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‘Wasteland, Baby!’ is dynamic and expansive

Hozier’s new album invokes nostalgia but still branches in new directions

<p>Hozier performing at Bumbershoot in 2015.</p>

Hozier performing at Bumbershoot in 2015.

After a hiatus of nearly five years, Irish singer-songwriter Hozier reentered the music scene March 1 with the release of his long-awaited second full length album, “Wasteland, Baby!” This past September, Hozier hinted at a full-length album with a short EP— “Nina Cried Power,” as well as gradual single releases leading up to the official full release. 

The brooding folk rock artist —  famous for his raspy vocals and nostalgic lyrics — does not disappoint with this newest endeavor, returning to his stylistic roots while also expanding in several new directions. The opening line of the album, “It’s not the waking, it’s the rising,” sums it up best. If Hozier’s first album was the waking, “Wasteland, Baby!” is the rising — a stunning transition into an even deeper and more fully realized sound that delivers on all its promises. 

The undeniable strength of Hozier’s music style is immediately apparent with the explosive opening track “Nina Cried Power,” which features gospel singer Mavis Staples. A departure from the largely subdued sound of his first album, “Wasteland, Baby!” explores a larger extent of musical range, relying less on the dark tones which so characterized his earlier work. However, traces of this style can still be found throughout the album, particularly in the gentler “As it Was” and “Shrike,” which are evocative of the quiet power that captivated so many fans early on in Hozier’s career. They are calming and mellow, which contrasts beautifully with the fresher exploration of more fiery rhythmic variation. 

These intertwining moments of gentleness and raw strength throughout the course of the album reflect a brilliant trajectory, a seamless rise and fall of intensity that keeps listeners on the edge of their seats. The careful control over this progression is clear — just as the album approaches a tense edge of overpowering forcefulness, or nearly gets caught in a lull, Hozier switches tactics and moves in a new direction. This movement also creates a parallel of lightness and darkness throughout the album — a phenomenon that is pervasive even in the lyrical content. 

Hozier is no stranger to the poetic power of lyrics, and his strong control over the stylistic specificity of words is the most significant cohesive factor of this album, particularly in the reflection of the parallels between darkness and light. The contrast between the clear, bright track “Sunlight” and the dark, almost distorted “Wasteland, Baby!” echoes this — expressed in the contrasting lines “Each day you rise with me / Know that I would gladly be / The Icarus to your certainty,” and “And the stench of the sea and the absence of green / Are the death of all things that are seen and unseen.” 

Even aside from overall thematic context, the lyrics of “Wasteland, Baby!” contribute to the timeless, almost nostalgic feeling of the album. Amidst the references to classical Greek myths, imagery of nature and haunting choirs, the album invokes a sense of reckless, organic love, cut through by a biting, disillusioned cynicism. 

This feeling also emerges from the instrumental style, which combines the nonchalant despair of the blues with the grit and spirit of folk rock. Despite the status of a pop artist, Hozier does not rely on the typical pattern of the genre in the construction of his music. The songs of “Wasteland, Baby!” are moved by the natural rhythm of his voice and the resonant effects of a traditional instrumental backup. 

As mainstream music continues to become more innovative and push limits in the realm of sound and content, it is easy to look down on more antiquated interpretations of the art. However, with “Wasteland, Baby!” Hozier proves that with a creative eye, the boundaries of the genre can still be expanded and made unique in a way that still manages to captivate modern audiences.