It’s been almost a year since I announced Foxy Digitalis was coming back in 2021 and I wasn’t sure what to expect. The first big surprise came when there was an instant outpouring of excitement and support. I honestly wasn’t sure if anyone remembered Foxy Digitalis, but then I started hearing from old writers, Digitalis alums, etc. and it felt like old times on some level. Truth is, it’s nothing like it was in 2013 when Foxy Digitalis went on (what I thought was a permanent) hiatus. I’m not sure if it’s better or worse, but it’s certainly different.
I was excited to have Foxy Digitalis exist as a newsletter this time around to differentiate it from phase 1 and phase 2. That was short-lived, though, because Substack insists on giving piles of money to bigots and transphobes, so staying on that platform was untenable for me. After looking at different options and none of them really doing what I wanted, it became obvious that I just needed to make Foxy Digitalis a website again. That’s all I really wanted. When that happened, I simply started writing and writing and couldn’t stop. And so it continues.
I’m not going to say how much I’ve written this year (WordPress helpfully quantifies all of it and I’m overwhelmed by it), but the thing is that there’s a huge amount of music and so many artists that not enough people are writing about. That part hasn’t changed since 2013. The best and most interesting art typically exists in the fringes and, as it ever as and ever will be, that’s where Foxy Digitalis lives.
I almost didn’t do a year-end list because list season is often unbearable, but I also love making lists so I had to figure out a way to have fun with it. Most non-Americans reading this won’t get it in the same way Americans do, but since I dropped out of high school in 10th grade, I never got to be part of senior year superlatives. Basically, in high school, the students vote (decide some other way? I honestly have no idea) on different categories like ‘Most Likely to Be President’ and ‘Most Likely to Win the Lottery’ – kind of dumb stuff like that. So what better than 22 fun and absurd categories for 22 (plus 22 “honorable mentions” at the end) incredible albums that got me through one of the hardest years of my life (and it’s 22 instead of 21 because I’m already looking forward to next year). Please don’t take these categories too seriously. This isn’t comprehensive by any stretch, but this is a small corner of great music in a year that produced a pile of it.
One last quick note – I’ve been happy to see a lot more year-end features using ‘favorite’ instead of ‘best’ because I think the latter can be genuinely harmful and ranking/putting a number on music and art is gross and generally not good. It also encourages homogeny and that’s boring (and also harmful). So, hooray for that? Anyway…
Thanks for being here, reading the site, and sharing articles throughout 2021. An extra bit of thanks to Patreon members and Jewel Garden subscribers as those contributions allow the site to keep going and growling. Stick around because 2022 is going to be even more bananas.
Now onto the goods…
Most Likely an Interdimensional Stick of Dynamite
Irreversible Entanglements Open the Gates (International Anthem)
Irreversible Entanglements create vectors that cut through concrete epistemological layers, giving voice and agency to those historically denied it. Ayewa’s words are the guideposts, but the sonic catharsis is the other side of the blade. Open the Gates is the reckoning, the needed flood. Even though the curtain is made of bulletproof glass, they’re pulling it back anyway.
Most Likely to Save the World With Their Voice
Arooj Aftab Vulture Prince (New Amsterdam)
Arooj Aftab is one of the most talented vocalists on the planet. The thing that constantly blows my mind when listening to her (or especially watching videos of her perform) is how it looks like she’s just matter-of-factly performing these impossible feats as if it’s as simple and natural for her as breathing. I know that’s not the case, obviously, but hearing some of the most beautiful sounds imaginable come from her and her ability to nail it every single time is breathtaking. The skill and focus is otherworldly. Vulture Prince has obviously received a load of plaudits and attention (deservedly so), but few albums have had me in their grip like it has. Aftab’s incredible music is a ray of light in this vast darkness.
Most Likely to Be Upstaged by Their Dog on Instagram
claire rousay & more eaze an afternoon whine (Ecstatic)
I don’t think my affection for claire rousay’s and more eaze’s music is any secret, but it’s always pretty damn special when they collaborate. They’re each the perfect foil for each other and “floor pt. 3” is the best of both of their worlds. an afternoon whine is among my favorite bits either of them released this year. But this all pales in comparison to their sweet, sweet dogs.
Most Likely to Serenade the Last Ghosts to Depart
Michael Hurley The Time of the Foxgloves (No Quarter)
When I saw Michael Hurley was releasing an album called The Time of the Foxgloves, it felt like some kind of sign from some other plane that, despite it all, I was doing something right. It’s hard for me to articulate what Hurley’s music has meant to me through the years and at 80 years-old, he’s going strong and still has a lot of magic left in those bones. The Time of Foxgloves has an air of facing down the ghosts we gather each year. The older we get, the bigger that haunted entourage becomes until it’s too much to bear. Hurley’s got it figured out, though. Sing directly to them, woo them a little, and they’ll let another glorious day roll on by.
Most Likely to Turn Dust Into Diamonds
Anthony Sahyoun Proof By Infinite Descent (Beacon Sound)
Proof By Infinite Descent packs in lifetimes. Songs for the living, the dead, those we loved, and those we abhor, all moving together in a knotted web as the world rots from the inside out. Harmonic waves mine the jagged chasms of a ruined land, but Sahyoun’s sonic brilliance morphs into golden shoots of dawn on the other side of cataclysm. This stunning debut is a dynamic meditation that will certainly leave a mark.
Most Likely to Take It to the Streets
Lexagon Feminine Care (Ratskin)
Still, what hits me the most about Feminine Care is the feeling that Lexagon is opening her diary and using this intensely personal narrative to connect, to broaden the impact. There are layers of anxiety-riddled throughout, but Lexagon’s determination to find solace despite all the forces aimed at her is invigorating. Confessions become declarations. Vulnerability is raw power.
Most Likely to See You in Heaven
Joseph Allred Branches & Leaves (Feeding Tube)
Branches & Leaves is a complete experience, utterly destroying me at one turn only to pull me up with a gentle embrace and lift me toward the heavens to a safe place where we can all sing together. Allred sings about the consequences of living and the choices we make, offering no clear answers because there aren’t any. Branches & Leaves is stunning in the way it shapes the visceral experience of modern life into a radiant, ageless tome that meets the sharpest edges with tenderness and never lets the darkness win the day.
Most Likely to Make You Cry Tears of Joy
Wild Up: Julius Eastman Vol. 1: Femenine (Wild Up)
Julius Eastman’s importance being acknowledged is, of course, a good thing, even if it’s a bit late. Performances of his works have been turning up with increasing frequency in the last few years and while all of them have their merits and are typically worth hearing, few have the sheer ecstatic joy and beauty of Wild Up’s interpretation of Femenine. This is music glowing with the brightest energy; the euphoria of an awakening distilled into sonic form. It’s so good, so powerful that it’s an emotional rollercoaster to experience. Certain moments (like when the sax comes in on “Hold And Return”) that put me over the edge. This is magic.
Most Likely to Appear in a History Book
Myriam Gendron Ma Délire – Songs of love, lost & found (Feeding Tube)
Ma Délire – Songs of love, lost & found is a complete and total triumph. There aren’t many artists who understand and can harness the immortal spirit that flows through traditional music like Myriam Gendron. For all her talents as a songwriter, guitarist, and singer, this is her greatest gift.
Most Likely to Help You Find Enlightenment
Ustad Saami East Pakistan Sky (Glitterbeat)
Believing in God isn’t a prerequisite for finding beauty and magic in devotional music. Ustad Saami’s vocal enchantments are not of this world. As the last living surti master, Saami is a conduit for the ancient spirit excavated and resurrected from the tombs of the ancestors. When he sings, the world stops. When he sings, we must close our eyes and listen. Incredible.
Most Likeley to Talk Your Ear Off
Charmaine Lee KNVF (Erratum)
I’m always amazed at how Charmaine Lee manages to mangle and manipulate her voice into an entity in-and-of itself. Her work is visceral and pushes extremes past their extreme, doing things and making sounds that seem impossible. KNVF, her latest album, is the most distilled crystallization of her work so far and, at its core, an intense purge of emotion through sound.
Most Likely to Build One Hell of a Rocketship
William Parker Mayan Space Station (AUM Fidelity)
Mayan Space Station is out there. Featuring Parker on bass, Gerald Cleaver on drums, and Ava Mendoza on guitar, this album is a straight hit of cosmic blues. Cleaver and Parker dance progressive rhythms, building a solid launchpad for Mendoza to soar. She is one of my favorite guitarists on the planet for a reason as she can take any passage of music, ruminate on any idea, then twist and sculpt it into her own sonic monument. It’s incredible and on Mayan Space Station she is at her anfractuous best.
most likely to spontaneously combust
gabby fluke-mogul threshold (relative pitch)
threshold is such an apt title because this album has gone so far beyond what seems possible with this single instrument. When fluke-mogul runs roughshod over peaks and valleys on “kairos,” they are writing their own manuscript and creating a language all their own. They communicate so much raw emotion with their violin and intermittent vocalizations that each time I listen to threshold, it commands further attention and exploration. This is one of my favorite albums so far this year.
Most Likely to Make You Rethink What You Know About Playing Guitar
Yasmin Williams Urban Driftwood (Spinster)
Meandering through Urban Driftwood is a timeless journey through important, and at times painful, memories. Williams’ own experience resonates throughout Urban Driftwood and that unique vision adds a deeper sense of place and stronger connections to hold on to. What an incredible experience it is to hear an artist come into their own and be able to sit back and appreciate the work, the vision, and the belief that gets them there. She is challenging the ideas I have around guitar music and what is possible. Yasmin Williams is already a force, but she’s still only scratching the surface of how deep she can ultimately go.
Most Likely to Become a Cathedral
Lawrence English Observation of Breath (Hallow Ground)
Don’t ask about the category – it makes sense in my head. Lawrence English and his Room40 label had an absolutely banner year (I can’t overstate how much incredible music they put into the world). On Observation of Breath, English constructs massive blocks of sound with a organ drones that somehow manage to be oppressive and light at the same time. The timbre of the organ is intoxicating as if the soundwaves are comprised of giant hollow tubes that look imposing but weigh as much as a feather. It’s an incredible work that shows English at his best.
Most Likely to Make you Believe in Time Travel
MMMΔ & Alem L’âge de l’absolutisme
Alem and MMMΔ never feel rushed or unsure on L’âge de l’absolutisme. There’s a moment on Alessandro Marcello’s “Adagio” a few minutes in where the clavichord, cello, and oscillators come together in a moment drenched in emotional grandeur. It’s almost too much to take, tear ducts at the ready to let go as the duo imbue a sweet vulnerability in each familiar note. In that passage, and all through L’âge de l’absolutisme, Alem and MMMΔ are free from expectation and driven by possibility and desire. Once they’ve drained every last drop from these three breathtaking pieces, and the last minutes of “Air” drift off, they let the music go to the cosmic ether. L’âge de l’absolutisme is a true wonder.
Most Likely a Figment of Your Imagination
Devin Shaffer In My Dreams I’m There (American Dreams)
Our dreams can be mystical, but there’s even more allure to the magic that exists all around us. Finding serene fulfillment in the bird song and the wind rustling in the leaves can lead to new, golden pathways where dreams surround our waking moments. In My Dreams I’m There is a masterpiece with emotional heft and melodic charm that showcases Devin Shaffer as a true cosmic force. This is an incredible album and I can’t recommend it enough.
Most Likely to Make You Forget Your Head
CriesLOL Self Title (Peyote Tapes)
From beginning to end, you occupy a foreign, fantastical world where the real becomes surreal through deft manipulation of sound and space. Self Title is unclassifiable in the best ways; a strange amalgamation of a wide array of styles, all mashed together in a fucked-up, cohesive way that are perfectly encapsulated on the stunning “Crashed.” Ramshackle beats give way to minimalist deadspace and Zeyada’s translucent vocals. It’s utterly mesmerizing and I am completely transfixed by this piece. CriesLol is the real deal.
Most Powerful Allies
Tyshawn Sorey & King Britt Tyshawn/King (Buddy System)
From the Foxy Digitalis Review:
Caught in the polyrhythmic force of Tyshawn/King, it’s like I’ve found a rip in spacetime or a wormhole to an alternative reality. Recorded over two days pre-lockdown, the five tracks on Tyshawn/King are an evolving conversation between two titans. Tyshawn Sorey and King Britt have manifested essential bodies of work on their own, but in joining forces there is something new to manifest. Tyshawn/King is mesmerizing, the sound of man and machine interlocking and constructing a world of inventive pathways.
Most Likely to Save Your Boat From a Tornado
M. Sage The Wind of Things (Geographic North)
From the Foxy Digitalis Review:
This is the original frontier. Everything shiny and new, overtly processed and overstated is stripped away as Matthew Sage fabricates a new home out of sodden dirt, thunder cracks, and flowing rivers with a gentle wind at his back. The Wind of Things is on the opposite side of the sphere from his previous album on Geographic North, Catch a Blessing. Everything here is organic and from the vine, carefully harvested and played in precise aural patterns, a portrait of days past and brighter futures.
Most Likely to Cook You a Delicious Meal
TAK Ensemble & Taylor Brook Star Maker Fragments (TAK Editions)
This category was inspired by this, so it’s not totally bananas. But the thing about TAK Ensemble is the joy that permeates their work and the winding paths they take to follow their creative muse. There are so many facets to TAK Ensemble that it would take a lot more space than I have here to go through them all, but everything that makes them great is on display with Star Maker Fragments. Aurally there’s a spaciousness to the organic sounds throughout, though a certain magic happens when the instruments coalesce around a single point. Each moment is a surprise, but all of it is so inviting. TAK Ensemble do a marvelous job of creating their own strange, wonderful world all the while doing everything they can to make us feel part of it. It’s wonderful.
Most Likely From Another Planet
Tomutonttu Hoshi (Self-Released)
From the Foxy Digitalis Review:
On Hoshi, Anderzen can do anything. This peak inside his neural network is simultaneously delightful and terrifying. These are the monsters that lurk in the shadows of his nightmares, but this music is held together by a sense of wild euphoria. After so many years and so many albums, Hoshi stands with Anderzen’s best work and in its innate listenability invites repeated excursions through its endless fluorescent corridors.
Further righteous jams…
Artifacts …and then there’s this (Astral Spirits)
Karima Walker Waking the Dreaming Body (Orindal)
Mephisto Halabi The Arabic Room (MTI)
Angel Bat Dawid Hush Harbor Mixtape Vol. 1 Doxology (International Anthem)
Pauline Anna Strom Angel Tears in Sunlight (RVNG Intl)
Hassan Wargui Tiddukla (Hive Mind)
David Sanford Big Band A Prayer For Lester Bowie (Greenleaf)
Cecilia Lopez RED(DB) (Relative Pitch)
Luke Stewart Works For Electric Bass Guitar (Tripticks Tapes)
Fatima Al Qadiri Medieval Femme (Hyperdub)
IMKA Manyaa (Evidence of Yesterday)
Patrick Shiroishi Hidemi (American Dreams)
Ned Milligan Enter Outside (Florabelle)
Manja Ristic Songs of the North (Self-Released)
White People Killed Them s/t (SIGE)
Xela & Jake Muir Safe (Boomkat Editions)
Nasturtium Please Us (Room40)
JJJJJerome Ellis The Clearing (NNA Tapes)
The Mountain Movers World What World (Trouble in Mind)
Ava Mendoza New Spells (Astral Spirits/Relative Pitch)
S A D Children of the Sun (Gost Zvuk)
Damon Locks – Black Monument Ensemble NOW (International Anthem)
And then one to grow on – a special word for Ash Brooks and Matt LaJoie and their Flower Room label. LaJoie’s two solo records – Paraclete Tongue and Red Resonant Earth – bookended their beautiful year, but the love and care that is threaded through all their work is unique and wonderful. I can’t recommend digging into their catalog enough.
That’s it. I’m done. It’s been one hell of a year and once more, thanks for all the enthusiasm and support. Join the Patreon. Subscribe to The Jewel Garden. Support the cause. Love ya. See y’all in 2022.