The supersonic rise of Andrew Byrne, better known to you and me these days as Hozier, has been an extraordinarily rapid process over the past year. Coming off the summer of 2013, Trinity College dropout Byrne was a 23 year old everyman playing to small festival crowds around the nation; fast forward 12 months and he's not only an Irish phenomenon but a worldwide charting success, confirmed by his topping of the US Billboard charts in recent weeks. All of this is without doubt an astounding achievement for a young Bray native and the Irish music press have rightly backed Byrne all the way and celebrated his triumph with much emphasis, and now comes the time to examine Hozier in a more detailed light as his long awaited self titled debut drops toward the latter end of the year.
The tracklisting wisely kicks off with Hozier's breakthrough anthem, the sorrowful yet irrespectively fashionable ''Take Me To Church'', the Irish single of the year which seems to have one over even the most casual music fan with its dark chic and melodic undertones, and this blend of haunting rhythm is a theme which overrides the rest of the album and makes for the main ingredient in Hozier's outrageous mainstream success. ''Angel Of Small Death And The Codeine Scene'' provides another single ready track that subtly introduces the bluesy style rock of the following tracks before we're fully immersed in the Hozier sound on ''Jackie And Wilson'', ''Someone New'' and ''To Be Alone''. These three rock'n'roll showcases are the purest examples of Hozier's fetish for a updated take on vintage, classic blues music and they expose Byrne's most significant influence in prominent style as the legendary figure of another Irishman, Van Morrison, looms heavily over each song in the most positive manner possible, particularly on playful love odes ''Jackie And Wilson'', an obvious nod to The Man himself, and ''Someone New'' in which Byrne's vocals delightfully imitate the trademark sound of the Northern Irish native.
Perhaps the most wonderful tribute to Van however, and indeed the greatest moment of the entire album, is ''From Eden'', a sprawling, magnificent pop classic of epic proportions that bursts with soul and wisdom far beyond the 23 years of its creator, and this 5 minute centerpiece only serves confirms the serious level of talent embedded in Byrne. As the album continues, further mainstream smash hits await in ''Sedated'' and the hugely promising ''Foreigner's God'', a penultimate track boasting an impossibly powerful piano hook and vocals to match that could yet further the status of Hozier's act if exposed to mainstream popularity, while quieter highlights come in the form of ''Like Real People Do'' and final track ''Cherry Wine'', both soft acoustic numbers that bring to mind the work Justin Vernon on For Emma, if on a slightly more accessible basis, and these calm beautys wash the album to a close in a finish worthy of this excellent debut work.
It's a refreshing and satisfying thing to be able to say that in this case, the hype has been entirely justified. Andrew Byrne proves on Hozier that he is a special musician and songwriter, capable of great things on the big stage and coming off the back of this mighty debut, the world is his for the taking. On Hozier we are introduced to an artist possessed with such natural ability and fearlessness that makes it impossible not to imagine even greater things for the future, but right now we've been blessed with the best Irish debut album in many years, and that's a truly great thing itself.