Nina Cried Power is undeniably Hozier, however, there’s nothing about it that feels stagnant - a tantalising entrée for his upcoming sophomore LP.
With Nina Cried Power comes Hozier’s first non-soundtrack, studio album since his eponymous debut back in 2014. It’s his third studio EP, his fourth overall it’s an extremely welcome release, hallmarking, as it does, the around-the-corner release of his second album.
The EP consists of four tracks, all instantly recognizable as being by Hozier, bombast and finger-picked guitar sit neatly alongside each other with plenty of biblical themes, imagery and political messages. The title opening track also features Mavis Staples lending her voice both for vocals and a brief spoken-word monologue.
'Nina Cried Power' kicks the EP off with an explosive drum beat that somehow isn't the most powerful part of the track, this honour belongs to the chorus vocal and the spoken word monologue from Mavis Staples. It’s a track that simultaneously pays tribute to, and hopes to invoke, the protest and fire found in the music and spirit of the artists who are name-checked throughout the song. Among those who are mentioned through the song are Nina Simone (whose own song “Sinnerman” is sampled to make up the chorus of the song), Billie Holiday, Mavis Staples herself, Curtis Mayfield, B.B. King, James Brown, Marvin Gaye, Bob Dylan, in addition to many others.
Next up is 'NFWMB,' or 'Nothing Fucks With My Baby' to use the full title as it can be found in the song’s chorus. It’s a deceptive song, following on from the previous track’s power with Hozier’s hushed, lilting vocals and the soft guitar line that introduces it. Crooned vocals and a gently propelling instrumentation lead you into a menacing, threatening track that is full of tense energy, punctuated by lightly proffered “fucks” and stark lyrics, the guitar vibrating and ricocheting back and forth. It all feels barely held together and bubbling under the surface - it’s biblical and vast. Hozier describes it as “a love song for the end of the world”, and with lyrics such as “Ain't it a gentle sound, the rollin' in the graves?/ Ain't it like thunder under earth, the sound it makes?” it's both cynical and disheartening.
'Moment’s Silence (Common Tongue)' is the most explicitly political song, though classically (for Hozier) obscured in imagery and dense lyrics that suggest just as much meaning as they seem to obscure. It’s an anger-infused song that thunders down upon the listener, there is no darting back and forth furtively here, but instead a confident, unashamed stride. It’s a confidence that reflects the surety that both of the mentioned parties in the song would share – on the one side there are the puritanical conservative powers, and on the other are two lovers enjoying each other’s bodies (“Me and my babe relaxin' catchin' manic rhapsody/… A moment's silence when my baby puts her mouth on me”). On the one side there is self-sure judgment and condemnation, and then there's the self-sure ignorance of the other side’s puritanism and hatred. Both sides call upon the idea of sacredness to support their stance; the idea of the sexual act being sacred and the belief that sacredness makes the sexual act disgusting and deplorable. It’s the most ‘alive’ of the tracks on the EP.
The EP ends with the gorgeous 'Shrike', a lovelorn track that conjures up some jarring imagery. Despite being almost as sonically full as the other tracks on the EP it feels stripped down and raw without the crescendos. The title comes from a type of bird, a shrike, that kills its prey before impaling it on thorns. In the track, Hozier likens himself to the shrike and to his lost, or old, love as the thorn. There’s a sense of homecoming, going back to the ‘thorn,’ his love, and a sense of complicity in the two of them working together against their prey. The drums and bass sound echo-ey and sparse, like a thunderstorm in the distance, and Hozier lulls us, swaying, into the end of the EP.
Whilst it’s undeniably Hozier, there’s nothing about Nina Cried Power that feels stagnant, or lacking in evolution or progress. It’s clearly looking back, as all of Hozier’s music has, to the blues and folk music of the past, but it’s incredibly reflective and of the moment without a sneaking suspicion that it will sound dated in the years to come. It’s cynical but loving, scared and angry but hopeful. It’s crying out for attention to be paid, not just to itself but to the world around us. Hozier wants us to look around, but always remember what humanity and love can provide no matter how dark and drab the world may get.