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SOUNDTRACK: KING GIZZARD AND THE LIZARD WIZARD with MILD HIGH CLUB-Sketches of Brunswick East (2017).

It was August of 2017 and KGATLW had already released two albums–one that explored microtonal music and a another that was a heavy metal concept album that wound up destroying the universe.  Where do you go from there?

KGATLW decided to join forces with Mild High Club and the results are forty minutes of … rather delicate retro jazzy psychedelia.  The instruments on this album (in addition to the standard bass, guitar, keys and drums), include: mellotron, flute, electric piano, glass marimbas, microtonal organ, omnichord, bongos, güiro, maracas, and of course harmonica.

I didn’t know Mild High Club, which it turns out is basically one guy, Alex Brettin.  Andtheir music is according to All Music, “pleasantly woozy and laid-back, but shows a subtle attention to detail without being excessive or indulgent.”

So that explains the overall sound of the album which is certainly woozy and laid-back.  But there are so many elements of Gizz-ness that it’s obvious how much the two fed off each other.

Like the previous album, there is a song with parts, (Sketches of Brunswick East I, II, III) that recurs throughout the album.  The album opens an interesting pattern of a 1 minute song followed by a 3 minute song followed by a 1 minute song etc.  That first song is “Sketches of Brunswick East I.”  It has a great bass line (the album is chock full of interesting, compelling bass lines).  There’s an awesome flute melody that floats throughout the song as well as acoustic piano from Brettin  and light drums from Michael Cavanagh.

“Countdown” follows.  It’s a gentle, breezy number with Mackenzie’s falsetto vocals floating over the top of jazzy music.  “D-Day” introduces some of their microtonal riffs into this gentler version of the band. Brettin, Mackenzie, and multi-instrumentalist Joey Walker all play microtonal instruments on a theme that sounds like jazz, Middle Eastern folk and rock.  The microtonal riffs do add a but of a harsher edge to the songs.

“Tezeta” is the chanted refrain of the next song that is a crazily retro easy listening exploration with vibes and spoken words and a fantastic bridge that repeats throughout the song.  The spoken word goes

Come here, girl
Who are you?
I am true perspective
Followed by the chorus
Tezeta, tezeta
Tezeta, tezeta
Nostalgia, nostalgia
Tezeta, tezeta
and then :
Come here, boy
Are you God?
I am that which I am
After a middle section that’s kind of a slow jam with great bass lines and interesting guitar melodies, the song re-emerges at a faster tempo!

“Cranes, Planes and Migraines” is another one minute song with a nifty bass line and intricate.  The melody segues into the easy listening jazz y joy of “The Spider and Me” which has a great vocal zippy vocal melody and concurrent musical riff.

On “Sketches of Brunswick East II,” breaks the 1 minute/3 minute pattern.  This is a longer version of the main theme.  It opens with (I assume) a tape of an old jazzy standard which slows down until the main melody starts up. A Fender Rhodes-like electric piano plays, and you can’t tell from the credits whether it’s Mackenzie or Brettin playing because both contribute electric piano to the tune.

In fact, the credits are really fascinating for this because everyone plays on the record but some people far more than others.  See:

King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard

  • Stu Mackenzie – mellotron (tracks 2, 3, 5, 6, 8, 9, 13), vocals (track 2, 3, 6, 9, 12), bass guitar (tracks 1, 4, 7, 8, 13), flute (tracks 1 4, 7, 11, 13), wah-wah guitar (tracks 2, 6, 11, 12), electric piano (tracks 1, 7), acoustic guitar (tracks 4, 12), microtonal guitar (track 3), glass marimbas (track 5), microtonal organ (track 9), synthesizers (track 11), piano (track 11), electric guitar (track 13); recording, mixing (tracks 1, 3-13), production
  • Joey Walker – bass guitar (tracks 5, 6, 9, 10), shaker (tracks 3, 4), synthesizers (tracks 4, 5), microtonal bass guitar (track 3), glass marimbas (track 4), acoustic guitar (track 4), vocals (track 4), electric guitar (track 4), omnichord (track 11), piano (track 11), bongos (track 12), güiro (track 12); additional overdubbing
  • Michael Cavanagh – drum kit 1 (all tracks), bongos (tracks 1-5, 7-9, 11, 13), drum kit 2 (track 2, 3, 5, 6, 7, 9-13), floor toms (tracks 1, 3, 7, 9, 13), maracas (tracks 1, 7, 11, 13), cowbell (tracks 4, 5, 9), snare brushes (tracks 1, 8), vibraslap (tracks 1, 8), tambourine (tracks 3, 9)
  • Cook Craig – electric guitar (tracks 1, 4, 5, 8, 9), fretless bass guitar (track 8, 11), vocals (track 8), synthesizers (track 8), bass guitar (track 11); additional overdubbing
  • Lucas Skinner – electric piano (tracks 2, 4, 6, 9), mellotron (tracks 2, 6), piano (track 11); additional overdubbing
  • Ambrose Kenny-Smith – harmonica (tracks 10-12), vocals (track 6)
  • Eric Moore – drum kit 2 (track 4)

Mild High Club

  • Alex Brettin – electric piano (tracks 2, 6-8), synthesizers (tracks 2, 5, 7, 9), bass guitar (tracks 2, 8, 12), electric guitar (tracks 8, 10, 13), microtonal synthesizers (tracks 3, 5), optigan (tracks 3, 7), organ (tracks 4, 12), acoustic piano (track 1), electronic drum kit (track 7); additional overdubbing, mixing (track 2)
  • Andrew Burt – guitar (track 11)

You get the feeling that people popped in, did some things and then left.  Like usual main dude Ambrose Kenny-Smith is only on a couple of songs.  But I guess if you release five albums in a year, you can slack off a little for one of them.

The second part of the album features longer songs like “Dusk to Dawn on Lygon Street.”  Again, the bass is great and it works nicely with the gentle vocals and sweet backing vocals.   It segues into the longest song on the disc, the five-minute, “The Book,” which features more great bass lines and a psychedleic keyboard intro.  It feels very 60s mod as it opens.  The really weird singing from Stu is a fun change of pace, too.  I love that at 4 minutes in the song sorts of halts with just the staccato keyboard melody and spare drums pushing it forward  until everyone jumps in again.

“A Journey to (S)Hell” picks up the pace and volume a little bit.  It’s by far the most psychedelic freakout song on the record.  There’s tape fluctuation and manipulation and the sounds of every-increasing synth notes like something taking off.

“Rolling Stoned” (has no one thought of that title before?) returns to the gentle sound of the rest of the record with a pretty, easy-listening melody.  There’s a very 70s sounding synth solo and it’s all quite groovy.  “You Can Be Your Silhouette” is a gentle jazzy number with whispered vocals.  It really encapsulates the whole album in one track.

The disc ends with “Sketches of Brunswick East II,” which opens with tape rewinding and then a reprise of that original melody once more.  This time the pacing and rhythm is very different with a very rubber guitar sound and a wash of sort of woozy synths.  It’s a very soothing ending to a very soothing disc.

How many ideas do these guys have?

[READ: February 1, 2019] The King of Kazoo

I saw this graphic novel while I was in the kids section.  I knew it was aimed pretty young, but the drawing style appealed to me–classic cartoon animal style with round head, oval eyes, oversized ears and a reluctance to adhere to physics–just my thing.

The story opens with a young girl, Bing, reading a book when Gypsy, a blue bird, flies in.  It sings, she listens attentively and then says “Wow!  I wish I spoke bird.”  But then she uses some magic, touched the bird’s beak and is able to see everywhere that Gypsy has been.  Gyspy saw a tunnel on Mount Kazoo which no one knew was there.  Bing runs to tell King Cornelius (her father).

But the King is busy thinking Kingly thoughts and cannot be bothered.  He is mostly thinking of his legacy–what can he put his name on?  (was this written immediately after the 2016 election?)  He has some big ideas, but they are all terrible.  Although he just assumes that you have to be a king to appreciate them.

They are interrupted by Torq, the inventor.  Torq has just created the Gonkless carriage.  Bing wonders if it runs on Magic, but the King says that no, it runs on Science.  The King says that Science is magic that anyone can use.  Bing wonders what the fun in that is.

(more…)

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 SOUNDTRACKLONELY LEARY-“Flaneur” (2018).

At the end of every year publications and sites post year end lists.  I like to look at them to see if I missed any albums of significance.  But my favorite year end list comes from Lars Gottrich at NPR.  For the past ten years, Viking’s Choice has posted a list of obscure and often overlooked bands.  Gottrich also has one of the broadest tastes of anyone I know (myself included–he likes a lot of genres I don’t).  

Since I’m behind on my posts at the beginning of this year, I’m taking this opportunity to highlight the bands that he mentions on this year’s list.  I’m only listening to the one song unless I’m inspired to listen to more.

One of the things that I love about Lars, and this list is a great example, is how effortlessly multicultural he is.  He doesn’t listen to music because it’s from somewhere, he listens to music wherever it;s from because he likes it.  So this band, with the decidedly English-sounding name Lonely Leary is actually from China.  Lars says that the

The excellent label Maybe Mars documents the current Chinese underground music scene, from the psych-rock of Chui Wan and surfy shoegaze of Dear Eloise to P.K. 14, Beijing’s experimental rock pioneers.

Lonely Leary is a post-punk band which sounds like they would fit right in with Protomartyr or even The Fall, Sonic Youth or Joy Division.  The fact that they are from China and sing in Chinese doesn’t affect the tone and overall feel of the music, it somehow makes it more intense (to my ears).

Lars describes their debut album as one “where noise needles into perversely kitschy surf riffs and hoarsely barked punctuation marks.”  Although I hear less kitschy and more Dead Kennedy’s guitar and feedback noise.

The sounds they achieve throughout the album are great.  “Flaneur” opens the disc with a screaming feedback followed by a rumbling bass.  There’s some great guitar lines from Song Ang (which remind me of Savages) and then Qiu Chi barks his dissatisfaction through to a satisfyingly Dead Kennedys-ish chorus.  There’s even some Savages-esque chanting as the song squeals to and end.

This is great stuff.

[READ: January 4, 2019]  “Father”

Here is a new year and a new essay from Sedaris that perfectly mixes emotional sadness and hilarious light-heartedness.

The night before his fathers 95th birthday, his father turned in the kitchen and fell.  David’s sister and brother-in-law discovered him the next day and brought him to the hospital.  They felt the most disturbing thing was his disorientation, including getting mad at the doctor: “you’re sure asking a lot of questions.”  He was lucid the following day, but he was quite weak.

David was in Princeton on the night his father fell [at a show that I could have been at–we opted not to go this year].   He called his father and said that he needed him to be alive long enough to see trump impeached.

A few months later, his father moved into a retirement home.  David and Hugh visited and at first he seemed out of it, but hr recognized both of them instantly.  The thing was that he was no injured.  He had tried to move his grandfather clock (one of the prized possessions he brought to the home) and it fell on him (for real).  Many family members called the clock Father Time, so David said to Hugh “When you’re 95 and Father Time literally knocks you to the ground, don’t you think he’s maybe trying to tell you something?” (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: BÉGAYER-“L’image du manque” (2018).

At the end of every year publications and sites post year end lists.  I like to look at them to see if I missed any albums of significance.  But my favorite year end list comes from Lars Gottrich at NPR.  For the past ten years, Viking’s Choice has posted a list of obscure and often overlooked bands.  Gottrich also has one of the broadest tastes of anyone I know (myself included–he likes a lot of genres I don’t).  

Since I’m behind on my posts at the beginning of this year, I’m taking this opportunity to highlight the bands that he mentions on this year’s list.  I’m only listening to the one song unless I’m inspired to listen to more.

I certainly didn’t know Bégayer before hearing them here.  Bégayer is a trio from the south of France that howls in French and Arabic, bangs on homemade instruments and leaves a path of delirious distortion in its wake.

Lars describes them as a combination of Animal Collective, Malian desert rock and Eugene Chadbourne thrown off a cliff.

This song starts with a kind of unsure-sounding opening foray into a guitar riff (very Malian in style), after twenty seconds, the high-pitched guitar notes resolve into a furious frenzy–an almost amelodious riff that flies around at breakneck speed.   The super fast drums help to propel the chaos along.

After a minute or so the vocals kick in–they are sparse and peculiar–more keening than singing at times and I have no idea what he is singing.  On a few occasions, the guitar seems to almost have a breakdown while he is singing although by the end he starts to sound like Jeff Buckley having a bit of breakdown himself. It’s bizarre and eerily compelling.

The whole album plays around with these sounds for a different experience with each song.

[READ: December 29, 2018] “Feast of the Epiphany”

This surreal story was published in 2016 in Gronzi’s collection Claustrophobias.

It begins with this bizarre, hilarious opening

It must’ve been either my thirty-third or my thirty-ninth birthday, if one is to believe the numerological charts, and there must’ve been some kind of adult arrangement involving children or else I would’ve never agreed to show myself in public in the company of three or four diversely aged creatures whose cumulative understanding of metaphysics was equivalent to the curiosity of a wart on the nose of a Rajasthani kaan-saaf wallah cleaning people’s ears in the streets of Paharganj.

This dinner becomes farcical with the introduction of the waiter:

Unable to appreciate the animated performance of the waiter who insisted on joining his forefingers over his head and doing a little dance every time he mentioned the rabbit in orange and thyme sauce, I finished the rather cheerless ten-year-old Hermitage before I even read the menu.

Before the appetizer is even over, the narrator makes his excuses and heads for the restroom. (more…)

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[ATTENDED: December 22, 2018] Jill Sobule

A friend of mine had told me about the newly renovated Hopewell Theater and how it was a great little venue.  And then I saw that Jill Sobule was playing there.

Jill Sobule had a couple of hits in the 90s (she wrote “I Kissed a Girl” before Katy Perry did).  She bubbled under the radar for a number of years and during that time she released some fantastic albums.  Her songs have always been catchy and smart.  Many of her lyrics are funny but pointed.  And while she’s pretty firmly rooted in the folk scene, her albums tend to rock more than not, with a few ballads tucked in as well.

Over the last decade or so, she’s been quieter, but it turns out she never stopped writing and she’s back with a new album and a one woman show called “#Fuck7thGrade.”

Plus, Hopewell is only 25 minutes from our house.   (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: ST. VINCENT-4AD Sessions (2011).

When I was looking up something about St. Vincent I happened upon this 4AD Sessions recording.  Eviddently the audio was included on reissue of Strange Mercy, but there was also this video available.

She plays four songs from Mercy in an interestingly configured and lit studio (the visuals are so very 4AD).

Shot at Shangri-La Studios in the heart of the Brooklyn film and photography district in Greenpoint, the session was recorded with Annie’s new band, Daniel Mintseris (keys), Toko Yasuda (moog) and Matthew Johnson (drums). Given St Vincent’s transgression from the underground to the pop spotlight over the course of three studio albums, it’s somewhat fitting that Shangri-La host the session having initially earned its name as a secret spot known only through word of mouth.

The first song is “Chloe in the Afternoon” which opens with synths and Annie’s voice.  It’s interesting that her latest album seems so un-guitar heavy, when in fact, the guitar never really dominates her songs.  Except when it bursts forth at choice moments.  Like on this one, when it is fuzzed almost beyond recognition.  The drums are sharp raps as Annie sings her vocals.  Then comes the almost angelic chorus “Chloe in the Afternoon.”  I love watching (and hearing) her smile as she sings it and the delicate guitar (almost inaudible) that accompanies it.  The song end with a rocking guitar solo (this is before she had her signature guitar made.

“Surgeon” opens wt synths and what sounds very unlike a guitar (the video confirms that a guitar is at least playing along with the synths).  It’s a quieter song.  When the guitar formally comes in it’s my favorite St. Vincent guitar part–up and down sliding chords followed by a nifty little riff.  It all comes and goes so fast and it’s awesome.  I love seeing her play it “live.”  After a couple of instrumental breaks and a repeat of the chorus, Annie takes a wild echoing guitar solo–she totally wails and the keys create a wavery bass line.

“Strange Mercy” is slower with a pretty, sympathetic melody.  The middle section features a neat guitar solo (oddly processed but cool-sounding).  The middle section with the great sounding guitars and verses about “dirty policemen” just confirms the greatness of this song.

“Year of the Tiger” is a smoother song which also ends the album.  It’s got terrific buzzy guitars throughout.  I this love the way she sings the “Oh America, can I owe you one” with particular venom.

St. Vincent’s music often sounds like a studio concoction, so I love seeing her duplicate it live.  And I’m really looking forward to the upcoming Austin City Limits show she recorded.

[READ: October 10, 2017] “Likes”

This is the story of a man trying to communicate with his 12-year-old daughter.

She has an Instagram account and he is trying to learn more about her by following it–since she’s not very talkative.

But her account is a puzzle–an ice cream cone, a shop window, the dog, an earlobe.

He had been spending a bit more time with her lately because she had been going to physical therapy.  He felt responsible for her inheriting his bad joints–runner’s knees, Achilles Tendonitis.  The therapist was very friendly and Ivy seemed to be open with her although he could never quite hear what they were talking about. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: DERMOT KENNEDY-Tiny Desk Concert #779 (August 24, 2018).

NPR likes Dermot Kennedy (they made him one of their Slingshot artists for 2018).  The thing that they seem to like about him is what I didn’t.

He has a powerful raspy voice–he could sing for miles.  A voice that works wonderfully with a style of music (folk or rock, primarily).  But the songs I’d heard from him were tinged with hip-hop.  And, frankly, it’s hard to work a powerful singing voice and hip-hop into the same verse.  So to me, it didn’t work, it was like the worst of both worlds.

But at the Tiny Desk, he removes all of that with a live band and, as the blurb says, a gospel choir.

Kennedy took this assignment seriously. The Dublin singer-songwriter wasn’t content with merely re-creating his songs as they sound in the studio, or stripping lavish productions down to simple acoustic arrangements. So he got himself a gospel choir.

More specifically, Kennedy and his band flew in from Ireland a day ahead of time to meet and rehearse with members of Washington, D.C.’s Howard Gospel Choir (Keila Mumphord, Taylor Nevels, Chamille Boyd, Jazmine Thomas). Every arrangement was painstakingly plotted ahead of time, so that every note would be perfect.

Two of the songs Kennedy performs here (“Moments Passed” and “An Evening I Will Not Forget”) pop up on an EP he released this year with hip-hop producer Mike Dean, and both sound radically different in this performance. They’re still forceful — and still centered on the singer’s elastic, bombastic voice — but also looser, warmer, more open.

And I suspect that’s why I like them much more.   Without all of that trapping, he sounds, yes, like Hozier or Glen Hansard.  And of course he was a busker.

They open with “Moments Passed.”  It was weird that the song and concert opens the way it does with the choir and Kennedy singing at the same time.  His voice is the centerpiece of the music and it was obscured not only by four other voices but also but a disconcerting echo effect (from Kieran Jones on keys).  But as soon as that ends, his voice works very well with the piano (Jonny Coote) and drums (Micheál Quinn).

And so when the chorus comes in and he songs his only lines while the choir sings, it works very well.  You can also hear his accent a lot more than other Irish singers, it seems.

“An Evening I Will Not Forget” has more of a hip hop delivery style, at least the way he sings, but he doesn’t try to cram it all in, he lets his voice and melody flow over the dense lyrics.  The song is one of regret and it works perfectly as just piano and his powerful voice.

After the song he jokingly asks for a towel and he laughs when he gets one (and gives it to Jones, “you;re a sweaty guy”).

For the final song, “Glory” he plays guitar on this it’s a pretty melody.  The drums are weirdly electronic and big and I like the big boom but not the ticky ticky electronics.  However, the high female voice in the chorus more than makes up for it.  The way all of the music swells together on this track is really terrific.

Sometimes you need to hear a musician live to really appreciate him.

[READ: January 3, 2017] “Gender Studies”

Sarah loves Curtis Sittenfeld, although I had never read her work before this.

I really enjoyed this short story both for its story and for its politics.

The plot is quite simple.  Nell is an almost divorced woman (she was with Henry for years with the intention of getting married, then he up and left her for a younger woman).  I really enjoyed this self-description of her and Henry “because of the kind of people they were (insufferable people, Nell thinks now).”  She is a professor of gender studies and is going to a convention in Kansas City.  Though she lives in Wisconsin, she has never been to Kansas City or even to Missouri.

The shuttle driver starts talking to her about donald trump.  He says “He’s not afraid to speak his mind, huh?”  And I love this description of her reply:

Nell makes a nonverbal sound to acknowledge that, in the most literal sense, she heard the comment.

Despite her obvious discomfort talking to him (when he calls Hillary “Shrillary” you know she is fuming), she can’t be bothered to say anything more than “There’s no way that donald trump will be the Republican nominee for President” (this was written after he was, of course). (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: ANDY SHAUF-Live at Massey Hall (November 23, 2017).

I know Andy Shauf from a Tiny Desk Concert.  I was fascinated then and am now by his long hair, soft-spoken voice and astonishing lack of movement in his body and mouth when he sings.

The record he is touring here is 2016’s The Party which propelled him onto bigger stages, including Massey Hall.  He says in his characteristically quiet way

Every stage is a little different.  I’m a big fan of that Neil Young record.  That was here.  That was here (smiles).

“Twist My Ankle” starts the show with his gentle guitar strums.  Twin clarinets (Daniel Pencer and Karen Ng) propel this song slowly forward.  It a wonderful melody.  Then Shauf starts singing with his unique vocal patterns.  I can’t figure out what it is about the way he sings, but the way he enunciates words is so peculiar.

Later he says that there was one interview when I said The Party isn’t a concept album, and that has followed him around.  It totally is a concept album, but I was thinking more of Mr Roboto or something.  The whole album is about a party with the common theme of humiliation and shame.  People are just making mistakes while drinking at a party–trying to navigate social situations.

“Twist My Ankle” ends with the line, “everybody’s laughing at me I wish I’d just stayed home.”

“You’re Out Wasting” has a simple, repetitive but very alluring guitar melody.  It’s a wonderfully catchy song about wasting time with the right guy.

“Quite Like You” is a bit more upbeat and catchy–the crowd reacts very warmly to it.   but again the lyrics are pretty dark.  It’s about a guy trying to pick up his friend’s girlfriend.

“Early to the Party” is a mellow song with wonderful instrumental interludes–the horns really brighten the song.  This is one of many places where his enunciation is so strange.  Especially since he sings so quietly: “tying you in nawts.”

“The Word in You” has an upbeat piano melody which his vocals follow perfectly. He says it’s exciting playing with strings and clarinets.  A lot of parts are six voices and now we have six voices–it makes the songs more exciting to play.  A lot of time you get sick of playing the same songs every night but this time the shows have gotten a little bit bigger so you can feel a different energy when people are excited to hear a song rather than trying to introduce your songs to people.

People respond loudly to “My Dear Helen.”  This song is just him on the guitar, the starkness really helps you to focus on the words.  It’s a letter to an old friend in which an old man confesses something terrible.

For the final song, “The Magician everyone comes back.  The addition of bass clarinet (Michael Sachs) is wonderful.  There’s pizzicato strings that turn into big swells from Emily Hau and Leslie Ting (violins) and Moira Burke (viola).  The doo doo doo doo part is really catchy.  The song builds and builds and is the most rocking thing with Olivier Fairfield’s drums really coming forward.  Colin Nealis on keyboards and Josh Daignault on bass flesh out this excellent set ender.

[READ: July 24, 2017] “Everything is Far From Here”

This story serves as an unrelenting indictment against immigration polices.

It opens with a woman having arrived, at last.  She is bruised and sunburnt, covered in birds and bugs and worn out.  She is told to sleep, but she cannot for she is awaiting her son.  She had been separated from him a few days ago being told there were too many of them.

She is finally able to ask someone where her son is.  The guard speaks Spanish and tells her about the family unit.  But among the children, her son is not there.   But one woman tells her that her own son arrived a while week after she did.

She decides to wait.  They let her store her clothes, her broken leather sandals, a plastic comb, and elastic hair band.  They take her pocketknife (no weapons) a sleeve of cookies (no food) and a tin of Vaseline (no reason). (more…)

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