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Archive for April, 2014

half pastSOUNDTRACK: FEU THÉRÈSE-Feu Thérèse [CST040] (2006).

feu1Feu Thérèse is a band created because of the hiatus of Le Fly Pan Am.  They offer a melange of styles, as befits the visual arts origins of several of the members.  And yet, there is a solid rhythm section that grounds the band in a wonderful way.

“Ferrari en Feu” opens with 3 minutes of pulsing waves of synths and electronic bird-call-like sounds. It’s unclear exactly what you’re listening to and it seems like the whole album will be a kind of ambient collection.  Then a proper rock song kicks in with chords and notes and drums–it has a cool psychedelic vibe and feels very late 60s.  “Mademoiselle Gentleman” has pulsing bass notes and staccato guitars with a layers of distorted laughing throughout (there’s no “singing” on the first two songs). At around 4 minutes (out of 6) the feedback squalls too and a simple steady beat.

“Tu n’avais qu’une oreille” seems like a traditional song–with singing (in the Serge Gainsbourg, dirty old man style of whisper/singing) which has a middle section that is quite conventional (with ahh ahhs) but again at 4 minutes, the song shifts into a faster drumming section (with more spoken words).  But then a lengthy trippy guitar solo shatters the mellowness.  “L’homme avec couer avec elle” starts with what sounds like horns.  At around 4 minutes in turns into a kind of western but with a crazy clarinet solo accompanied by sped up noises that sound like Pink Floyd’s Ummagumma.  There’s more psychedelic Pink Floyd styles on the final track, “Ce n’est pas les jardins du Luxembourg.”  The song opens with “drips” that sound like “Echoes.”  And then there’s more Ummagumma birds/animals (possibly distorted seagulls?).   At (yes) 4 minutes it turns into a trippy psychedelic organ based song (with Indian music as well).  The song is 12 minutes and leaves no sound unheard.

The music is experimental but it is not terribly “difficult.”  It’s actually quite a fun album which demands multiple listens.

[READ: April 24, 2014] Half Past Danger

The tagline for this book (which is presented like a movie in a number of ways) is Dames. Dinosaurs. Danger.  And the cover features a giant Nazi flag in flames.  Sounds like pulp genius to me.

And so it is.  Stephen Mooney has been an artist for some great graphic novels over the years and this is his first book that he wrote on his own, based on a labor of love–having Nazis fight dinosaurs.  Like a dream come true.

So obviously, this is a story of an alternate past.  Set in 1943 in the South Pacific, an Army battalion is tracking an area when they discover a secret Nazi base.  There are not supposed to be any Nazis this far east, and yet there they are.   Sergeant Tommy “Irish” Flynn is surprised but he gets his team ready to take pictures and prepare a report.  But that loud rumble sounds like the biggest tank they have ever heard.  And then out steps a T-Rex (in a great reveal).  The T-Rex wipes out all of Irish’s company.  Irish escapes with a few photos and little else.

We jump cut to two months later where Irish is drinking in a bar in New York City.  In walks General Noble of the USMC and Elizabeth Huntington-Moss of British MI6.  They request his service.  He tells them to fuck off.  Actually no, he doesn’t.  This is a PG13 story, there’s a few “shite”s and an occasional “damn” but it is squarely in the realm of comics–implied sex, a lot of blood and a few mild words.  A brawl ensues, in which a Japanese fighter helps out Noble & Moss.  And soon Irish is recovering and being told what’s going on.  After some string reluctance, Irish agrees to go back to the island.

Noble proves to be a supremely tough and string fellow.  The Japanese soldier has defected to the U.S. after the non-respectful attack on Pearl Harbor.  And Moss is an enigma.  As they approach the island, there is plane trouble and a wonderfully cool scene in the water (which I won’t spoil but the art and graphics are terrifying and wonderfully drawn and colored–Mooney did the colors for the first chapter, while Jordie Bellaire did the other five).  (more…)

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eaveptotterSOUNDTRACK: ELIZABETH ANKA VAJAGIC-Nostalgia/Pain EP [CST035] (2005).

This album is considered an EP, probably because it runs about 33 minutes. And yet with 3 songs and one of them nearly 20 minutes long, it feels like a much bigger release.

The first song, “Nostalgia” is 17 minutes long and begins with three minutes of scratchy violin “warm up” sounds.  Around 3 minutes guitars start playing some simple chords which gives the violin some direction.  Around 4 minutes’ Vajagic voice comes in, throaty and raw like a wounded PJ Harvey crossed with Patti Smith.  The song doesn’t vary all that much in the 17 minutes, but it’s her voice that carries the anguish and pain of the song along.  The interesting touch of the scratching guitars on the edges gives more angst to the song.  Starting around 12 minutes, the song kind of devolves into a series of noises –clicking drums, scratching violins.  A kind of free-form exploration like the beginning was.

So although the song is 17 minutes, it’s really only about nine of actual song.  The rest is sort of an experimental jam, with the volume down quite low in comparison.

Song 2, “Pain” is 12 minutes and opens with a slow guitar melody.  But the real focus is Vajagic’s voice because the instrumentation is basically a guideline.  Until, that is, the 4 minute mark comes around, when the guitar turns electric and more powerful and EAV’s voice goes away for about 3 minutes.  The melody is simple but has a good yearning and building quality with an interesting slow guitar solo meandering around.  Around 8 minutes she begins singing again, repeating the original vocal melody but now with screaming guitars behind her–it’s quite a change and a cathartic introduction of new sounds.  The ending kind of drifts away without ever really letting go.

The final sing is only 4 minutes.  It opens with cracking sounds and a music box.  When the song proper starts there’s more quiet guitars and EAV’s voice and that’s all the song is–like a microcosm of the longer songs and somewhat more powerful for its condensed nature.   Although I do prefer the louder more angsty music she makes, this is a nice showcase for her restraint.

This is the last record that I’m aware of her releasing.

[READ: April 26, 2014] Lord Tottering: An English Gentleman

I saw this comic strip book at work and decided it was interesting looking and might be fun to read.  The title made me laugh as did the Registered Trademark “Tottering-By-Gently” and is a kind of compendium of Lord Tottering comic strips.

Never heard of Lord Tottering?  Me either, but it has been appearing weekly in the magazine Country Life since 1993 and is “phenomenally successful” according to the introduction.  Which also states that Annie Tempest is one of the top cartoonists working in the UK.  (I’ve never heard of her either, but again, that doesn’t mean much).

The cast consists of Daffy Tottering, who reflects “the problems facing women in their everyday life” (if you are rich and British, and live in “their stately home in the fictional county of North Pimmshire).  She also spends time (and I feel compelled to put all of this in here because it is an amusingly long list):

“reflecting on the intergenerational tensions and the differing perspectives of men and women, as well as dieting, ageing, gardening, fashion, food, field sports, convention and much more.” [She must be exhausted].

Her husband is Dicky.  He is basically a retired rich Englishman who hunts and fishes and goes to the kind of club that is mocked endlessly in Snuff Box.

I mock this cartoon a little bit because it is pretty mockable–wealthy aristocrats suffering white people’s problems.  Think of it almost like Cathy for Rich Britons.  And yet, despite all the mocking, I got a chuckle out of a lot of the strips, and I’m sure it brings a smile to many people. (more…)

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 superheroSOUNDTRACK: ELIZABETH ANKA VAJAGIC-Stand With the Stillness of This Day [CST028] (2004).

eavlpElizabeth Anka Vajagic is a singing in the vein of Carla Bozulich (whose solo album CST would release a few years after this one).  She has a powerful, raw voice that can go low but can also rage.  She has a lot of control over her voice (which is seems sometimes Bozulich doesn’t) which leads to a lot of tension-filled songs.  EAV plays guitar and some piano.  These songs are also filled with cello, harmonium and an oud.  The songs are slow but powerful, and her voice suits the melodies very well–dark and full of longing.

“With Hopes Lost” has that mournful keening vocal, and the cello really provides that hopeless-feeling component.  “Around Here” is a dark stormy song with aching strings and piano.  “Where You Wonder” is a dark song but with a fight left in it–resistance to the darkness it feels.  The song feels mostly sparse until 4 and half minutes when it rages with a screaming guitar solo and big bold chords.  “Iceland” has probably the most fun chorus of the bunch, something actually sing-alongable.    The next song is called “Why.”  I’m always suspicious of a song called “Why” and this one is a little deservedly so–vague statements are not really anyone’s forte.  She has the keening down well, but it feels a little flat–brevity helps on this one.  “And the Sky Lay Still” opens with a slow echoing guitar, and as it slowly builds, ther’s a great vocal melody that builds for the verse  “Sleep with Dried Up tears” is an acoustic song.  It’s definitely a bit of a downer after the intensity of the album (which is dark but powerful).

EAV is definitely not for everyone.  It depends on your taste for screaming and, your taste for strings instead of heavy guitars to accompany those screams.

[READ: April 23, 2014] The Adventures of Superhero Girl

I grabbed this book from the library because I like Hicks’ work.  When I brought it home, Sarah thought that I brought it for her because it is on her Hub Reading Challenge List.  But no, I liked Hicks enough for myself (so selfish–although I did let her read it first).  She loved it, and so did I.

The Adventures of Superhero Girl is an online comic which Hicks seems to have started in 2010.  Online it is black and white (this book is done with colors by Chris Peters). I didn’t check to see if this is the entire series, but I assume it is. It went on hiatus in 2012 and has been eerily silent ever since.  So at least we have this pretty hardcover document of this hilarious series.

The strip is a genuine, honest to god, comic strip–8 panels and a punchline!  (okay most have fewer than 8 panels, but that’s the set up).  It’s sort of a goof on superheroes, but as the introduction by Kurt Busiek points out, it is really not a parody of the genre.  Superhero Girl is a superhero, with powers (but not amazing powers) and she does help people and she suffers angst from it.  But Hicks plays around with the most basic tropes of super heroes.

Superhero Girl, first of all, doesn’t have a superhero name.  She’s not hugely muscular, she’s not super sexy, she doesn’t wear a sexy costume.  She’s a young Canadian girl in a mask and (sometimes) a cape. She doesn’t have an agonizing backstory.  She just has superpowers and wants to help people. (more…)

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catsSOUNDTRACK: THE OKEE DOKEE BROTHERS-“Lucy and Tighty” (2010).

okeetakeEven though the Okee Dokee Brothers are primarily about getting outdoors, not all of their songs fall into that category.  Like this one, which is a cute song about two people who are very different but who still like each other (and fall in love).  See the chorus:

‘Cause opposites attract, opposites attract
In the end baby, opposites attract

But what attracted me to the song was the fun (and perhaps easy rhyme scheme) of the verses.  I loved the way the first verse started

Lefty Lucy loved to lolly lackadaisically
But Righty Tighty went By the book alphabetically
So when Lefty Lucy loosened up unapologetically
Righty Tighty tightened up rather introvertedly

Musically, the beats are simple and pronounced, and while the songs starts simply, with just guitar and banjo (and drums, of course), it builds through each verse and chorus, complete with backing vocals.  I loved the fun of the names “Lucy and Tighty” (which may be immediately obvious or may not) and the wordplay in the second verse two.

On the dance floor, they were known for
Having moves that expressed themselves aesthetically
Lucy was groovy, dancing to a different drummer energetically
Tighty politely followed the right steps predictably
Solo, they were so-so, but together they’d be better exponentially

And if all this weren’t fun enough, the video is also fun, done with mirrors (which you can see in the background), it makes me wonder if they are leaning in the right direction or not.  The song even ends up with a fun New Orleans style stomp at the end.  This will help get your kids into the Avett Brothers for sure.

[READ: April 2014] Guinea Pig, Pet Shop Private Eye #5

After raving about the first four books in the Guinea PIg series, we received a huge surprise when Colleen AF Venable sent us a copy of Book #5 with an autograph and an inscription and everything.  And I can’t believe that I forgot to write about it!  So here it is two years later (!) and Book 6 is already out and I’m only writing about book 5.  Shame.  On.  Me.

So I re-read the book recently and decided it was about time I showed Colleen Af Venable a little more love.  Because even if she hadn’t sent us this cool book, it would still be hilarious.

As this one opens, recent pet shop hire Viola is trying to teach Mr Venezi the pet shop owner, the names of the animals (he’s hilariously awful at it–he calls the hamster a mini koala, a short ferret and a tiny dragon).  Viola is very good with the animals and plans to buy a few of them to bring home (so she can dress them up even more, which they secretly love).

Hamisher (the hamster) and our star Guinea Pig, Sasspants (the best name for a character, ever) are talking about what kind of owners they might want.  Hamisher hopes that their owners will live in the same state so that maybe they can see each other still.  They talk about the kind of owner they’d want (their standards are very high).  Then Hamisher notices he is standing on a cat.  Charlotte (the owner of the store next door) has a cat (whose name is Tummytickles) which sleeps in their window.  A lot.  Sasspants explains that Tummytickles is a heavy, heavy sleeper.  Tummtickles wakes up enough to say that that’s not his real name but falls asleep before he can ever say what it is.

We focus on Tuimmytickles because he is the main crisis in this story–he has gone missing!  Which is pretty impressive for a cat who barely moves an inch in a week.  How will Sasspants and Hamisher find him?  Especially when…Sasspants has just been purchased! (more…)

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croninSOUNDTRACK: THE OKEE DOKEE BROTHERS-“Can You Canoe?” (2012).

okeecanoe I found out about The Okee Dokee Brothers from Kids Corner.  They are two guys (one on guitar one on banjo) who sing folk songs about going outside, “with a goal to inspire children and their parents to get outside and experience nature. They believe this can motivate kids to gain a greater respect for the natural world, their communities and themselves” (from their website).

This is a fun folk song–easy to sing along to and very catchy.  It reminds me in spirit (but not voice) of John Denver–the guys have very good harmonies as well.

And since spring time may (finally, maybe) be coming, we should be busting out our canoe soon as well.  Perhaps we’ll sing along to this

Can you canoe on a little boat built for two?
Can you canoe? I’ll be your captain and your crew
Can you canoe if there’s nothing better to do?
I wanna float down a river with you.

In addition to the catchy chorus, there are some great lines in the song, too.  Like:

“We don’t need no outlets, we don’t need no wires
Primetime entertainment will be lightnin’ bugs and fires”

and

“I’ll take the bow brother, you can take the stern
I’ll move us forward, while you choose when to turn”

and

“Sound waves on the water don’t need to be amplified.”

I have become a quick convert to this band whom I’d not heard of until very recently.  I’m looking forward to my kids hearing this (and watching the videos too).

Here’s the video:

[READ: April 15, 2014] The Chicken Squad (1)

I grabbed this book for the kids because it looked like a lot of fun.  And indeed it was.  I didn’t realize that Cronin was the author of such fun kids books as Click, Clack, Moo and Diary of a Worm (and other insects).  This book is quite different from those picture books in that this tells a (admittedly short) longer story.  And it has chapters!

The story is told by the family dog, J.J. Tully, a retired search and rescue dog.  J.J. Tully is in charge of the yard and that includes watching out for the chickens.  He introduces us to the four chicks who live in the yard: Dirt (speciality: foreign languages, math, colors, computer codes), Sweetie [who has glasses] (speciality: breaking and entering, interrupting), Poppy (speciality watching the shoe [which is where they live]) an Sugar [has a triangle head–which comes in for a very funny joke later] (specialty: None that i can see).

The plot begins when a squirrel named Tail comes running into the coop.  He is in a panic shouting, “It’s after me.”  When the chicks question him, he can only get out variations of: “Its big and scary!!.” “It’s BIG and it’s SCARY!!”  And while he is panicking, trying to get out the details of what it looks like: (Big), J.J. comes in to see what the ruckus in.  And Tail faints dead away. (more…)

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harpoctSOUNDTRACK: THE DECEMBERISTS, LAND HO!, BOBBY KNIGHT RANGER, LETTERS TO CLEO and more on PARKS AND RECREATION (April 24, 2014).

unityLast night, in the season finale of Parks and Recreation, the Pawnee/Eagleton Unity concert finally happened.  And, despite them never talking about who would be at the concert, the final show list was surprising and maybe not so surprising.

To see the Decemberists play live was a huge surprise and was totally wonderful (and to see Jenny Conley on keyboards looking healthy was very nice) especially since they have been more or less on hiatus for a time.  Although maybe it shouldn’t have been such a surprise since Michael Schur directed a Decemberists video a few years back.

Ginuwine played a song as well (I don’t actually know him), and it shouldn’t have been a surprise because in a past episode it was revealed that character Donna is actually Ginuwine’s cousin.

Then came Letters to Cleo.  This was a surprise because they’ve been broken up for years and, aside from a hit were never really all that big (I was huge fan and saw them live once).  Although it was not a real surprise because Ben has been seen wearing an LtC shirt from time to time on the show.  Seeing him sing along to the chorus (off stage) was great.  I also just read that the drummer from LtC is the drummer in Andy’s band Mouse Rat.

Next was Bobby Knight Ranger, a hilarious visual joke of three members dressed like Bobby Knight (with really fake white wigs) who, played nothing but “Sister Christian” for their set.  At the end of their set they threw chairs.  It was a weird throwaway joke that was very funny.  It was made even funnier when during the credits it became clear that Bobby Knight Ranger was actually Yo La Tengo.  This is just surprising as I don’t know any connection there, but in my experience Yo La Tengo are game for anything.

Land Ho! finished the night.  Land Ho!, if you follow the show is Pawnee’s biggest band (fronted by Wilco dude Jeff Tweedy (!)).  They played a song and then Mouse Rate (and others) jammed with them for a holographic tribute to Li’l Sebastian (a running joke that I think is way overplayed and yet which makes me laugh every single time)..

I was so delighted to not know who was playing before hand because every band was a fun surprise.  But seriously, did these bands all fly in just to play one song?   Surely they must have done a few songs for the crowd.  And if so, I think it would behoove Parks and Rec to get a CD out of songs from the Unity Concert (including some solo Johnny Karate songs as well.

The episode itself was also quite good.  While I didn’t care too much for the Tom’s Bistro segment (most of the jokes were pretty obvious from the get go), it was nice to see so many old characters make a cameo.  In fact, with the concert and the old characters and the tidy wrap up, it felt more like a series finale than a season finale.

And, SPOILER ALERT UNTIL THE VIDEO CLIP OF LETTERS TO CLEO PASTED BELOW: I though that their meld from the scene in the office on the third floor with the sly tag of three years later was a stroke of genius.  I have been a little down on this season because I thought it was getting a bit overdone with Leslie’s failures and whatnot. I actually wanted her to get the hell out of Pawnee.  But the compromise of how she stayed made sense for the show (if she didn’t take that job I was done with the show).  I was also not looking forward to a year of Leslie being pregnant (the triplets thing was also lame to begin with).  So the fact that it was all utterly skipped over–the pregnancy, the baby problems, the sleepless nights, even the fact that we didn’t have any awkward transitions in the job and that Leslie is just settled into her new job was excellent.

I also loved that Ben and Leslie were off to do something interesting (with Ben in a tux) with no explanation–what a great cliffhanger.  Kudos for one of the best season enders I’ve seen in a long time.

[READ: April 24, 2014] “The Gifts of Anna Speight”

This was a confusing story.  Well that is because it is an excerpt from a novel and therefore doesn’t stand on its own.  But I don;t know if it was just the excerpt they chose, but I found it not very compelling at all.

The story is told in second person, with Sylvie telling “us” what she knows about the Wibletts Institution.  Sylvie knew someone whose son resided there.  He suffered from PKU, a recessive disorder associated with seizures, mental retardation and blue-green urine.

There are so many layers of storytelling involved here that I was quite confused as to just who was who when Jess was suddenly interested in the story of Bob Germen.  Germen’s son is the above mentioned resident.  She wants to know about Bob’s son.  First we learn that Jess knew a lot about literary figures with disabled or retarded siblings or children and later we learn that she has a special needs daughter, Anna.

But most of the excerpt talks about the literary figures. (more…)

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karlove1SOUNDTRACKWHITEHORSE-“Pins and Needles” and Kickstarter campaign (2014).

photo-mainI really enjoyed seeing Whitehorse live.  I would absolutely see them live again.  I was delighted then that their album was also fantastic (I didn’t think it could match their live show…and it doesn’t but it is great in a different way).  In a very short time I became a big fan of the band.

THey havea  new song, “Pins and Needles” and a Kickstarter campaign.  The song begins with Melissa McClelland’s voice singing in it beautiful way–there’s guitar in the right ear and bass in the left ear.  Then Luke Doucet comes in for verse two.  And when their voices fill the bridge it feels so complete.  Until they get to the chorus when they push it even further and it sounds amazing.

  They sing so well together.  Her voice has a slight country twang, and his is a low baritone.  Their harmonies are superb as they sing the compelling chorus: “Fake Your Death and I’ll Fake Mine”

Lyrics are certainly interesting for the band.  How many times do you hear a woman singing a line like: “I’m the villain in this piece  And back when I was a thief, I broke hearts like they were teeth.”

I love this song.  And it may or may not end up on the new album for which there is a Kickstarter campaign.

And I’m in.  I’m a little unclear about exactly what they aim to do with the money they raise.  They say quite plainly that there will be an album regardless of whether they raise the funds.  And their label, Six Shooter, is totally behind the band.

Rather seems to be a way to raise some money and some attention for the band.  And, apparently it will give fans a glimpse of the album as it is being made–a sort of behind the scenes featurette that comes before the disc itself.  The prizes are varied and moderate–from a download, to the CD, to a T shirt, to sheet music (all for reasonable donations), all the way to the grand prize–for $8,000 they will play a private show for you.

I’m in for a CD, and I’m happy to pay regular ticket price when they come around again.

Check out the Kickstarter campaign for more details where you can also hear “Pins and Needles.”

[READ: April 24, 2014] My Struggle Book Two

maninloveI read an excerpt of Book Two in Harper’s well over a year ago So when I got to that section again (it’s the end of the book) I was trying to remember why it sounded so familiar–an accident during a soccer match that leaves Karl Ove with a broken collarbone and an unhappy girlfriend (who will be looking after three kids without him), and then I remembered the excerpt that started it all.

The translation of Book Two by Don Bartlett is fantastic, just as in the first book–I can only assume the original Norwegian is just as compelling.  Book one was 430 pages and now book two was 573, so I’m in to Karl Ove’s life for 1003 pages, and there’s four more books due (Book Three comes out next month).

As I mentioned for Book One, this series has caused some controversy because it is given the same title as Hitler’s Mein Kampf (Min Kamp in Norwegian), and also because he says some pretty mean stuff about people who are still alive.  Book One was about the death of his father.  It was pretty dark.  Book Two is about his first daughter and about falling in love with Linda, his children’s mom (although not yet his wife).  And it is also pretty dark.

I was trying to figure out why I like this series so much.  Not a lot happens, Karl Ove is not a very nice person and he seems to be pissed off most of the time.  And I think what I realized is that I share a lot of opinions as him, but he takes everything to the extreme.  And he is kind of an asshole.  I mean, anyone who writes a six part autobiography called “My Struggle” (okay, really it’s called My Head) is kind of an asshole.  But so when I see things that I would only think in my deepest recesses of my mind printed on a page, it’s strangely visceral to me.  I realize this means that I’m kind of an asshole too, but the key difference is that I don’t act on the things that I think, nor do I write 4,000 pages about them.

I told Sarah that she might laugh at some of the opinions that he lists but that she would not enjoy reading the books.  Indeed, this book, this series, is not for many, I’m sure.  But to me there is something strangely engaging about him and his strange life and his writing style.  And I really flew through this book, finishing it in about a week.

So this book begins (started in July 2008) with Karl Ove being pissed off.  He talks about finishing the first part of the novel (which I have to assume is Book One, given when this was written and how this book ends) just last month (in other words he is really churning this stuff out!).  He and Linda have been fighting (as the book opens they have three children, Vanja, Heidi and John–it’s also hard to believe that his children are young enough to not really know much about this series). The tension is high between them–glares, comments, nasty sniping.  Karl Ove says that he is afraid to say things around her because he knows how she’ll react.  But at the same time, some of things he desires are simply not defensible in a relationship or when you are parent.  And the main conflict seems to be that Karl Ove is selfish and Linda is (at least according to him) mildly suicidal and possibly bipolar).  And mind you, at the time of his writing this, I think they are still together….  (I could look that up, but it seems kind of fun not exactly knowing). (more…)

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