Happy 5th Anniversary to Hozier’s eponymous debut album Hozier, originally released September 19, 2014.
I’ll never forget the first time I heard “Take Me to Church.”
In the early months of 2014, I was a college student doing a semester in the UK. I’d joined up with the school radio station, Livewire1350, and got myself a show on Friday evenings playing folk music. In those days, I was the worst kind of twenty-year-old music snob: only interested in things that were either 1) old, as if their oldness was their worth, or things that were 2) new that nobody else had heard of, as if their lack of mainstream taint made them pure and good.
In a mystery of scheduling, my pitiful and obscure program came right after the most popular show of the week. This was The Music Show, the cleverly-titled roundup of all of the biggest and most exciting tracks that had just been released or discovered by the radio station’s head honchos. Each of these songs would enter the station’s regular rotation the following week, but as a “specialty DJ,” I didn’t have to play any of them. I prided myself on this.
On one particular Friday, as I entered the booth left vacant by The Music Show, the first Hozier song that went out in the world was playing on the speakers.
When the song ended, the mic was live and I simply didn’t know what to do. I had just heard something like I had never heard before—something that was current and exciting and also so full of everything that I loved about music. It was impassioned and bluesy and sensitive and dark and energetic. This is not to say that this sort of music never existed. It just hadn’t hit me in the way that this song had. So I got on the mic, told the five or six listeners that I just had to hear that song again, and cued it back up.
In the weeks and months that followed, I played the song countless times, both on the air and off. I puzzled over the strange timing in the descending line in the pickup before the chorus. I unsuccessfully sought the high notes when singing along in my car. I Googled “Hozier album release” every couple of days, impatiently looking forward to the day that there would be forty whole glorious minutes of songs like “Take Me to Church.”
In September, it came. That Friday, I was in my college newspaper’s closet-like office, waiting for a meeting, when I put it on for the first time. I didn’t get forty minutes of “Take Me to Church,” but I did get more of that strange, unexpected magic from that first single. There was the dark, thrashing, apocalyptic groove of “Angel of Small Death and the Codeine Scene,” and the barely wonky 5/4 of “From Eden,” that near-humming backing vocal on “Work Song,” the impossibly timed, drums-falling-down-the-stairs moment in the second verse of “Jackie and Wilson,” and the beautiful, stand-on-a-cliff vocals of “Sedated.” Every song was a universe unto itself, and I played the record on repeat for weeks.
Everyone else did too. I was getting coffee with a friend one day when “Work Song” came over the speakers in the Hip Coffee Shop. My friend told me that she loved this song, that she loved this record, and I said that I did too. For the first time, a record was taking the world by storm and I felt like I was part of it.
I realized in moments like these that I liked this feeling. I liked sharing this feeling of bewilderment with people, with singing “My and my Isis growing black irises in the sunshine” over the speakers at a party, with not needing to feel a sense of ownership over music, but rather a sense of community. I still felt deeply connected to the music—it just happened to be the case that a bunch of my friends did, too.
Eventually, people moved on from Hozier. So did I. More records came out. More songs got identified over the speakers in coffee shops. More lyrics got sung at parties.
But every now and again, I’ll put it back on and, through that time traveling sensation that the best records can evoke, I’m immediately transported back to that autumn. While I do mostly think about that coffee shop, or the hours I spent working on papers while it played in the background, this memory is undergirded by an intense gratitude that most album-evoked nostalgia can’t offer.
It’s actually pretty easy to trace the way I experience music, and the world at large, back to this record. Once I wore out the metaphorical grooves on Hozier, it became time for me to figure out what else was new, what everyone else was listening to, and what songs I had secretly loved growing up but didn’t think that liking them was right, given my preposterously stubborn listening ethic. With that ball rolling down the hill, I felt parts of myself that I secretly didn’t like very much—the parts that felt an inorganic need to mark myself as different from others—and embrace the things and people around me. It took something as good as Hozier to break through that, and for this, I’ll always be grateful.