Certain artists, for certain people, remind of places, spaces and feelings. Personality is the key to unlocking that and experience does the rest. Richard Hawley to some may just be a Sheffield star with a couple good tunes to his name. For others, it is the man who reawakened a passion for writing because after two bottles of wine, sitting in Durham Cathedral is a pretty experience. Hozier has this same effect, linked with the people who reintroduced his work and geared up the mind for his return on Unreal Unearth while sitting in an office without furniture. The lanky Irishman and songwriting star has toiled away with little praise on his name, deserved applause after this latest, and arguably his best, album.
Those opening acoustic flickers on De Selby (Part 1) are the neat little ties to his roots, explored well across this hour of new material. His use of Irish phrasing, the beauty of the language sprinkled in through words of choruses full of reflection, brings out the raw offering Hozier has always had. A bass-heavy De Delby (Part 2) sees Hozier toy with a more pop-ready sound, a force to be reckoned with when in the right hands, and here it is. For those used to the tempo set by Sam Fender on Saturday, the likes of Hozier’s First Time will settle in well. Slowly moved, enough echoes of new instrumentals and lap steel to keep the interest and forge a real connection with the refined wordplay Hozier so often gifts his listeners.
Pairing the first of two singles, Francesca, with I, Carrion (Icarian), is nothing short of inspiring. Hozier finds himself tackling treatises of love beyond love. Its placement, impact and approach is the focus, not the relationship or dynamic itself. There it is on Eat Your Young, likely the most straight-shooting of the album but even then, burying its intention under strings, waves of instrumental flourish and a little dip in form from the euphoric highs of the opening. All Things End is a rather ironic way to mark the shift in tone and quality, but it is there Hozier releases himself from the cinematic-like scores of Son of Nyx to mount an impressive and intimate collection of charming detail.
Those personal flickers throughout Unreal Unearth, those sentimental feelings which come only from the best of places and the extraordinary people tied to them and the listener, are frequent. Beyond those flourishes, the album itself is a mighty triumph for a man whose defining features were, up until this point, his height and Take Me to Church. Look past the latter, over the former, and find an album of real intimacy, of darker conclusions and of career-best highs. Flickers of his past and the style which brought him to the forefront are present, on the likes of To Someone From A Warm Climate, the echoed charms of a piano and a tempting vocal range. Sometimes this is all it takes, and the clarity, yet room for self-exploration, experienced through Hozier and his work on Unreal Unearth, is like no other.