My 2018 Musical Picks

As I have done for many years now, I’ve assembled my top 100 songs of the year (other than last year’s failure, in which I only had a few over 50). This year, I’m back, with a full 100 songs. There are some good ones in here!

While these songs were mostly released in the last year (2018 or late 2017), they are not exclusively new. This list can also include songs from further back that I’ve enjoyed or rediscovered this year. I also have a ranking of my top albums of 2018, listed below (this list is all of recent releases).

Without further adieu, here is my list for 2018. Enjoy!

2018 Music List on Spotify

Top Albums:

Here are my top ten albums for 2018:

  1. The Shins – Heartworms
  2. The Decemberists – I’ll Be Your Girl
  3. Makaya McCraven – Universal Beings
  4. Various Artists – 27: The Most Perfect Album
  5. James – Living in Extraordinary Times
  6. Gorillaz – The Now Now
  7. Deathcab for Cutie – Thank You For Today
  8. Kendrick Lamar, The Weeknd, SZA – Black Panther The Album: Music From And Inspired By
  9. Young Fathers – Cocoa Sugar
  10. Janelle Monáe – Dirty Computer

… and, the honorable mentions:

Happy Holidays!

Dear family and friends,

Family 2018What a year! This year brought us a new member to our family. Our daughter, Lily Mae was born on July 14. We love her so much. She just keeps getting cuter and cuter as the days go by. We are enjoying our first holiday season with her and looking forward to finding out what 2019 has in store for her and our family.

In other news, Justin has a new job in technology as a software engineer with Walmart Labs. It’s a big change as well, and he’s very excited about it.
We wish all of you much love in the year to come!

cheers,

Justin, Hang and Lily

Happy Holidays 2018

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Announcing… Berry!

That’s right… We’re expecting! Hằng and I are really excited to announce the newest member of our family, and his/her name is… Berry! Well, for now anyway. Berry is his/her “tummy-name,” which will serve as a stand-in until Berry is born.

We’ve had a few official doctor visits and Berry is looking strong. Berry is due the end of July. We’re looking forward to his/her arrival, and hope you are too! 🙂

My 2017 Musical Picks

Usually, I build a list of the top 100 songs I discovered that year. 2017 wasn’t a good year for that list. The music I did discover in 2017 was great, but there wasn’t enough of it. I only scraped together 52 songs this year. So, only a bit over halfway to my goal. My excuses include general business and too many podcasts to listen to. But, excuses are just excuses.

All that said, I still managed to listen to some really awesome music, so my list still deserves to be shared (even if it’s a bit shorter than years past). I also have a ranking of my top albums of 2017, listed below. Here’s my list for 2017. Enjoy!

2017 Music List on Spotify

Top Albums:

Here are my top albums for 2017.

  1. Vic Mensa – The Autobiography
  2. The xx – I See You
  3. Little Dragon – Season High
  4. Arcade Fire – Everything Now
  5. Big Theif – Masterpiece
  6. Spoon – Hot Thoughts
  7. Gorillaz – Humanz
  8. The National – Sleep Well Beast
  9. alt-J – Relaxer
  10. Run the Jewels – Run the Jewels 3

Honorable mention:

Happy Holidays!

Dear family and friends,

As another year comes to a close, Hang and I want to send a quick word out to those we care about and wish you the best.

We’ve had a great year, with a few trips including back to Austin and to Maine. Apart from our trips, life has been good in Northwest Arkansas.

We are looking forward to a great new year with exciting new things to come. We wish you all the same! Much love from us to all of you!

cheers,

Justin and Hang

My 2016 Playlist

Every year, my brother and I share our list of top 100 songs discovered each year. My 2016 playlist is now ready on Spotify. Here is the link:

Best of 2016 – My top 100 songs of the year.

A bit about how it works… Every year, as I discover (or rediscover) a song I like, I add it to my list for consideration. These songs don’t have to be released during that year (though generally are). For older releases, either I discovered it for the first time during the year, I rediscovered it, appreciated it under a new light or it had some particular significance to an event that happened during the year.

Usually, my list starts with well over 100 songs. At the end of the year, I whittle the list down to the top 100 songs and drop the rest in the runner-up list. This year, due to a variety of factors (getting married, moving cities, etc.), I didn’t discover quite as much new music. I had to build my list up to 100 rather than whittle it down. So, there is no runner-up list. I also included a few more songs from each favorite artist. I usually limit myself to three songs per artist, but eliminated that restriction this year. Bottom line, there’s a bit less variety this year, but I’m still really proud of it!

The lists have both been sequenced very carefully. There isn’t any thematic structure, but I’ve paid attention to the way each song flows into the next. I try to build blocks of songs with similar feel with transitionary songs in between blocks. The sequencing isn’t always perfect, but I’m mostly pleased with the flow.

So, hope you enjoy the lists and discover some great new music!

Previous years

Top Albums of 2016

Several years ago, inspired by Sound Opinions, I decided to start the tradition of making a yearly list of my favorite albums released that year (give or take a little bit). Here is my third annual list for 2016.

Honorable Mentions

AKA, a list of really solid albums that (also) should have made the top ten list.

The List

  1. Weezer – Weezer (White Album) (iTunes | Spotify) Weezer has had a career of making good albums that never quite equaled their early masterpieces. They are always good, but they’ve had a hard time recapturing a certain naivete that made the Blue Album and Pinkerton great. This one isn’t exactly equal, but it comes about as close as anything they’ve done… and it sounds like they got there by not trying quite so hard. On the White Album, I hear Weezer relaxing a bit… and pretty much finding what they’ve been trying so hard to find all these years.
  2. Leonard Cohen – You Want It Darker (iTunes | Spotify) It’s a fitting last album to a great career. Leonard Cohen has long been a classic, and his last album is a fitting goodbye. It deals openly with his mortality. Cohen clearly knew this would be his last work and dedicated it to coming to terms with the end of his life. So, it’s stripped back, it’s raw, it’s honest… and it’s some of his best work.
  3. Avalanches – Wildflower (iTunes | Spotify) I was introduced this one quite late in the year, but it was a great find. Avalanches have a sample-based, hip-hop infused sound not unlike Wax Tailor. This album is sonically all over the map, and that’s a good thing. No two songs sound alike. Some are downright weird (in a good way) and there are some really catchy beats throughout.
  4. PJ Harvey – The Hope Six Demolition Project (iTunes | Spotify) This is PJ Harvey’s most political work, but it’s not preachy or particularly partisan. It has a documentary feel… each song paints a visceral image of a place or situation. PJ Harvey doesn’t make the same album twice. This one is unique, and one of her strongest.
  5. Massive Attack – Ritual Sprit EP (iTunes | Spotify) Okay… so this isn’t really a full-length album. It’s just a four-song teaser from an old favorite. However, it’s solid enough to make this list even if short. With just four songs, I like this contribution even more than their most recent full-length album. It’s moody, haunting and hypnotizing.  Plus, it even features the return of Tricky with a great guest appearance.
  6. Shearwater – Jet Plane and Oxbow (iTunes | Spotify) I have always like Shearwater a lot, but I was pretty ho-hum about their previous album. This one takes them into new and interesting territory. It doesn’t sound like a Shearwater album of the past. It’s poppier and more lush. There is a bit of guilty pleasure here, but in a good way… it goes for epic, which can be a bit cheesy if not done right, but it’s restrained enough that it works.
  7. Sturgill Simpson – A Sailor’s Guide to Earth (iTunes | Spotify) I’m not usually a fan of country, but I definitely make an exception for Sturgill Simpson. He is, at once, a return to the roots of country and a new direction. He hops across genres freely, from the sprawling opening song to the Nirvana cover. Most remarkably, he makes country music even I can love.
  8. A Tribe Called Quest – We Got It From Here… Thank You 4 Your Service (iTunes | Spotify) To say it’s been a while since their last album is an understatement. Nearly two decades have passed by since their last contribution. However, they haven’t missed a beat. They are as fresh as ever and completely relevant to current events.
  9. Warpaint – Heads Up (iTunesSpotify) Warpaint topped my list two years ago with their last album. They don’t quite top it this year, but come pretty close. Their new album shows growth, moving to a slightly poppier, more upbeat sound. It’s a pleasant follow-up to their self-titled album.
  10. Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool (iTunes | Spotify) This year’s favorite comes from a long-time favorite. This is one of Radiohead’s best albums in a while. It’s not as accessible as OK Computer and not quite as out-there as Kid A… it’s a solid, brooding, slow-burn and just downright beautiful album. There are hints of all eras of Radiohead, but also brand-new sounds. For example, the Nick Drake-esque tracks like The Numbers or Desert Island Disk. Radiohead has never been afraid to reinvent themselves. A Moon Shaped Pool is another welcome evolution to their sound.

Thanks for checking out my list. Hope you enjoy!

Happy Holidays 2016!

Family and friends,

Holiday greetings from Northwest Arkansas! 2016 has been a big year for Hang and I. It started with our new marriage. We were married on the last day of 2015 and started the New Year as husband and wife.

We spent the first few months of the year figuring out how to be together, with me in Austin and her in Arkansas. It was difficult to be apart, but we knew it would only be temporary.

In May, I started a new job with Walmart (at the Home Office). I have really enjoyed working with my new team. With my new job, I bid farewell to Austin, my home of more than ten years. It was sad to say goodbye to Austin, but I’ve been very happy making a new home with my beautiful wife in beautiful Northwest Arkansas. 🙂

Hang celebrated her first year anniversary with Walmart Technology in August. She continues to grow in her career and has enjoyed her work, gaining experience and confidence.

In August, we formally celebrated our marriage with family and friends. We had a wonderful ceremony at Holiday Island, Arkansas in the presence of our loved ones.

It has been a great year for us. We would like to thank everyone who helped make it so. We hope everyone had a happy and productive year as well. We wish all of you a very Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah and Happy New Year!

Thank you for being part of our life!

cheers,
Justin and Hang

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Post-Election Thoughts

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Image Credit: Huffington Post

With Obama, came the promise of an America that stood for the beauty of its diversity and multi-culturalism. Obama sent a message to the world that America was black… and white… and so many other things at once. Obama represented a world where our strength came from of the variety of our roots.

The disheartening truth that Trump and this election cycle has dredged to the surface is that some of America hasn’t really embraced the beauty of this vision. But, Trump didn’t create this… he merely exposed it. Indeed, the events of the last few years and the Black Lives Matter movement have already made it clear that we don’t live in the rosy utopia of harmony… the utopia that the rise of Obama seduced us into believing. Our society is still more divided than we would like to believe.

But, we should not be disheartened. America is still uniquely posed to be a nation that embraces it’s diversity above all else. We aren’t there yet, but we are on our way.

We must come together as a nation and learn to live with each other… to respect each other… to understand each other… to work with each other.

This means healing racial wounds. This means elevating women in power. This means ending our fear of those who don’t look like us or believe like us. This means reaching across the aisle to those with different ideologies to find what we have in common.

When we can learn to live as one, united America… one that is black, white, African, European, Latino, Asian, Middle-Eastern, Native, Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu, gay, straight, woman, man, trans, liberal, conservative, libertarian, progressive, rich, poor, etc… one nation, that embraces it’s difference and variety while celebrating on common ground.

Regardless of who inhabits the White House, we will all win when we strive for this ideal.

Happy Birthday USA!

I am very proud to be an American on the day we celebrate the 240th birthday of the United States of America.

This statement is not uncomplicated.

The United States of America is a great country, full of prosperity and opportunity. Yet, our prosperity and opportunity aren’t universally shared by all of our citizens and residents.

The United States of America is a country of great diversity. Yet, we have a troubled history (and current reality) of racism and intolerance.

The United States of America has done a great deal of good in the world. Yet, we have also pursued our own agenda at a great cost to some people in other parts of the world.

Simply put, the United States isn’t perfect. However, no country is. Like any country, we have our fair share of problems, but we are a great people who are capable of fixing them.

Today, we should celebrate all the wonderful things that make our country a great place. There are many to celebrate.

I am particularly proud of the diversity of what it means to be an American. America is not a monoculture. Our culture is inclusive of all of the different people who make America their home. For example, my wife is from Vietnam; yet, the culture she brings from her home country is just as much a part of America as apple pie. Our culture is not fixed; it grows and expands as new voices bring new ideas and traditions.

However, we should also acknowledge our faults and shortcomings. There is no shame in admitting our weaknesses. Patriotism can be unconditional, but it should never be blind. We should love our country while admitting that we aren’t always right. When we do so, we are one step closer to correcting our faults and improving ourselves.

Further, our love for our country doesn’t need to be exclusive. There are many wonderful people and places in this world. We should never take an “us vs. them” approach to our patriotism. Patriotism should mean loving the people that we are, but also having deep respect and love for the rest of the world as well. We’re all in this one together.

So, while the United States of America is far from the only wonderful place in the world and far from perfect, it’s my home and I love it. Happy birthday America!

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This post was originally published on July 4, 2015. It has been tweaked and updated for the new year, but the core is largely unchanged.