Dark Times

An exploration of stylistic approaches to the gloomy ambience.

Dark Times
Discover Alex Henry Foster in today's edition.

Welcome, dear members, to the second edition of reLISTEN—the format that recommends five older songs you might enjoy.

Today's recommendations roam on the fringes of sombre sonic realms. Although the five songs don't share the same genre, they transport a certain obscure, sometimes even spooky atmosphere.

I occasionally find joy in so-called "happy songs"; however, I find myself more often drawn to darker themes and sounds. It's hard to pinpoint the reasons. Maybe music, to me, acts as a counterbalance to a society that frowns upon negative emotions like sadness, fear, pain, loneliness, or heartbreak.

I wouldn't necessarily state that hard times create better art. But the depth of emotions, the human soul, and its vulnerability seems to give artists more opportunities to explore and express.

And honestly, there's simply not much to relate to in the hundredth song about sex, drugs, and parties.

With that being said, today's edition won't render you depressive either. Instead, it's a comprehensive exploration of stylistic approaches to the gloomy ambience, yet there are still peaks of excitement and excess.

You'll encounter soaring guitars, restless rhythms, cinematic experiences, and epic storytelling.

I hope this edition will leave you inspired and intrigued.


Safari Riot – Where Is My Mind

Pixies' Where Is My Mind wasn't exactly prone to become a significant alternative hit. But the song became a phenomenon with its inclusion in the movie Fight Club. Since then, it sparked a couple of cover versions—like the piano rendition by Maxence Cyrin.

However, the most haunting version was done by Safari Riot, a Los Angeles-based artist development company. Co-founder Grayson Sanders delivers the lyrics. The cinematic drama in Safari Riot's performance is no coincidence, as the song was used in the trailer for the video game Dying Light 2.

Safari Riot transforms the original's alternative rock vibe into a dystopian, post-apocalyptic storm. It's simultaneously atmospheric, almost ambient-like, and rampaging with its rumbling techno beat. But there's nothing straightforward about this rendition. Instead, it's chopped up, stops and starts, again and again, constantly changing pace and ambience.

Alex Henry Foster – The Hunter (By the Seaside Window)

As a teenager, Canadian artist Alex Henry Foster was part of an extreme right street gang until he managed to exit at the age of 18 through the help of his father. Today, the 32-year-old Foster is a spokesperson for Amnesty International and founded a non-profit organisation to raise awareness on human rights.

Foster is mainly known for his work in the band Your Favorite Enemies. However, in 2020, he released his first solo album, Windows in the Sky. The announcement came with The Hunter (By the Seaside Window), the first single.

Don't wait for me, I won't be back this time, don't wait for me
Don't wait for me, I won't come home tonight
I've closed my eyes in peaceful glimpses of pure white sky
I'm thinking of you, feeding the fire of our dreamful laughter life
Now I'm standing, I'm standing by the seaside window, looking at you
And I'm looking at you, looking at you

The song is an epic 14-minute journey, more sonic storytelling than a traditional song, instrumentally accompanied by a creeping post-rock composition. Alex Henry Foster speaks instead of singing. The Hunter (By the Seaside Window) is a haunting experience—a dangerous and fascinating opus that wraps around hearts and minds, dragging you into a dark world.

Buy this track on Bandcamp and support the artist.

Irish Basement – 1,000 Hallelujahs

No, Irish Basement doesn't come from Ireland but from the United States, Washington D.C., to be specific. Nor is Irish Basement a band. It's the creative valve for Mike Toohey. And it's almost a stretch to include him, and his song 1,000 Hallelujahs is a reLISTEN selection.

Irish Basement is a relatively new project on the ever-growing field of contemporary post-punk music. Toohey has released three singles so far, all of them last year; 1000 Hallelujahs being the second one—set free on October 15.

However, don't let this short resume fool you: In 1,000 Hallelujahs, Irish Basement displays excellent potential. In the spotlight, the post-punk-styled guitars steal the attention. But the obscure hero remains the bassline, galloping with the drums and pushing the track forward. And beneath, the song's composition starts to get more sophisticated by the minute, with the synthesiser adding depth and width. Irish Basement is definitely an artist to watch.

Buy this track on Bandcamp and support the artist.

Hello Psychaleppo – Eyes Improvise

A sinister bassline, contrasted by hi-hats. That's how Eyes Improvise by Syrian artist Hello Psychaleppo starts. Samer Saem ElDahr combines traditional Middle Eastern melodies with Western electronic sounds to create a unique electro tarab that feels familiar and exotic to European ears.

Eyes Improvise is heavily rooted in nimble trip-hop, but the thick bass and obscure melody dress the track in black. As a result, it feels gloomy and dangerous, like a narrow sidestreet in the middle of the night.

Hello Psychaleppo shows on Gool L'ah, the record containing the track, how vast his spectrum is. There are electronic escalations like Eyes Improvise, Sand Song or Harem, but completely different atmospheres as displayed in Tarab Dub or Sufi Hop.

Holy Esque – Rose

Holy Esque is a Scottish outfit founded in 2011 in Glasgow, creating a unique blend of eery rock music and post-punk appeal. I can't remember how I stumbled upon their sound, but the singles that announced their debut record, At Hope's Ravine (2016), immediately drew my attention. I later bought the vinyl at Rough Trade East in London and still appreciate the record.

It was hard to choose an ambassador for this incredible album. It could also have been Hexx or Tear or Silences. But, in the end, I decided that Rose is the perfect example as it displays the raging guitar, crying like a chainsaw in a duett with a synthesiser. It's a raw, breathless explosion of dense, uncompromising rock music.

However, singer Pat Hynes's trademark vocals bring Holy Esque's sonic universe fully alive. His voice is full of vibrato, adding obscurity, fragility and vulnerability to the violent sound.

Follow the reLISTEN playlists

Of course, you can enjoy the songs featured in reLISTEN also in the playlists on Spotify and Apple Music.

However, I will also include Bandcamp links if available so that you can buy a digital download of the songs.