About two weeks ago MTIB started whittling down a list of over 5,678 abums (5,679 albums to be exact) to bring you a list of our favorite albums of the year. This year we decided we shouldn’t stop at just ten, but share all of the albums that were in the running as well. So, here you have it. The 50 finest albums of 2012, in our humble opinions. Although, we may not use as many big words as Pitchfork and we may not always be as ‘hip’, we do understand those words and we did listen to those albums… some of them weren’t really that good. Instead we focused on what we like. Plain and simple. Try not to get too hung up on the order. There were a lot of compromises made for many of us.
Enjoy, and as always, thanks for reading!
1. JACK WHITE – BLUNDERBUSS
Blunderbuss is not the The White Stripes, or The Raconteurs, or The Dead Weather. It’s an album built straight from the mind of Jack White. A guy born too late, who’s always on the move, always creating, and never doing the same thing twice. Blunderbuss is an eccentric, vaudevillian show produced by a mad-man, and it’s amazing.
Listening to Blunderbuss is like going on a stroll through Jack White’s mind. It has an “era-gone-past” vibe to it, and can be a happy, sad and violent place at times. Sometimes all three at once. It’s nice to hear White flex his musical muscle outside the constraints of playing in a band. Here he’s not obligated to perform to looming expectations and record companies. Instead he has the liberty and freedom to go wherever he wants with his music, and boy does he.
Blunderbuss is like a junkyard of sound, and doesn’t really sound like much else out there. It’s not that White has created an entirely original, or groundbreaking sound either. Instead he’s taken bits, and parts from all his musical experiences over the years and assembled them, refurbished them, into something new, and beautiful. You’ll find grunge in “Sixteen Saltines,” a pretty country duet in “Love Interruption,” and a ragtime romp in “Hip (Eponymous) Poor Boy.” It’s an album that not only sounds as eccentric as White, but lives on it.
Underneath the eccentricities and distortion though, Jack White has still got the blues.Blunderbuss is an album about hurt, and heartbreak and moving on. In the amazing finale to the album “Take Me with You When You Go,” White sings: Take me anywhere you go/ I’ve got nothin’ here but me, babe / Take me with you when you go. The break up of the White Stripes is still fresh in many minds, perhaps none more than White.
This isn’t The White Stripes though, and that’s a good thing. This is Jack White striking out on his own, not being constrained to anything. This is fantastic music that takes the best parts of Jack White’s past, and cobbles it all together. It’s an album that shows Jack Whiteisn’t content to be left behind and judged by what he’s already done, but instead by who he is, who he will become and all the great music he will leave in his wake. -DANEger
2. DELTA SPIRIT – DELTA SPIRIT
This is the most sonically unique album Delta Spirit has created to date. Matt Vasquez explores a new, vast ocean of vocal stylings, while the rest of the band toys with scads of new instruments and musical concepts. You’d be hard-pressed to find an album that sounds like Delta Spirit. Even of the band’s catalog, only a few songs off their The Waits Room – EP begin to hint at what they’ve done here. Synthesizers, tribal calls and jingle bells, aren’t spices in Delta Spirit’s usual cup of tea, but somehow the new flavors play on the palette nicely.
Let’s break the album down:
“Empty Houses” features a constantly arppegiating guitar as Vasquez contemplates insignificance, starting the album off perfectly. “Tear It Up” flirts with the stylings of Vampire Weekend. “California”, the band’s first single of the album, marks the first time anyone heard Delta use synthesizers, albeit subtle. It is the perfect indicator of the band’s broader approach to writing music this time around. “Idaho” is evocative of an imaginary post-punk hybrid of Ted Leo and Minneapolis-natives, White Light Riot. “Home” sounds little more like the Delta Spirit my ears have called home for the past 5 years. “Otherside” features a catchy chorus sung in a notably different voice styling from Vasquez. “Tellin’ The Mind” is definitely the most shocking song on the album with it’s tribal call opening. Initially, I didn’t like it at all, now I’ve whole-heartedly warmed up to it. “Time Bomb” sounds like it deserves to be in a touching moment of a John Hughes’ film. Breakfast Club maybe? Ferris Bueller’s Day Off during the credits? I’m not sure why, but it feels right and I love it. “Into The Darkness” is my current favorite song on the album. A dynamic tune featuring jingle bells and bass you’d find in a Beach Boys song, what’s not to like? “Money Saves” is a raucous trounce up and down the fretboard featuring hints of The Pixies. And finally, closing out the album is “Yahama”. A number brings back a little bit of the organ Delta has loved to use on previous albums, but this time it’s paired with all sorts of echoey goodness and lots of layered vocals.
All together, it’s refreshing. Delta Spirit doesn’t try to please anyone but themselves, which is what makes it so desirable. Not only that, but the order and organization of songs is spot on. Each song sits in exactly the right place on the album…
Delta Spirit has certainly added yet another quality album to their catalog, and for some reason I feel like this is the one that will earn them the critical acclaim they deserve. It’s damn good. -Chuck Ryan
3. THE SHINS – PORT OF MORROW
5 years. That, my friends, is a long time to wait for a new offering from The Shins. A lot has happened in that time, though, unlike Pitchfork, I’m not going to bore you with a list… I think it’s pretty clear that the latter part of the 20-oughts has been a turbulent time for everyone, and not only on the music front. Though, it seems we are approaching the end of this crazy period, and perhaps (hopefully) the beginning of a calmer time. Maybe James Mercer will usher it in, maybe the Mayans were talking about this album… We can’t really be sure. One thing we can be absolutely certain about, is that James is one of the elite songwriters and composers of this generation. From all the talk of problems in the band, people getting fired, falling outs, side-projects (shout-out Broken Bells), and the zeitgeist in the indie world shifting away from this type of sound, it was hard to believe Port Of Morrow would ever find our ears. Well, rejoice, because it’s here, and it’s a doozy.
Each and every song of this album stands as a testament to Mercer’s skill, hard work, and the joy he finds in making music. The track list bounces back and forth from the euphoric rock-oriented opener, “Rifle Spiral”, to the crescendoing choruses and pop sensibility of “Simple Song”, to the gorgeously nostalgic “It’s Only Life”, to the upbeat, pop-laden “Bait And Switch” (and that’s not even the first half of the album). There’s so much going on here, it’s really difficult to touch on it all. Mercer’s penchant for writing wonderful lyrics comes crashing fully into fantastically produced instrumentals that seem to lend emotional gravitas to his words. It doesn’t matter if they don’t make perfect logical sense, this isn’t about logic. Capturing and expressing emotional subtlety are the hallmarks of the best lyricists, and this album has it in spades.
Exploring decades worth of musical influences, effortlessly hopping between genres, and somehow tying it all together in a neat bundle of relevant rock music is quite a feat. A feat which would not be possible for just anyone (seriously, there’s a trumpet solo in “Fall of ’82″ that is in no way out of place, that’s just awesome). Melancholy, yet hopeful, “September” drifts into the atmospheric; doing so with muted harmonies and percussion. Then (as often happens on this LP) the mood picks back up with the buoyant “No Way Down”.
It’s difficult for me to write this review, because normally I would pick out just the highlights of an album, and discuss my feelings about it as a whole. But, I want to talk about every single song on Port Of Morrow. For me, the entire album is a highlight. It’s the album that I never thought I would get to hear. It’s the culmination of a years-long musical journey, undertaken by one of the preeminent musicians of our day. It’s James Mercer fully realizing that he isThe Shins. That, whatever happens, he is the thing that brings it all together and makes it tick. 5 years was a long time, but, now that it’s here, Port Of Morrow was worth every minute. -Deuce
4. JAPANDROIDS – CELEBRATION ROCK
“It’s rock & roll, you know. It’s not one of those complicated things.”
Celebration Rock is everything you want in a great rock album: Catchy, loud, fast and full of hooks and chants you and your friends can scream along to at three in the morning. The songs on Celebration Rock are bombastic, energizing sprints through fields of distortion and half-screamed lyrics. It’s a rock album that never grew up, an album that wants you to stay out just a little too late, party a little too much and rock way too hard. That’s a very good thing.
Analyze the album all you want, but at its core Celebration Rock and Japandroids come down to two guys making as much freakin’ noise as possible, and clearly having a great time doing so. Celebration Rock may not be the most complicated, or introspective album of the year, but it sure is the most fun. -DANEger
5. PASSION PIT – GOSSAMER
After exploding on to the scene, Passion Pit has finally released the follow-up to their critically-acclaimed, popularly-enjoyed debut album, Manners. Gossamer, their sophomore album, which as far as I can tell is named after the red fur-ball character occasionally seen on Looney Tunes, is a fantastic step for the still-young band. It might not have the blast or the shake of their first album, but as a whole it seems more mature, not necessarily better, just more mature. Where Manners played through as an album laden with danceable numbers, Gossamer explores the less jovial side of Passion Pit.
It is beautiful, playful and mature. It starts where Manners left off, lifting any fan up high, sputters ever so slightly in the middle, but doesn’t let anyone down until it’s run its course. It may not have any one song with the allure of “Little Secrets”, “Sleepyhead” or “The Reeling”, but it is a solid spectacle for the ears. Songs like “Carried Away,” “Love is Greed, and “Take a Walk,” are perfect for shaking your tookus to, but it truly shines in some of the more docile, “darker” moments (see “It’s Not My Fault, I’m Happy,” “Constant Conversations,” and “Where We Belong”). I say “darker,” but bitter or less hopeful more accurately describe the difference.
There is a rawer quality to this album. It seems more personal, returning to the days of their initial EP, Chunk of Change, not only in honesty, but also musically. The glitchiness, quick tempos and clever use of samples have found their way back. Imagine a more sensible, gorgeously produced version of Chunk of Change with flavors of Bon Iver, Jonsi and the occasional spritz of musicals and you’d come close to imagining something that sounds like Passion Pit’s new album. But, what good is imagining it, when you can hear it? Go buy it! -Chuck Ryan
6. THE TALLEST MAN ON EARTH – THERE’S NO LEAVING NOW
It’s almost impossible to not compare The Tallest Man on Earth to Bob Dylan. It’s that pained, unique voice, the subtly but expertly picked guitar parts, and that desire of both to try and figure out where the music they love comes from. Like a young Dylan once sought to steal unlock the secrets behind the music of Woody Guthrie, The Tallest Man on Earth is clearly in hot pursuit of Dylan’s trove of musical gold; stealing and borrowing when need be, but in the process crafting some of the best, and most genuine folk we’ve heard in years.
The Tallest Man on Earth, Swedish born Kristian Matsson, is a refreshingly lone voice amongst the folk bands of today, and his 2012 effort There’s No Leaving Now stands not only proudly among them, but uniquely. -DANEger
7. FRANK OCEAN – CHANNEL ORANGE
Frank Ocean came out to the world with his feelings of his first love. That first love did not share his feelings… Yes, unrequited love may be the most common lyrical inspiration, however when the sought after party is of the same sex and the person confessing works in the hip-hop/rap/soul world, it tends to raise eyebrows. This laid the groundwork for the significance of his first studio album, Channel Orange. Right off the bat we are introduced to “Thinkin’ Bout You”, his first single off the album. This song was the centerpiece to the album’s thesis statement. With it’s lyrics and soul-bears-all vocals, it acted as the catalyst to Ocean’s unexpected announcement. The line most commonly in question, “my eyes don’t shed tears, but boy they pour when I’m thinkin bout you,” called to attention Ocean’s sexuality, especially when you consider the line was written for a woman to sing.
In the song “Bad Religion” Ocean is relives that rejection of love in the backseat of a cab. He states “This unrequited love/ To me it’s nothing but a one man cult and cyanide in my styrofoam cup/I could never make him love me.” Demonstrating the level of intimacy he is sharing with the world in his music.
Another song worth noting is “Pyramids” whose 10 minutes switch from a banger to a slow jam mid way through. In it he tells a story about a relationship with a stripper and bears the best of his storytelling lyrics. This use of music as a vehicle of emotion is exactly what I makes music great. And Frank Ocean has a lot of complex emotions.
When I look at this album and take into consideration everything Frank Ocean has stood for I can’t help but love it. In terms of sexuality, hip-hop and R&B hasn’t progressed very far, but he is leading the charge and Channel Orange is more than just a flash in the pan. It will forever be remembered as an integral part of a cultural shift toward a more tolerant world. I would highly recommend reading his letter that he wrote in response to being labeled, as it only enhances the importance of this album and its meaning. -Steven Hawkwood
8. TWO DOOR CINEMA CLUB – BEACON
Admittedly, Two Door Cinema Club is a group that I recently began listening to right after their 2012 release of Beacon. I was immediately hooked. The fast paced beat of the opener “Next Year” connected with me lyrically and I couldn’t let go. Alex Trimble’s voice has a faint resemblance to that of Death Cab for Cutie’s Ben Gibbard, also one of my favorite bands. It almost tricked my ears into thinking I was listening to something so familiar but really it was all brand new. 2012 has been the year that has gotten me hooked on the use of synths and Two Door Cinema Club aided heavily in the transition. There are some bands that are able to hook listeners with lyrics and others with music alone. Two Door Cinema Club encompasses both aspects of song writing to not just hook the audience but reel them in and keep them in the boat. -Tony Porter
9. FATHER JOHN MISTY – FEAR FUN
Father John Misty has a unique sound that wasn’t replicated by anyone else in 2012. It’s almost an old school rock sound mixed with, at times, a curiousness in his vocals in his slower songs like “Fun Times in Babylon” and “Nancy from Now On”. The album picks up once the steady bass drum in “Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings” turns things up a notch. In “Well, You Can Do It Without Me”, the listener is sent back in time to the Vietnam War era. I can just imagine a band like Buffalo Springfield writing the same song. But no, it’s just Father John Misty doin’ his thing. For good measure, he throws a socially conscious song into the mix with “Now I’m Learning to Love the War”. I love this album for the simple fact that it flows together perfectly song to song. There’s no greater thing than being able to press play and not have to skip a single song. -Tony Porter
10. P.O.S. – WE DON’T EVEN LIVE HERE
Stefon Alexander, the man we know as P.O.S., returned with his first studio album in just over three years with his October release of We Don’t Even Live Here. This one is definitely different from Never Better and in a good way. From start to finish, P.O.S. brings in a number of different artists to collaborate – all Midwest natives – on major tracks like “How We Land” with Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon as well as Doomtree’s own Mike Mictlan on, “Get Down”. This album is solid all the way through, bringing a new version of P.O.S. to the stage – a P.O.S. trying to throw a bangin’ party without departing too far from the tried and true. Pitchfork got hung up on the fact that the album isn’t as persuasive or political as P.O.S. wanted it to be, but who says he’s was trying to persuade? He’s sharing his opinions. If you agree with them, then great, enjoy. If you don’t well, then you might not like the album. No one likes the musician who gets uncomfortably preachy for the entirety of an album. Ultimately, he pours himself onto this album with a ton of passion and it shows, earning him a high position in our list of top album’s of 2012. -Joseph Kingston
11. LORD HURON – LONESOME DREAMS
12. WALK THE MOON – WALK THE MOON
I can sum this record up in one simple word. Catchy-as-all-Hell. Walk the Moon defines the term ‘catchy pop chorus’ throughout the entirety of their self-titled debut album. They crashed the charts with the likes of “Anna Sun” and followed it up with “Tightrope” and “Shiver Shiver”. Just hearing those last two titles screams pop/rock hit. Simple, intriguing, easy to remember titles.
I don’t want any of you indie or alt rockers to be scared off when I start throwing the term ‘pop’ around so loosely because, honestly, I think the same way you probably do. When I hear a band described as pop I immediately think top-40 auto-tuned bullshit. No, not this time. Walk the moon blends synths, guitar riffs, and catchy lyrics (there’s that word again) to catch your attention and then holds on for dear life. This album always puts me in a good mood no matter the occasion. I suggest you give it a shot too. After all, it’s ranked number twelve on our list. It can’t be that bad…. – Tony Porter
13. THE LUMINEERS – THE LUMINEERS
14. MUMFORD & SONS – BABEL
Listen. Mumford didn’t release an earth-shattering album this year. We all know that. However, that doesn’t mean they aren’t still masters of their domain. While bands on top of bands try and imitate their sound or capitalize on the rush of folk pop. Few bands are able to find their way to the infinite limelight Mumford found themselves in with their first album. That being said, I think they’ve done it again with their second album, unfortunately, it isn’t a new idea anymore. However, that doesn’t mean it still isn’t great. -Chuck Ryan
15. MACKLEMORE & RYAN LEWIS – THE HEIST
16. GRIZZLY BEAR – SHIELDS
17. FIONA APPLE – THE IDLER WHEEL…
18. KENDRICK LAMAR – GOOD KID, M.A.A.D. CITY
19. BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN – WRECKING BALL
Ladies and gentleman, Bruce Springsteen has still got it. His newest album, Wrecking Ball, certainly isn’t as edgy as many critics have made it out to be. But it is damn good. “We Take Care Of Our Own” starts the album off with mostly familiar Springsteen sounds – Everyman, patriotic lyrics and an acoustic/electric guitar mixture accompanied by a string-synth line playing through the chorus. It’s a pleasant opener and catches my attention.
The album’s title track is likely one of the strongest on the album. Maybe I’m just a sucker for songs that piece by piece grows into a romping good time, but I’ll stand by my original statement. You can’t help but feel like you are hearing The Boss in his prime again. Sure, it’s no Born in the USA-Bruce, but it sure feels like a good time.
All in all, do I think this album will ever be a hit among any large, youthful population? No, but that actually kind of bothers me. I think this album deserves a lot more recognition than it is getting from the college crowd. Sure, we aren’t going to play it at parties, but that doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy it during the summer months and develop our own little crush on Bruce Springsteen similar to the crush I’m sure most of our parents had on the man. So, find a way to listen to this album. I don’t think you will regret it. -Chuck Ryan
20. BROTHER ALI – MOURNING IN AMERICA AND DREAMING IN COLOR
21. TAME IMPALA – LONERISM
22. TWIN SHADOW – CONFESS
It was a battle to get this album as high as it is on our list. For whatever reason, the Dominican-born, heavily ’80s-influenced George Lewis Jr. (Twin Shadow) wasn’t speaking to the rest of the MTIBers as it was to me. No one does it better than this guy when it comes to the rebirth of The Police and Bruce Springsteen in modern music. That isn’t to say Lewis isn’t making classics of his own. “Run My Heart” might just be my favorite song of the year. “Five Seconds” is more than able to win your ear’s heart and “The One” has you thinking The Smiths made a song with Kenny Loggins. It’s all good. Listen. -Chuck Ryan
23. ANDREW BIRD – BREAK IT YOURSELF
24. ALABAMA SHAKES – BOYS & GIRLS
25. OF MONSTERS AND MEN – MY HEAD IS AN ANIMAL
26. DR. JOHN – LOCKED DOWN
27. BEACH HOUSE – BLOOM
28. ALT-J – AN AWESOME WAVE
29. BEST COAST – THE ONLY PLACE
30. TITUS ANDRONICUS – IN A BIG CITY
31. GOOD OLD WAR – COME BACK AS RAIN
I typically do not give too much praise to albums that have a heavy acoustic sound to them. Even more rare is for me to become a critical fan of a three piece band. Good Old War is an exception to the rule. They use a keyboard/synth to fill the void of a bass guitar and the drummer finds himself singing lead vocals at times. Their banter between songs is undeniably entertaining and adds to the their live shows immensely. They seem to have a devoted fan base which makes shows feel “homier” than normal for a smaller band.” After a solid debut album four years ago, I was disappointed in their sophomore release. 2012’s Come Back as Rain has erased any hard feelings I have. It is as good, if not better, than their debut album. If you haven’t had a chance to check these guys out yet, mark it down on your list of New Year’s resolutions. You won’t hate me for it. -Tony Porter
32. VACATIONER – GONE
33. METRIC – SYNTHETICA
34. NEIL YOUNG – PSYCHEDELIC PILL
35. ELLIE GOULDING – HALCYON
36. STARS – THE NORTH
37. FLYING LOTUS – UNTIL THE QUIET COMES
38. MURS & FASHAWN – THIS GENERATION
39. CAPTAIN MURPHY – DUALITY
40. CORY CHISEL AND THE WANDERING SONS – OLD BELIEVERS
41. SAID THE WHALE – LITTLE MOUNTAIN
42. CRYSTAL CASTLES – (III)
43. DIRTY PROJECTORS – SWING LO MAGELLAN
44. EL-P – CANCER 4 CURE
45. BAHAMAS – BARCHORDS
46. KILLER MIKE – R.A.P. MUSIC
47. CHIDDY BANG – BREAKFAST
48. TRAMPLED BY TURTLES – STARS AND SATELLITES
49. THE XX – COEXIST
50. DAVE MATTHEWS BAND – AWAY FROM THE WORLD
Dave Matthew Band has nothing left to prove to the world of music. For more than twenty years they have been releasing new music and touring constantly. They latest release Away From the World is a spotlight of what they have grown to. It builds off of 2009’s Big Whiskey and the Groogrux King by showcasing more of Tim Reynold’s uncanny guitar skills and the polished horn section Rashawn and Jeff have grown into. Having Steve Lillywhite back in the studio with the band gave fans hopes of topping the “big three” and adding a fourth. Realistically, that was never going to happen. In the end, the band put together a solid album worth even the most casual fan’s applause that arguably still makes the band’s top five. -Tony Porter