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!

Justin and Hang

Download the PDF card.

Post-Election Thoughts


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!


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.

Farewell to Austin

Austin morning

So begins a new era.

Austin has been my home for the last decade. In many ways, it’s where I grew up. It has taken me through my twenties and into my thirties. It’s where I made the transition from a student to a professional. In my time in Austin, I’ve made many close friends and gained two wonderful nephews. Austin has been more than the place I have lived; it’s been a great home to me for all these years.

Austin has been the setting for an amazing chapter in my life. But, like all things, this chapter has come to an end. However, endings are also beginnings; and so begins a new chapter in my life; a chapter of my life that I will build with my beautiful and wonderful wife, Hang.

So begins my life with Hang in Arkansas… and may it be the start of something truly spectacular.

I now realized that Arkansas has been pulling me all my life… even before my life began. It started in 1981 as my family made a three month trip to see the country. While traveling through Arkansas, my parents came to the realization they might have picked up another member on the journey. About 9 months later, I joined the world. About 10 years after that, our family visited Arkansas once again with the intent of moving to start an organic farm in the shadow of the lush Ozark mountains. While this move never came to be and I continued life as a Michigander, Arkansas finally pulled me back to where I was first discovered. As of early May, I’ll finally be an Arkansan.

My decade as a Texan has been a good one, if unexpected. It was about 6 months before moving to Austin that I declared that I would “gladly live anywhere in the world EXCEPT Texas!” Less than a year later, I’d be eating those words. Ten years later, I’d come to see them as rather hilarious.

Austin is one of the best places to have spent the last 10 years and I’m grateful for every moment.

Austin is home to family; to my brother Jason, my sister-in-law Cheryl and my nephews Nash and Gray. Being nearby to family for the last decade has been wonderful. I’ve been closer to my brother than ever before and was introduced to Cheryl, Nash and Gray. Over the years, I’ve watched my nephews grow from belly bumps to talented and charming boys. I’ll miss them greatly; but I know we’ll always be close, even with the distance.

Austin is also home to many great friends; friends I hope to keep over a lifetime. From my running friends to my film friends to my work friends to those who are just friends, I have many ties to Austin that cannot be broken by distance. Friends are not easy to replace. I dare say they can never be “replaced.” However, more great friends await in Arkansas… as yet undiscovered. Still, I will miss my Austin friends.

Austin is where I started my career as a professional. I will be leaving my position at Dell with the Rugged team. Rugged has been a part of my life for over 8 years, from the growth of the first seeds at the Augmentix Corporation to the current stellar product lineup that I helped to create and bring to market. It will be sad to leave my team… but once again, endings are also beginnings.

I will be beginning a new phase of my career at Walmart. I will work in the Home Office in Bentonville as a Manager II, Store Communications. With my new team, I will help to craft excellent messaging and communications to Walmart associates in stores across the country. This will be a chance to hone my writing and make use of my graphic design skills as well. As I say goodbye to all I have known in the last 8 years, I look forward to what I will learn in the next phase of my career.

So, goodbye Austin. Goodbye for now. I will miss you always.

But… here is to what’s next. Here is to my life with Hang and the family we will create together. Here is to a new chapter, full of new and exciting possibilities. Here is to the start of the rest of Hang’s and my life together in our new home. Here is to Arkansas!

Top 12 Albums

I was nominated to name 12 albums that have stayed with me throughout my life. Here is the list I came up with:

  1. The Cure – Disintegration
  2. Portishead – Dummy
  3. Massive Attack – Mezzanine
  4. The Beatles – White Album
  5. James – Laid
  6. Radiohead – OK Computer
  7. New Order – Republic
  8. Depeche Mode – Violator
  9. Gorillaz – Demon Days
  10. The Smiths – Louder than Bombs
  11. Talking Heads – Speaking in Tongues
  12. Deathcab for Cutie – Transatlanticism

Honorable Mentions:

  • Blur – Modern Life is Rubbish
  • U2 – War
  • Cat Stevens – Tea for the Tillerman
  • Tricky – Maxinquaye
  • Sting – Dream of the Blue Turtle
  • Postal Service – Give Up
  • Deltron 3030
  • David Bowie – Hunky Dory
  • XTC – Black Sea
  • Notorious BIG – Life After Death
  • The Decemberists – The Crane Wife
  • Peter Gabriel – So

My 2015 playlists

Every year, my brother and I share our list of top 100 songs discovered each year. My 2015 playlists are now ready on Spotify. Here are the links:

Best of 2015 – A playlist of my top 100 songs of the year.

Rest of 2015 – This list is made up of all the runner-ups that didn’t make the top 100 cut.

Top Albums of 2015

Here’s a little more 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. 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.

The top 100 is not necessarily a list of my 100 favorite songs… there are other factors to consider. To keep this list more interesting, I limit myself to no more than 3 songs for any particular artist. So, a song that might be one of my favorites may get banished to the runner-up list because there were 3 better song from that artist (so it’s theoretically possible for my fourth favorite song of the year to not make the cut). Songs near the cutoff line often get promoted or demoted based on how well they fit into the sequence, so some great songs got kicked off just because they didn’t flow well with anything else. New songs are more likely to make the top 100; older songs I’ve previously heard are more likely to go on the runner-up list; I might drop a preferred song to make sure a particular artist is represented at least once, etc. In any case, there are some really great songs on both lists.

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!

Happy Holidays 2015!

Happy Holidays 2015!

Friends and family,

Happy Holidays! I hope this note finds you all well. It has been a great year for me and I want to give everyone a quick update about some of the highlights.

I’ve had a wonderful 2015 with many great experiences. First and foremost has been my relationship with Hang. For those of you who haven’t yet been introduced, I’d like to tell a bit about my new and lovely fiancé. She’s beautiful, funny, talented and is just a very caring and genuine person… if you haven’t met her yet, I hope you can do so soon! It’s just the begining of something great and I hope to see it evolve over the coming years. 🙂


I still run almost every day. I ran the 3M Half-Marathon in January and got a new personal record (01:29:07) for the half-marathon. I am currently training for the 2016 Austin Marathon in February.

I’ve been at Dell for three years now, doing marketing and product development for the rugged computing division. Notably, I traveled to Alaska this year to oversee a commercial video production. It was a great shoot and great chance to get back to a beautiful place.

With another spin around the sun, I’d like to express my gratitude for everything and everyone who has made this a great year. I hope everyone also had a happy and productive year. I wish all of you a very Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah and a Happy New Year! Here is to an even better 2016 for all of us.

Thank you for being part of my life; I deeply value your friendship, familyship 🙂 and support!


Download the card here.

Top Albums of 2015

Last year, 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). I did my first list last year and you can find it here. So, here goes my second annual list…

Top Albums of 2015

Honorable Mentions

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

The List

  1. Deathcab for Cutie – Kintsugi (iTunes | Spotify) I tend to like Deathcab for Cutie best in their more stripped-down, sparse moments… along these lines, I’d consider Transatlanticism and Narrow Stairs their best work. Those albums had catchy pop, but stayed a bit rough around the edges. In their first album without Chris Walla, Deathcab went the other direction with a much more lushly-(dare I say over)-produced sound. So, while it’s super-slick, I don’t think it rises to the level of their best work. Still, it’s a worthy addition to their catalog. It can be a little syrupy at times, but is always poppy, hooky and catchy. All said and done, I recommend avoiding comparisons to Transatlanticism/Narrow Stairs (or even the poppier Plans) and just enjoy it for what it is: the smoothest, most polished, most guilty-pleasure Deathcab for Cutie album.
  2. Modest Mouse – Strangers to Ourselves (iTunes | Spotify) Strangers to Ourselves could be accused of being paint-by-the-numbers Modest Mouse. However, paint-by-the-numbers Modest Mouse is still a lot of fun. Isaac Brock still can’t sing to save his life. There are plenty of off-beat, weird songs; and plenty of infectious, catchy hooks. It’s nothing new, but it’s Modest Mouse doing what they do best.
  3. Wolf Alice – My Love Is Cool (iTunes | Spotify) Grungy rock and just a hint of chill trip-hop are perfectly mixed in this album. It’s sometimes heavy, sometimes soft and occasionally a bit of both. From the haunting opening track to the end, this album grew on me after a few listens.
  4. Alabama Shakes – Sound & Color (iTunes | Spotify) I liked the first album (Boys & Girls) by the Alabama Shakes quite well, but it seemed a bit too much of a retro “genre” album. The sound was classic, but seemed a bit like it was trying to sound intentionally “classic.” Sound & Color has much of the same classic sound, but it seems much more natural. Where Boys & Girls sounded retro, Sound & Color sounds fresh and modern with a classic sound.
  5. Vince Staples – Summertime ’06 (iTunes | Spotify) Vince Staples was a new name to me, but I’m really glad to have been introduced. This is smart, moody hip-hop at it’s best; with well-constructed rhymes over rich, atmospheric backing tracks… well-crafted and catchy!
  6. Blur – The Magic Whip (iTunes | Spotify) A lot has happened since the last time Damon Albarn and Graham Coxen teamed up. For one, Albarn’s numerous solo and side projects… most notably the Gorillaz. Albern’s diverse musical styles have been brought introduced into this new Blur album, but it’s still recognizably Blur. Blur has never stopped evolving its sound and this album is no exception.
  7. The Decemberists – What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World (iTunes | Spotify) This album doesn’t have quite as much personalty as many Decemberists albums before it. No eight minute sea songs about being swallowed by a whale; no rock-opera concepts… this album doesn’t have the normal dose of Decemberist weird. However, it probably has some of the most polished songwriting of the Decemberist’s career and is musically diverse.
  8. Low – Ones and Sixes (iTunes | Spotify)I liked Low’s last album, The Invisible Way, but found it a touch forgettable. However, Ones and Sixes got under my skin. This is great late-night music layered with infectious, haunting melodies. It’s quite and slow but also dark, moody, beautiful and surprisingly catchy.
  9. Divine Styler – Def Mask (iTunes) Wow… what happens when top-notch hip-hop meets the sci-fi aesthetic of Blade Runner? Pure awesomeness! This is one of the most stylish things I’ve heard in a long time. Moody, futuristic and just plain cool. (Sadly, this one isn’t on Spotify)
  10. Blackalicious – Imani, Vol. I (iTunes | Spotify) Blackalicious hasn’t come out with new music for a while, but this one is 100% solid… perhaps even better than Blazing Arrow (debatable). In any case, it shows that they haven’t lost a step.

Thanks for checking out my list. Hope you enjoy!

Running 26.2 with TeamFX in 2016

It’s that time of year where I lace up my running shoes and start hitting the trail, building step by step, mile by mile, until I get to 26.2. Yes, I’m training to run the Austin Marathon on Sunday February 14, 2016 as a member of TeamFX Austin. TeamFX is a group of Austinites with the goal of keeping fit and healthy as well as supporting our community. We are running to support the Austin Children’s Shelter and to create a world without child abuse and neglect, one step at a time. This will be my 6th season with the team and my 7th full marathon (along with a few half-marathons).

The Austin Children’s Shelter is part of SAFE (Stop Abuse For Everyone) Austin and provides emergency shelter, high quality care and hope for the future to the abandoned, abused and neglected children of our community. The shelter offers a variety of critical services and programs to reduce the emotional trauma suffered by child victims of abuse and neglect in a safe and nurturing environment. Through these programs and individualized care, Austin Children’s Shelter lays a foundation of hope for the future of the children it serves. For more info about the Austin Children’s Shelter, you can visit their website at You can watch a quick video about how the shelter helps kids in need in Central Texas at (I edited this video for the shelter several years ago)

Team FX Austin

To date, TeamFX Austin has raised over $271,000 for the Austin Children’s Shelter. This year, our goal as a team is to reach $30,000 which will go toward supporting programs offered by the shelter. Because TeamFX Austin is funded by local business partnerships, 100% of all donations goes directly to the shelter itself. All donations to the Austin Children’s Shelter are tax deductible.

If you are able to, I’d like to invite you to join me in my efforts and be a part of TeamFX 2016. If you’d like to take part, you can find my personal fundraising page by clicking my name on our team’s page at

Any donations are made directly to the Austin Children’s Shelter. With a donation, your name will automatically be entered into our raffle for a chance to win the new iPad Air or other prizes, to be drawn at our marathon after-party! More information is available here.

Whether you are able to donate or not, I appreciate you taking the time to read this post. I wish you all the best!