It was the fall of 2014. Tumblr still existed, Obama was still president and we were all still five blissful years away from even muttering the word “quarantine” in a real-life context. Hozier, aka Irish musician-with-a-voice-like-honey Andrew John Hozier-Byrne, had just released his debut self-titled album. The hot ‘n’ holy single “Take Me To Church” was a radio hit. Jessica and Casey were swiftly gaining internet clout for this stunning So You Think You Can Dance routine choreographed to “Like Real People Do,” another steamy Hozier single. Life was simple!
Of course, this is an overly nostalgic and glorified picture of a season with its own many complications. But because 2020 is a hellscape unlike any other we’ve seen in some time, please allow me to reminisce on September of 2014, will you?
Everyone’s version of pandemic comfort music is different. Hozier himself is turning to rapper Flo Milli (so should you, by the way) for quarantine entertainment, but there truly is no one right way to indulge. Hozier, which arrived Sept. 19, 2014 on Island Records, remains a capsule of autumnal simplicity. Perhaps it’s because of when it was released, but I always associate “Take Me To Church” and its sister songs from Hozier’s self-titled debut with all the most basic components of a cozy, consumerist fall—pumpkin spice, candles, coffee, crunchy leaves and rainy Sunday naps. Much like those signs of approaching autumn, Hozier is distinctly indulgent, making it the perfect listen for right now when we’re all starved for comfort, familiarity and just a little peace.
While an exorbitant (and frequently romantic) indie-folk milestone, Hozier is also dark as hell. Hozier explores the underbelly of love as well as the allure of death on songs like the grotesque “In A Week,” the drug-addled “Angel of Small Death and the Codeine Scene” and the spooky “It Will Come Back” (perfect for Halloween, by the way). But the real coziness of this album radiates from love songs like the cutesy “Jackie and Wilson,” which benefits greatly from a blues lick and Hozier’s idolization of the great soul singer Jackie Wilson, and “From Eden,” which reflects on a revitalizing new love (“Honey, you’re familiar, like my mirror years ago).
There’s just something about the hum of this record that’s reminiscent of autumn. The steady claps of the feverish “Work Song” and the excited air of opportunity on “Someone New” recall those magical October mornings when it’s finally cold enough for a sweater. The latter hits especially hard during the pandemic when we’re not able to aimlessly wander the streets, sit idly in a café or people-watch in an airport terminal like we once were (Hozier admits he falls “in love just a little ol’ little bit / Every day with someone new”). Spring is the season most associated with new beginnings, but is fall not truly the season of clean slates? The stink of summer is wiped away, and, as we retreat indoors, we often tend to look inwards, paving the way for new relationships and experiences. Cicadas burrow into the ground; the chipmunks tuck into their tiny little dens. Humans make tea and soup, gather and, in this case, listen to moody Irish music.
Speaking of which, Hozier also possesses an intimacy that feels relatable right now. “Cherry Wine” is a hushed folk song with an underlying sensuality that feels as luxurious as a long soak in the bathtub. Hozier’s descriptions of his lovers, which range from obsessed to elated to blind-with-passion, simmer down on “Cherry Wine,” which could either be about emotional abuse or an all-consuming relationship—it’s hard to tell. As Hozier himself sings on “Angel of Small Death and the Codeine Scene,” “I watch the work of my kin, bold and boyful / Toying somewhere between love and abuse.” Hozier has a miraculous talent for blending the line between trauma and passion on this album, and it often overwhelms the senses.
But the one consistency is Hozier’s warm and soupy mix of gospel, folk, blues and rock. While the lyrics range from lovelorn and brooding to even disturbing at times, Hozier is still the sonic equivalent of a crackling fire. Since 2014, Hozier has been one of those albums I save for a sacred few months of the year. When the first chill of a late-September morning rolls around, I pour myself a cup of java, cozy up by the window and press play. But, this year—this godforsaken year!—I needed this music a little bit sooner, hence my 800 words on the topic. So whether it’s coating your dining room table with decorative gourds, putting out a bowl of candy corn or watching Christmas TikToks (even though there’s still 114 days to go), please feel free to join me in this early-September indulgence. Do something, watch something, listen to something or eat something that makes you feel so luxurious and at-ease you could be cast in the next Dove chocolate commercial. Not even 2020 can take cozy vibes away from us.
Ellen Johnson is an associate music editor, writer, playlist maker, coffee drinker and pop culture enthusiast at Paste. You can find her tweeting about all the things on Twitter @ellen_a_johnson and re-watching Little Women on Letterboxd.