“Destruction” isn’t usually the word most people associate with Irish singer-songwriter Hozier’s music. So it’s surprising when, taking stock of his second album, Andrew Hozier-Byrne tells Apple Music, “There was either language that seemed to focus upon drowning or the burning of things, or the ending of things.” Fear not: This is hardly a gloom-and-doom record, despite the subject matter occasionally veering toward end times. Hozier’s cynicism, when it’s present at all, can’t help but be subtle, tongue-in-cheek, maybe even a little sweet—and, more often than not, couched in endlessly hummable melodies and bluesy, folky guitar lines. “It's held at a distance,” he says, “but so too is hopefulness.” Hozier puts that balance into perspective while talking us through each of the album’s songs.
"Nina Cried Power" (feat. Mavis Staples) "The artists I'm singing about [Nina Simone, James Brown, Joni Mitchell, Woody Guthrie] managed to define the zeitgeist in which they lived by just writing about the times and how they experienced the world, and then, as a result, provided us with a document and a legacy that lives forever. The intention was to be a thank-you note to that—and something that was decidedly uncynical. I wanted to write something that spoke to that spirit of action in music. Mavis Staples is somebody who embodies that in a very real way."
"Almost (Sweet Music)" "I think the song is kind of summed up in that line, 'I'm almost me again, she's almost you.' Then the chorus hook is obviously about hearing sweet music. It's just kind of fun to do a self-deprecating joke in the title, because it references so many sweet songs and wonderful classics. It seemed appropriate to refer to this song as something that was almost sweet music."
“Movement” “I was really enjoying stuff like LCD Soundsystem, and the idea of dancing as a human form of expression—obviously from a distance; you'd be very hard-pressed to find me on a dance floor. Rather than write a dance song, I wanted to write a song about dancing, and on the surface about somebody watching their lover dancing. Then just inquiring into movement and playing around with the language of comparing them to something enormous. There's references to Jonah and the whale—a person inside of a much larger thing that is moving.”
"No Plan" “I came across this lecture about the end of the universe through heat death—where all the stars just burn out. As things move away from each other, they just get colder and colder, to the point where there will be no light or heat left. This song is a squeeze of the hand, saying, ‘Whatever your neuroses and your problems are, don't even worry about it. There will be darkness again.'”
“Nobody” "This is about the limitations of love between flawed people. It's just taking into account how flawed this person is and saying, 'Look, it's the best we have at the moment.' It's one of the closest things to a road song that I've written."
"To Noise Making (Sing)" "It's just trying to take stock of what [the act of] singing about anything can give us. It's best summed up in the line 'You don't have to sing it right/But who could call you wrong/To put your emptiness to melody/Your awful heart to song.' At the end of the day, if you find some comfort in it, it's still a worthwhile act. There's a poem by Seamus Heaney called 'At the Wellhead.' He just writes about this singer, basically. It's just a very lovely poem, which was a big part of me wanting to write that song."
"As It Was" "This nods back to ‘Nobody' as a road song. It's about reassuring somebody upon your returning, comparing all the wonderful things you've experienced, and being able to only compare how marvelous it was to this person you're talking to. There's a sense of foreboding to it as well."
“Shrike” "I was kind of leaning into some Irish folk influences. I probably write more folk songs than I'll ever end up releasing. I was fascinated by the imagery of this bird—the shrike—and the relationship it has with the thornbush, which it lives in and relies upon for everything."
“Talk" "The singer in the song would be a bit of an unreliable narrator. The verse is expressing in very lofty terms the idea of a perfect true love. Then in the chorus, the narrator admits that it's all just smoke and mirrors to distract somebody from their true intentions, which are not exactly aboveboard. It's playing around with a mythical sort of love, but at the end of the day it's just talk."
"Be" "This was me sort of leaning into Leonard Cohen imagery. It looks at loving somebody as an increasingly radical act, or looking at love as a transgressive act."
"Dinner & Diatribes” "It's somebody saying, 'I'm bored—let's get the f**k out of here.' Being at a very stuffy social obligation, sort of high-society types, and I suppose being in the heart of the cultural wasteland and wanting to go home and do something more interesting."
"Would That I” "It’s about somebody characterizing all of their past romances, people that they cared for, as trees that they took shelter under, and describing a would-be jealous lover as basically the fire that ultimately burns that wood: 'In awe there I stood as you licked off the grain/Though I've handled the wood, I still worship the flame.' But there's a weirdly elaborate pun in it: 'Would that I' is like a way of saying 'I wish that I did.' It's a pun on all the wood that I loved."
“Sunlight" “If 'No Plan' is cosmically pessimistic—there will be darkness again, all things will die out and go cold—I think ‘Sunlight' is best described as 'You Are My Sunshine.’ I couldn't really have one without the other."
"Wasteland, Baby!" "It's a love song for the end of the world. Even though a lot of the songs here tend to play with the imagery of terrible things happening—like, say, the sea levels rising—in a metaphorical kind of way, I wanted to write something that dealt with those anxieties in a literal way—then putting it into a whistleable, catchy tune, to the point where it's absurd, nearly. If the album opened with a song about what can be achieved when people stand firm by their values, I think 'Wasteland, Baby!' is just imagining things if all efforts fail and all things come to naught, you know?"