as far as I could be from home while still being in New York City. I paused in the middle of the sidewalk as the streetlights came on, lighting up the snowflakes in eerie orange-silver, and waited for it again. Move like grey skies, move like a bird of paradise, move like an odd sight come out at night. And the beat dropped again, and I was moving, towards home, towards the end of another day that had begun too early in darkness.