The Best Music of 2012 [Introduction and Honorable Mentions]

banksy best of 2012

Another year of music is in the books. Close enough, anyway.

The so-called authorities have weighed in — now it’s our turn. Rumors on the Internets gathered a panel of experts, listened to hundreds of albums and mixtapes, and carefully whittled this year’s releases away until we identified the best of the best.

All this week, we’ll be counting down the best albums of the year. 

We’ll wind up our rankings just in time for Christmas — so get those iTunes and Amazon gift cards ready! But first, I’ll explain the methodology that went into the creation of this list and name our honorable mentions.


Artistic appreciation is inherently a bit subjective and varies a lot from person to person. Asking just one critic to identify the best music of the year is a mistake because you’ll just end up with that critic’s personal favorite records. But I also hate approaches where a variety of critics vote on a points system, because it’s weird to crown the best album of the year based on a process where every person can say “don’t look at me!” if a poor call emerges. Someone has to own that call.

ROTI takes a hybrid approach. From our headquarters in Boston, I crunched best-of-the-year lists sent in from a panel of experts based all over this great land. Then, exercising my best editorial judgment, I shaped these rankings into a Best Music of 2012 list that reflects not only the will of our expert panel but also a general view on the most thought-provoking, rewarding and exciting album releases this year. (Please note that I know nothing about classical, jazz, or true experimental music, so please seek that wisdom elsewhere.)

You will probably disagree with the particular order I wound up with, which is pretty expected, since I know for a fact that most of the expert panel will disagree as well. (And no doubt I’ll curse myself in six months for whiffing on a few albums and overranking some others.) But hopefully, you’ll enjoy and discover a lot of great music along the way. Feel free to vent your outrage and vitriol in our comments, or to print out the posts and do horrible things to the hard copies. Or just drop me a line on Twitter.

I’d like to take this moment to thank the expert panel, which includes many ROTI stalwarts and some new abductees: C. Dave, Nils Coq au Vin, Doan, Alison the Business Casual, DJ Walls of Sound, Schmentz, Lady McGregor, CVD, Secret M, Joey Joe Joe, and many more who might not have even known they were influencing this list when they rocked a new record on Spotify or brought a great track to my attention via Facebook. A loving hat tip to every genius who helped craft this list.


I didn’t do this strictly in terms of albums…if an artist put out more than one release in 2012, I just rolled it all up into one spot in the rankings. That only applied in a couple of cases, so it seemed like the logical play.

When close calls had to be made in the construction of this list, I always erred on the side of sounds that were new and exciting. Not in terms of genre, since this list contains both throwback soul sounds and crazy electronic beats. But when two artists faced off, and one was offering a slightly weaker version of previous greatness while another was breaking out with a fresh new sound, I almost always leaned towards the fresh new sound. That’s about as well as I can explain it.


As a music junkie, it’s the best $9.99 a month I’ve ever spent on tunes. If you have a smartphone, there is absolutely no justification for you NOT to become a premium subscriber. Unlimited streaming music that you can cache offline and take wherever you go, ad-free! Try out virtually every new album before you throw down your hard-earned cash for those that are worthy. Plus social sharing, playlists, and more.

But most of all, subscribe to Spotify because it’ll allow you to consume all the ROTI playlists like a glutton at the Christmas dinnertable. Add me as a Spotify friend! (click the link, then click on my gorgeous avatar) I won’t let you down, pal.

And let me prove that claim with the in-progress Spotify playlist for THE BEST OF 2012. This will be updated as the week progresses and the list is revealed…


And now for 50 honorable mentions — presented in alphabetical order. Essentially, this is 51-100 on our countdown.

Alabama Shakes, Boys & Girls. A strong first effort from a band, and frontwoman, who are just getting started on the road to greatness. “Hold On” is an instant classic that seems to be getting better in concert.

Andrew Bird, Break It Yourself and Hands of Glory. Two solid albums from the former Squirrel Nut Zipper and professional whistler.

Animal Collective, Centipede Hz. The groundbreaking band’s original lineup reunion effort might not ascend to their past heights, but a few tracks here are superb, like “Today’s Supernatural.”

Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti, Mature Themes. Nutty tunes from a crazy Swede and his LA ensemble. “Only In My Dreams” is a delightful, tangled yarnball.

Billy Martin & Wil Blades, Shimmy. Famed jamband drummer Martin is joined by energetic organ-handler Blades for a spirited jam session. “Little Shimmy” is a standout.

Bahamas, Barchords. One of my favorite album titles of the year. “Your Sweet Touch” makes me want to fix a cocktail.

Bat For Lashes, The Haunted Man. British singer/songwriter Natasha Khan comes strong with this effort — “Oh Yeah” is an extremely tasty track. Narrowly missed the top 50.

Best Coast, The Only Place. A bit of a letdown after the band’s tantalizing 2010 debut, but there are a few keepers to be found.

Big Boi, Vicious Lies and Dangerous Rumors. It still weirds me out how close this album’s title is to the nom de guerre of a key member of the ROTI organization. Anyway, it’s Big Boi, one half of the greatest rapping duo ever, and this album doesn’t disappoint his fans.

Bob Mould, Silver Age. The man’s still got it. “The Descent” rocks me for sure.

Brothertiger, Golden Years. John Jagos is a good interview and an even better musician. This one-man-electro debut has sparkling moments, especially “Lovers.” A promised follow-up has expectations set high around here.

Chief Keef, Finally Rich. ROTI maintains a soft spot for brainless, overly aggressive hip hop.

Cody Chesnutt, Landing on a Hundred. While nothing here reaches the classic status of “The Seed,” it’s a cohesive and choice set from a modern soul practitioner par excellence.

The C0up, Sorry To Bother You. Party rocking with a clever edge. If LMFAO became 1000x more intelligent overnight, they might sound something like this (that’s meant as a compliment, really). Live instruments take the group’s conscious hip-hop to a new level.

Darren Heyman & the Long Parliament, The Violence. Intense and literary British folk that tells the tale of long-ago witch trials. Aficionados of dense, harrowing lyricism will enjoy.

David Byrne & St. Vincent, Love This Giant. The whole isn’t greater than the sum of its parts, but the experiment yields some interesting results, especially “Ice Age.”

The Depressions, Pas Tout La. Melodic, sprightly country rock, with standout cuts like “I Think I Know I Love You.”

Disappears, Pre Language. Dense Chi-town rock powered by sludgy chords and drums pounding away mercilessly. Like a factory belching black smoke.

Dre Skull, Speakerbox Riddim & Kling Klang Riddim. Outstanding summer hits from the architect of 2011’s brilliant Vybz Kartel album (and one of the minds behind the forthcoming Snoop Lion record). “Go Down” by Michel Montano and “Hot Like Fire” by Beenie Man are both gems.

Dum Dum Girls, End of Daze. A rampaging EP from the garage rock combo outta San Pedro. Apparently composed of Only In Dreams outtakes, it’s packed with goodness.

Everest, Ownerless. A throwback sound from this hard-rocking LA outfit. “Rapture” arrived in a time machine from a golden past era of harmony and shred.

Fiona Apple, The Idler Wheel… No, I will not write out that ridiculous album title. Fiona fans will find much to love here. Not her best work, but she kills at moments nonetheless.

Frankie Rose, Interstellar. One of those records that came out in early 2012 but didn’t get old as the year went on. “Night Swim” is a damn fine song.

Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend. Best taken in a single sitting, these post-rock instrumental colossi seem impenetrable at first, until you suddenly find yourself fully immersed.

Gold Motel, Gold Motel. Nothing more or less than delicious Windy City power pop, fronted by the game Greta Morgan. “Your Own Ghost” is a winner.

Grass Widow, Internal Logic. Post-punk attitude paired with interesting harmonies, evoking the best of 90s indie.

How To Dress Well, Total Loss. A one-man experimental pop and R&B factory. “& It Was U” wears its Prince influence on its sleeve and lives up to the challenge.

Howler, America Give Up. Grumblin’ vocals and fuzzy guitar. The Industrial Midwest’s answer to The Strokes.

Jack White, Blunderbuss. This year’s Watch the Throne — a merely respectable effort from a Hall of Fame artist that somehow gets on all the Top 10 lists. It’s AIGHT.

Jeff the Brotherhood, Hypnotic Nights. Psychedelic shredders that make you reconsider the notion of what a Nashville brother act can be.

Jens Lekman, I Know What Love Isn’t. The Swedish indie pop craftsman returns with a solid set.

Lasorda, Lasorda. Apparently this is the work of a “Kansas City supergroup,” not that you’d ever guess it from its Dodger-invoking name or by peeping its Vice City-like cover. Whatever the provenance, it’s a marvelous 80s throwback.

Lee Fields & the Expressions, Faithful Man. Gorgeous soul done right by a seasoned veteran and his band. “I Still Got It” is truth in advertising.

The Magnetic Fields, Love at the Bottom of the Sea. Choice pop confections alternate with cringeworthy clunkers on this uneven record. “Born For Love” is A+ Stephin Merritt, though.

The Men, Open Your Heart. Brooklyn rockers come strong on this set. They’re still honing a sound from a bunch of different directions, but there’s a lot to like about this record.

Norah Jones, Little Broken Hearts. I’d be surprised to see this here too, but Danger Mouse is behind the boards for a startlingly good heartbreak album from the generally-dismissed easy listening ingenue.

Peaking Lights, Lucifer. Don’t let the album title mislead you: this is a lo-fi set from a Bay Area couple who craft hypnotic grooves, not devil-worshipping ditties.

Royal Headache, Royal Headache. Sydney punkers flail away at their axes with a keen sense of melody to guide them. “Really In Love” is a 1:44 shiny penny.

Rufus Wainwright, Out Of The Game. A wonderful set produced by Mark Ronson. A supremely confident Wainwright comes across as the coolest expat lounge singer in London with exceptional backup vocalists and a crack band on tracks like “Out of the Game” and “Jericho.”

Santigold, Master of My Make-Believe. She should probably have made believe that this was a better record, but “Disparate Youth” is a superb effort.

The Shins, Port of Morrow. James Mercer breaks no new ground, but has to be respected for his ability to craft an indie pop song. “It’s Only Life” caught my ear first, but “For a Fool” kept it longer.

Sleigh Bells, Reign of Terror. A disappointing sophomore performance given the audacity of their debut, but the formula still works.

Spiritualized, Sweet Heart Sweet Light. A solid outing from Jason Pierce and his latest lineup — “Little Girl” has a classic feel so true, it seems like it must be a cover of an olden gem.

Sydney Wayser, Bell Choir Coast. Light and lovely folk-rock from a compelling talent. This well-produced record shows off Wayser’s ability to move from dreamy mood pieces like “Wake Up” to upbeat cuts like “Potions.”

Tall Ships, Everything Touching. I’m still not totally sure what math-rock IS. But I do know that this supposedly math-rocking group has crafted a fun and powerful collection of songs that probably sound even better in concert.

Tenacious D, Rize of the Fenix. Jaybles and Rage Kage return with a collection of comedy rockers that, while short of their godlike debut record, still have the capacity to thrash AND induce giggles. The title cut is the highlight.

TGNHT, TGNHT. I’m not gonna front like some kind of expert in electronic music, but “Higher Ground” is a delicious composition. Pass the molly.

Toy, Toy. “Dead and Gone” highlights this London set’s psychedelic album that recalls the heights of last year’s “vampire rock” Horrors record.

Tribes, Baby. More 90s notalgia, this time explicitly, in the form of “We Were Children.” Cosigned by Frank Black, for reasons you’ll understand when you hear ’em.

The Vaccines, Come of Age. Fun, flippant indie rock, especially “Aftershave Ocean.” Not especially ambitious, but perhaps that’s the point.

Yellow Ostrich, Ghost & Strange Land. This ridiculously prolific outfit cranked out two records this year, and three in the past 18 months. Both are well worth a listen, particularly the tracks “Here Today” and “Marathon Runner.”

BONUS: Donnie and Joe Emerson, Dreamin’ WildThe tale of the rediscovery and re-release of this self-recorded late-70s gem is probably the best music story of the year. “Baby” is a tender masterpiece hidden in a time capsule for over three decades.

bestof2012 Rumors on the Internets

Introduction and Hon Mentions

Top 20 Pop & Hip-Hop Singles





Best Music of 2012 (Spotify)

About Alpine McGregor
Just like you, man. I got the shotgun, you got the briefcase. All in the game, though, right?

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