10 Best Things I Heard in 2012
So long, 2012.
You were a weird, uncomfortable, and scary year. You were also wonderful, at times so unbearably wonderful that I thought my brain was going to explode as I struggled to wrap my head around your pure, blindingly bright joy. You had all the things a monumental year should: elections, end-of-humanity fears, a very good adaptation of Marvel Comics' Avengers comic book, McRibs.
Anyway, I went to a lot of shows and listened to a lot of songs this year. Here are the 10 "best" (what an amorphous term) things I heard in 2012. Enjoy.
Gospel Claws, Put Your Sunshine Away [Common Wall Media/President Gator Records]
The men of Gospel Claws had a rough time in 2011 and 2012. Songwriter Joel Marquard fought (and beat) testicular cancer, and the band tragically lost guitarist Mark Erikson. But there's no mourning on their second LP, Put Your Sunshine Away. "I Move Around" sounds like a mythic sock hop; "Anything I Can Do" sounds like a lost Scott Walker recording, with Marquard gravely intoning "I've been in circles, I've been insane" as the organ and guitars break loose from behind a Phil Spector-style Wall of Sound. Put Your Sunshine Away isn't just the sound of a band determined to solider on; it's the sound of one equally resolved to have a great time doing it.
Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, "Wrecking Ball" [Live at Jobing.com Arena, 12/6/12]
Melissa Fossum Bruce Springsteen live at Jobing.com Arena.
"I was raised out of steel here in the swamps of Jersey, some misty years ago," Bruce Springsteen sings at the start of "Wrecking Ball," the title-track of his 17th studio album and namesake of the tour that brought him to Phoenix at the beginning of December.
The song's about the demolition of Giants Stadium and sung from the point of view of the doomed sports complex itself . I'm not a big sports guy, so I can't blame the lump in my throat and tears stinging my eyes during his performance of the song at Jobing.com Arena on team loyalty. It's the message -- defiance in the face of doom, bravado in facing the inevitable - and the gospel true refrain "Hold on to your anger/don't fall to your fears" that not only makes it a remarkably powerful validation of Springsteen's late career records, but also a testament to what's made the Boss tick all these years.
It echoes the bitter and profound lyrics of a song he didn't play that night in December: "At the end of every hard earned day, people find some reason to believe."
Isaiah Toothtaker & Max B., Toothy Wavy [Mishka Records]
Tucson MC Isaiah Toothtaker didn't get a lot of sleep in 2012. In addition to running tattoo parlor Staring Without Caring, he cranked out three recordings this year, including Sea Punk Funk for art rap collective Anticon, the Rob Zombie EP with Rapewolf, and a collaboration with Max B. and the Hood Internet. The latter is his most accessible - and the strongest contender. Max B.'s lines are muffled, recorded via telephone from New Jersey State Prison, where he's serving a 75-year sentence for armed robbery, kidnapping, aggravated assault, and murder, but that doesn't diminish the terse interplay between the two MCs over cut-paste-skew production from the Hood Internet on tracks like the smooth "Champion Cuffer" and grinding, indie rock-leaning "Been Told."