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Pheromone Microphones
The Best of 2003
I love the arbitrary discipline of calendars. I think it helps to divide up time and give the sections names, in part for the same reasons we move belaying anchors or put bulkheads in ships, but in part just for the same reasons we designate beginnings and ends of stories in order to tell them at all. A year is long enough to feel lost in, short enough to escape. These lists have never defined my years, but the ritual has often been the main way I've acknowledged them. The years, left to their own flow, would often rather blend together. So we assign copyright dates, and make illusory distinctions based on inanely quantified subjectivity. There's no good reason for it, but then there's no good reason for words to mean what we say they do, to begin with. I think I once believed that a ranked list of my favorite music from a year said something about me. I think I once believed it said something about me to me. Or maybe I just wanted it to, so that the endless elusive ordeal of self-awareness could be reduced to a solvable exercise.
And one level abstracted, the process does say something about me to me. Some years, making the list has required torturous iterations. I have sometimes tried to make it answer unasked and unaskable questions. I have had too-empty years, and tried to disguise them as full using a handful of names and numbers, which is both unconvincing and hard. My 2003 could hardly have been more eventful. Very little of it had to do with music, and absolutely none of it had to do with numbering music. This year, everything here changed except for the music. My top ten list does not, even to me, tell the story of my year, nor do I wish it did. I don't need my life quantified, and music is its own justification. Possibly music is happiest left to be nothing but its own justification. These lists are always meaningless, and we make them as a way of crossing over, once a year, into a universe where the hardest problems are this easy. Solving imaginary easy problems used to make me feel better, used to be a comfort I thought I needed. Maybe that means my stubborn self-imposed labor of relating to music this way, my vigil of listening this way, is almost complete, or incomplete but still over. If this year the list is easy, maybe next year it will be moot. Or maybe beyond easy is something new. I don't know yet. Here's what it sounded like in the last year before I found out.
Albums
1
The Weakerthans: Reconstruction Site
Wheat: Per Second, Per Second, Per Second...Every Second
I loved a lot of music this year that these two albums don't represent. I do not aspire to hear reductively. There is so much more to music than the thin eloquence of loss and the tentative catharsis of new hope. But maybe the other things are less basic and thus less vital. The Weakerthans and Wheat brought me closer to thinking I could survive on just two records than anything since Surfer Rosa made me think I could live on one.
2
Chris Whitley: Hotel Vast Horizon
For all my adult listening life, I have chased distances, and followed sounds that wanted to cross them. But sometimes the point of distances is to stay where you are, that the distance has somewhere to start, and to be small that the world may be great. We create the horizon by standing still.
3
Jewel: 0304
All this machinery making modern music can still be open-hearted.
4
Ted Leo / Pharmacists: Hearts of Oak & Tell Balgeary, Balgury Is Dead
This is what it sounded like to grow up inside my head.
5
HIM: Love Metal
And this is what it felt like in my heart.
6
Rainer Maria: Long Knives Drawn
Love songs and breakup songs are, done right, only one genre.
7
Meat Loaf: Couldn't Have Said It Better
I might not have guessed it's possible to have a presence so strong that you can give other people your dreams, and they can give you back your voice.
8
Ballboy: A Guide for the Daylight Hours
If you loved Sarah Records or missed it, here is an abstract, a remake, an homage and a sequel at once.
9
Garnet Crow: Crystallize
Dir en grey: VULGAR
We may one day discover that we are the only creatures who can sing perfect serenity and perfect fury in the same language.
10
Muse: Absolution
And maybe that will make us the only creatures who aren't afraid of us.
Other Songs
1
Aberdeen: "The Boy Has Gone Away" (single)
Liz Phair: "Jeremy Engle" (from comeandgetit)
What is basic and important only seems simple.
2
BUMP OF CHICKEN: "sailing day" (single)
Gackt: "Kimi ga Oikaketa Yume" (from Crescent)
Complexity matters too.
3
Chitose Hajime: "Neiro Nana Iro" (from Nomad Soul)
Every Little Thing: "Fundamental Love" (single)
We are all in this together.
4
The New Pornographers: "The Laws Have Changed" (from Electric Version)
The Delgados: "All You Need Is Hate" (from Hate)
We are all in this together even when we bristle at the ways other people say so.
5
Runrig: "Empty Glens" (from Proterra)
eastmountainsouth: "Hard Times" (from eastmountainsouth)
The planet is not subject to our ignorance or abuses. Nor, exactly, are our souls, and maybe not even our cultures.
6
The Steinbecks: "Song for Today" (from Branches and Fronds Brushing the Windows)
Dear Leader: "Lonesome Together" (from War Chords)
It is our curse to build ourselves into tiny rooms. It is our genius to fill them with love.
7
Blondie: "Rules for Living" (from The Curse of Blondie)
Loveless: "Beautiful" (from Gift to the World)
Larger spaces demand bigger noises and different wisdom.
8
Atom and His Package: "Possession (Not the One by Danzig)" (from Attention! Blah Blah Blah.)
The Postal Service: "Such Great Heights" (from Give Up)
With enough of our help, even machines can fall dizzily in love.
9
Aberdeen: "Emma's House" (from The Boy Has Gone Away)
Ben Folds: "In Between Days" (from Speed Graphic)
Listening is a creative art, too.
10
Sloan: "I Was Wrong" (from Action Pact)
Puffy: "Invisible Tomorrow" (from Nice.)
And if we aren't happy, it is our own fault for underestimating ourselves.
 
For the original reviews of releases cited in these lists, see:
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