Notes From the Jewel Garden #1: Back to the Future

Picking up old threads as 2013 bleeds into 2021. Hello again…

We successfully grew digitalis in our garden this year in what was surely a sign.

On January 31st, 2013 when I pressed ‘publish’ on the final installment of my long-running column, The Long Decline, I 100% believed that was the end of Foxy Digitalis in any form. I hadn’t dropped any hints or made any announcements leading up to the formal declaration I made in that piece, but I had no reason to believe everything I’d said wasn’t true. Continuing a theme from the past year, I was wrong.

So like last time, history repeats itself. Sixth months-ish after starting a new label (The Jewel Garden) and reincarnating The North Sea, I’m bringing Foxy Digitalis back from the dead. For better or worse, it’s just going to be me this time (at least for now! I’d love to get some of the band back together in some form or another, but who knows) and I’m not even 100% sure what it’s going to look like. I’ve been reading a handful of Substack newsletters the past few months (Night After NightViking’s ChoiceTone Glow, & constellations to name a few favorites) and the format makes sense to me. It reminds me a lot of virtually traipsing through millions of blogs (okay maybe a slight exaggeration) on Google Reader. Maybe it won’t suffice in the long run, but we’ll see. 

I still have that same fire to discover and learn about music that slips through the margins and share it with anyone who cares to listen. That was the purpose of Foxy Digitalis when it began and, even as a community conglomerated around it, the zine never strayed much from that singular path. Thinking back to the earliest parts of FD’s online iteration – when I wrote 90% of the articles – it helped me connect with music in a deeper, more emotional way. It had the push-on effect of allowing me to find different and, at times, more intense connections with my own music, too. Add to that how many incredible writers, artists, musicians, etc. I connected with because of the site, it was a veritable feast. So much inspiration and encouragement was borne from our conversations and from the writing that came from it and I profoundly miss it. Truthfully, in hindsight Foxy Digitalis was the magic that made the whole mess of Digitalis threads and sub-threads shine. When FD shut down, it was the beginning of the end for that period of all the various projects I was involved in even if I had no idea at the time. I wish I’d realized it and perhaps made different choices, but at least I can see it with greater clarity now. As I get lost deeper in The Jewel Garden, I’m hoping to learn from those mistakes. 

Even though the landscape seems, from my outside perspective, starkly different than the environment FD disappeared from in 2013, there is still an unending stream of incredible music being made right now (more than ever, actually). There will be a heavy focus on reviews and reflections about new (and new-ish – a lot of great stuff from early last year that I have some thoughts about) music (mostly), but as things flow I hope to do interviews, essays, features, personal lamentations, contributions from previous Foxy Digitalis writers, maybe some mixes, maybe some livestreams, some pieces from the FD archives… I can’t say for sure, but there are a lot of ideas spinning around in my head and this is only the beginning. I’m excited as all hell to start over and appreciate y’all taking this journey again.

And with that, here’s a couple albums from 2020 I absolutely love:

Irreversible Entanglements Who Sent You? (International Anthem)
If I was forced to pick an album of the year, it would be this (h/t to Franklin Teagle for the recommendation). It’s a force of nature featuring an unbelievable line-up of talent. Camae Ayewa (aka Moor Mother) was a revelation for me in 2020. Her music and writing as challenged, thrilled, and inspired me more than anyone this year and, impossibly, I think we’ve still only caught a glimpse. Don’t miss DIAL UPBRASS, or Circuit City either. Literally everything she released in 2020 is vital listening (as is everything International Anthem released for that matter).

Hisato Higuchi キ、Que、消えん? (Ki, Que, Kien?) (Ghost Disc)
I’ve been a huge admirer of Higuchi’s work for years, but this album hit differently. There’s a fragility to these minimal guitar and vocal compositions that feels just like 2020 felt – hanging on by the thinnest threads, riding wave after endless wave until you think you will break, only to stave off the breakdown by the slimmest of margins… and then you do it all again. It’s a beautiful, impactful album.

More Eaze Mari (Orange Milk)
I think I first heard More Eaze a couple years ago (her Conveyance album on Lillerne), but this year her work reached stellar heights. As much as I love her collaborations with claire rousay (another absolute favorite this year) and her album on Aural CanyonMari is simply on another level. Her hooks and overall compositions are infinitely complex, but deceptively so – cursory listens draw you in with catchiness and raw emotion, but repeated listens unveil an intricate web of crystalline pop genius. I love this album so much.

KMRU opaquer (Dagoretti)
KMRU released a clutch of great music in 2020, but the subterranean, paranoid recesses explored on opaquer distilled a very specific emotion for me. Richly textured pieces move like a serpent winding its way through every dark emotion that last year threw at me. So much of opaquer caught me off guard, like all the paranoia and fear I tried to suppress and keep in check flooding into the public sphere. It’s an incredible record by one of my favorite artists around right now. Dagoretti released a bunch of great albums last year, but this one is still my favorite.

Matt LaJoie Everlasting Spring (Flower Room)
One of the most beautiful records I heard in all of 2020, Matt LaJoie’s Everlasting Spring continues to inspire my own work in unexpected ways (I even wrote a song for Matt in response to this album that will be on a forthcoming Charlatan album). That this album was released at the end of February, right before everything unraveled is poetic. Astral guitar works that are hopeful and cathartic, pushing the listener to just close their eyes and find the light wherever it may be hiding. Everlasting Spring gave me so much hope in a brutal year. Music like this can be healing and understanding and few albums capture that like LaJoie does. Eventually this seemingly endless winter has to end. Close your eyes and let these multi-dimensional melodic loops whisk you away to those brighter days…