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SOUNDTRACK: QUINN CHRISTOPHERSON-Tiny Desk Concert #854 (June 3, 2019).

Quinn Christopherson won the 2019 Tiny Desk Contest.

Despite the fact that I watch all of the Tiny Desk Concerts, I don’t really get involved in the Contest.   There’s just too many entries and too many bands to root for.  So I just sit back and wait to see who the judges pick.

When I first listened to Christopherson’s winning entry, “Erase Me,” I wasn’t that impressed.  It was spare and his voice was unusual.  His voice was kind of punky–the kind of voice that might work really well with some loud guitars around it, but this song was just a voice and a quiet guitar.  The song was pretty long and it was very angsty.

It built up some interesting tensions.  And by the end, I kind of liked it.

Then I read about Quinn, and how he is a transgender man, and I started thinking about how many people will say that he won because of that (like they said that Gaelynn Lea won because of her “condition” as well).  And that annoyed me (I’m not reading comments this time).

Then I listened to the song again and I really got it–the honesty, the power in his voice and the vulnerability behind the words.  It’s definitely not a song for everyone.  It is not catchy (although the chorus is kind of catchy), it is not easy.

One of the things about the Tiny Desk entrants is that there are some 5,000 of them and you never know how serious they are as musicians.  I mean, I could submit a song.  Quinn’s video, is fascinatingly set up in an art gallery in Anchorage, Alaska, where he lives.  But you never know if it’s his only song.

Indeed, no, as the blurb says,

What was most striking about the performance was [Quinn and his musical partner, guitarist and singer Nick Carpenter’s], unfettered confidence. Watching them play together and hearing their songs, with their interweaving guitar lines and vocal harmonies, feels like seeing two brothers performing old favorites.

This Tiny Desk confirms that his delivery is more of a melodic storyteller than a singer.

Quinn writes story-songs about what he knows best, his mom and sister, about their addictions and his love for them.

He opens with his brand-new tune, “You Told Me.”  It’s a slow song, with Nick playing the more active guitar parts.  It’s personal and intimate and yet still vague enough that you’re not entirely sure what it’s about.

And then comes an insight into life in Alaska.

A moment after our 2019 Tiny Desk Contest winner, Quinn Christopherson, finished his first song at the NPR offices, he made a confession. He looked at me, while tuning his “vintage white” Fender Telecaster, and said, “I don’t know if you know this, but when you called me and you told me, ‘You won!’ I got off the phone and I thought, ‘Dang, I should buy a guitar.’ Legit, did not have one. But that’s Anchorage; that’s the music community there. Everyone just borrowed me their stuff long term.”

The next song, Glenn,” is about his father.  Quinn and Nick play their chords back and forth chuckling with each other before Quinn starts singing

a moving song about his father and their beautiful two-peas-in-a pod relationship. There’s a line in that song that goes to the heart of Quinn’s songwriting talents: “My dad, he plays guitar, says he knows more than he can do. He tells me that I do more than I know.”

I enjoyed this verse:

He asks me what I wanna do when the weekend came
I always wanna go camping but not too far away
So we head to Eagle River and make ourselves a fire
Just the two of us eating pancakes and listening to …N… PR.

In the middle of the song Quinn says, “if my dad was here right now he’d probably say… wheres the bridge?”

They definitely have fun at the Concert.   Even during Quinn’s contest-winning song “Erase Me,” their excitement is palpable.

“Erase Me” is about his recent transition, what it now means to be a man and how he sees the way the world treats him differently after so many years of being “used to pulling the short stick” as a woman. It’s a revealing look at the roles of men and women in our culture at a pivotal time from a songwriter who, I believe, will be a defining voice in the future of music.

They lyrics are really affecting

“I got so used to pulling the short stick /
I don’t know what to do with all this privilege /
‘Cause I got a voice now and I got power /
But I can’t stand it,”

But even during this intense song, they can still have fun.  In the video submission, Nick’s guitar cuts out during the transition to the loud part.  It’s fascinating that they left it in, but they did.  During the Concert everyone sort of chuckles at how Nick handles that moment.

I’m curious to see what kind of success Quinn has after this.

[READ: June 3, 2019] “Canvas”

This story starts in a fascinating way.

The narrator talks about a woman, Agnes, who may or may not be in the upstairs apartment.  The narrator was renting the place and Agnes said she may be back to work in the studio upstairs.  The situation was weird but affordable. And the narrator would only be there for maybe a year longer while she did research on Gothic iconography of the soul.

She didn’t see much of Agnes and then one day there was a note on her door from Agnes inviting her to the studio.

I love this description of Agnes:

She was sitting on a stool, her bones jutting out in a frenzied geometry.

Agnes thanked her for coming saying it was good to be among friends “She looked at me quickly, to see my reaction.” (more…)

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SOUNDTRACKRHEOSTATICS-Corel Centre, Ottawa, ON (November 29, 1996).

This is the 15th night of the 24 date Canadian Tour opening for The Tragically Hip on their Trouble At The Henhouse Tour.  The site has recently added a DAT version of the show in conjunction with the existing fan-recorded version.

It opens in a very amusing way.  I imagine that Dave and Martin are lying on the stage, because Dave asks, “Martin can you sleep?”
Martin: “No, I can’t sleep.  I’ve smoked about three cigarettes.”
Dave “I had this weird dream we were playing in a giant arena named after a software company, opening for Ringo’s All Stars.  It felt really weird.”
Tim starts playing the bass.
Daev: “Might as well just get up.”
Martin: “That’s either a nightmare or a fantastic dream.”
Then they loop saying “Let’s see what Tim and Don are up to.”

Dave breaks character and says, “The comedy is free tonight.”  Which leads to a rocking “Fat” followed by a nice surprise of “Aliens.”  Martin sings, “they came down in 1996.”

Then comes a grooving “Dope Fiends.”  I love that in these 1996 shows the middle part is a cool jam.  It makes the loud ending even more powerful.  And as the song fades it segues nicely into “Digital Beach.”  They start “Claire” before Martin is done and Martin sings a few more “beautiful things” before they start “Claire” properly.

Dave says that they are the Rheostatics from Etobicoke.  They’ve been around for 17 years and it’s a privilege to share the stage with The Hip and uh… we like you.  We have a new record out called The Blue Hysteria.  Sixteen songs, one of them is secret, so really only 15 and this next song is from that.”

Dave keeps talking about the record–it’s in quad sound while someone starts playing “Bad Time to Be Poor.”

Dave thanks the Green Sprouts who are here tonight–we have an address on the back of our CD and if you write us, we will write you back.  We promise.

Dave asks, Is anybody here form Italy tonight (massive cheers).
Martin: Oh my god, it must be empty over there.
This next song (a rocking “Motorino”)  is about being over there and wanting to be home.  It’s a great version that segues into a terrific “Feed Yourself.”  Boy I hope the next time I See them, they play “Feed Yourself.”

[READ: February 2019] Lawn Boy

Yup, I grabbed this book because of the Phish song/album.

Nope, it has nothing to do with the band at all.

Yup, I still enjoyed it quite a lot.

This is the story of Mike Muñoz.  He is basically stuck.  He absolutely loves landscaping–it is his passion.  He wants to sculpt topiary and be a recognized artist.  But he is stuck doing menial landscaping jobs–ones that often involves picking up dog poo more than beautifying plants.

Mike’s father abandoned him a long time ago, when Mike was 11.  When Mike was five, he took Mike to Disneyland.  Disneyland turned out to be an abandoned building site.  He told Mike “I guess they moved.”

There have been many stepfathers since then, but now his mom is pretty much done with all that. She works double shifts as a waitress in a bar (Mike tries to not go there).  Mike lives at home with her and his mentally handicapped brother.  He basically hasn’t matured past a child and has an impulse control and gets upset very easily.   He is also bigger than Mike–by a lot–so even though Mike does a good job watching him, its not easy. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: RHEOSTATICS-Scotiabank Saddledome Calgary AB (November 15, 1996).

Rheostatics opened for The Tragically Hip in Fall 1996.  Some of the shows were online already, but in 2018, Rheostatics Live added about ten more shows.  This is the 6th night of the 24 date Canadian Tour opening for The Tragically Hip on their Trouble At The Henhouse Tour.

Dave introduces the show: “Hello people of Southern Alberta, let us entertain you.  Let us kick your ass.”

The show starts with “Fat” and Martin gets some cool wild guitar sounds.  The backing vocals are great and the end of the song really jams out.

Tim’s “All the Same Eyes” seems to rock out a bit more than usual with some scorching guitars from Martin.  They follow it with “Fan Letter to Michael Jackson” and they have fun with it.  Dave has to announce, “stop making faces, this is serious stuff.”  During the middle part, Dave chants, “Michael’s getting married,  Michael’s having a baby, Michael’s going down.”  They stretch out the “it feels good” part with a mellow jam and Martin doing some great falsetto.

Dave talks about Melville millionaires sticker on his guitar.  He says “we played in Melville, Saskatchewan–the best town in Canada.  Martin talks about them playing The National hotel.  They had two nights there and after the first night, someone spray painted outside of their door: “Go home noise pigs.”

Martin introduces “Sweet, Rich, Beautiful, Mine” and Dave says “and we’re not going home.”   Martin makes some great weird noises from his guitar and, once again, there’s more amazing backing vocals from the band.

Don announces: “We’ve got a new record out, it’s been out about a week.  This next song is on it, that last one was on it.  It’s available tonight.”

Then comes two songs from Tim.  It starts with “Bad Time to Be Poor” which has scratchy guitars from Martin.  It sounds great and Dave says “That’s getting played on the radio and we’re awfully happy about that and thanks to those who are playing it.”  Up next is the second Tim song with “Claire.”  Dave says this next song is from Whale Music, underwater music–aquarium rock, they’re calling it.

Dave says they played hockey last night at Max Bell Arena–home of the Calgary Canucks–Calgary’s greatest team. It was them and the Hip & the crews.  The score was 17-17.  It was a great game–we were fortified on ice.

After a rocking “Self Serve Gas Station, ” Dave says, “The people in Edmonton said the people in Calgary didn’t know how to rock.”  Tim: “That’s not true.”  It’s a great intro to another blistering version of “RDA” which they sing as “Rock Death Canada.”

Even though I love the Rheostatics’ longer sets, these 45 minute nuggets are really tasty.  And the band is in peak form at these shows.

[READ: March 4, 2019] On a Sunbeam

I really enjoyed Walden’s memoir Spinning, which was all about competitive skating and a young girl coming out.  So this story threw me a bit because it is about a crew of workers aboard a space ship whose job is to help repair derelict structures.

And it starts right in the middle with no explanation.  We just see a teenaged girl looking out a window at a floating city.  Her name is Mia and she is being brought to a crew that she’ll be working with for the foreseeable future.  The crew consists of Alma, the de facto leader, Char, the actual captain, Jules, a young girl who is actually Alma’s niece, and Elliot.  Elliot is a mechanical genius, is nonbinary (goes by “they” rather than he or she) and does not speak.

Mia and Jules bond pretty quickly, but it’s going to be tough work–up at 5AM and a lot to learn.

The story flashes back to five years earlier.  Mia is at school and, although a freshman, is already defiant.  She gets in trouble for skipping out on a mandatory assembly and sneaking into the gym to look at what turns out to be flying machines.   While in detention, she meets Grace.  Grace is shy but a defiant in her own way.  They form a pretty quick bond. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: STELLA DONNELLY-Tiny Desk Concert #819 (January 22, 2019).

Stella Donnelly has been generating some buzz lately, but I wasn’t familiar with her.  I didn’t even realize she was Australian.

She is adorable with her hair in two little nubs at the back of her head and a big smile most of the time.

She immediately won the office over with her broad smile, warmth and good-natured sense of humor. It’s the kind of easy-going, open-hearted spirit that makes her one of the most affable live performers you’ll see. While there’s no doubting her sincerity, she’s also got a disarming way of making her often dark and brutal songs a little easier to take in.

And indeed, she does not mince words when she sings.

“Beware of the Dogs” is a delicate song with Stella strumming her guitar with no pick and singing in a beautiful but soft voice.  There’s such a gorgeous melody for the chorus.

It turns out that this song and the other two are new.  Because she doesn’t even have an album out yet!

For this set, she performed entirely new — and, as of this writing, unreleased — songs from her upcoming full-length debut, Beware of the Dogs. Opening with the title cut, Donnelly smiled cheerfully through the entire performance while reflecting on the horrors that often lurk beneath the surface of seemingly idyllic lives. “This street is haunted like a beast that doesn’t know its face is frightening to behold,” she sings. “All the painted little gnomes, smiling in a line, trying to get your vote.”

As the song builds she gets more pointed:  “There’s no Parliament / Worthy of this country’s side / All these pious fucks / taking from the 99.”

She follows with “U Owe Me” which is “about my old boss at  a pub I used to work at back home.”

This song has a gentle guitar melody and some surprisingly soft vocals (including some vibrato at the end of each verse).   But the lyrics are straightforward and pointed (all sung with that disarming smile)

you put your great ideas up your nose /
and then try to tell me where the fuck to go /
you’re jerking off to the cctv /
while I’m pouring plastic pints of flat VB [or Foster’s or whatever].

At the end of the song she says, “He actually paid me a week after.  I was on the wrong week of my payroll.  It was very dramatic back then.”

She says “Allergies” is a run-of-the-mill breakup song.   “I’ve only got two of them and this is one of them.”  It’s a delicate, quiet song (capo on the tenth fret!) and once again, her voice is just lovely.

How can this Concert be only ten minutes long? I could listen to her all day.

Surprisingly, Donnelly chose not to play any of the songs that have gotten her to where she is in her young career — songs like 2017’s “Boys Will Be Boys” or last year’s “Talking,” two savagely frank examinations of misogyny and violence that earned her the reputation for being a fearless and uncompromising songwriter. But the new material demonstrates that her unflinching perspective and potent voice is only getting stronger.

I’m bummed that I am busy the night she’s playing a small club in Philly, as it might just be the last time she plays such a small venue.

[READ: January 26, 2019] Brazen

This is an awesome collection of short biographies of kick-ass women.  Bagieu has written [translated by Montana Kane] and drawn in her wonderful style, brief, sometimes funny (occasionally there’s nothing funny), always inspiring stories about women who spoke up for themselves and for others.  Some of the women were familiar to me, some were not.  A few were from a long time ago, but many are still alive and fighting.  And what was most cool is that the stories of the women I knew about had details and fascinating elements that I was not previously aware of.

What a great, great book.  It’s perfect for Middle School students all the way to adults.  I actually thought it might be perfect for fourth and fifth grade girls to read and be inspired by.  However, it skews a little bit older.  There’s a few mentions of sex, abortion, rape and domestic violence.  These are all real and important issues, but may be too much for younger kids.

Bagieu’s art for most of the pages is very simple–perfectly befitting a kind of documentary style but after each story she creates a two page spread that is just a breathtaking wash of colors which summarizes the previews story in one glorious image.  Its terrific. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: CAROLINA EYCK AND CLARICE JENSEN-Tiny Desk Concert #816 (January 11, 2019).

There have been a lot of bands I have first heard of on Tiny Desk and whom I hope to see live one day.  Carolina Eyck and Clarice Jensen are two women I would love to see live–together or separately.

The concert opens with a looping voice (Carolina’s) and what appears to be her using a theremin to play looped samples.  And then soon enough, she starts showing off how awesome she is at the futuristic 100-year-old instrument.

Carolina Eyck is the first to bring a theremin to the Tiny Desk. The early electronic instrument with the slithery sound was invented almost 100 years ago by Leon Theremin, a Soviet scientist with a penchant for espionage. It looks like a simple black metal box with a couple of protruding antennae, but to play the theremin like Eyck does, with her lyrical phrasing and precisely “fingered” articulation, takes a special kind of virtuosity.

After playing a remarkably sophisticated melody on the theremin (with suitable trippy effects here and there), for about three minutes, she explains how the instrument works.  She even shows a very precise scale.

The position of the hands influences electromagnetic fields to produce pitch and volume. Recognized as one of today’s preeminent theremin specialists, Eyck writes her own compositions, such as the pulsating “Delphic” which opens the set, and she’s got big shot composers writing theremin concertos for her.

Up next is Clarice Jensen with “her wonderful cello.”

Joining Eyck for this two-musician-in-one Tiny Desk is cellist Clarice Jensen. When she’s not making gorgeous, drone-infused albums like last year’s For This From That Will be Filled, Jensen directs one of today’s leading new music outfits, ACME, the American Contemporary Music Ensemble.

Jensen doesn’t explain what’s going on, but she makes some amazing sounds out of that instrument–she’s clearly got pedals and she modifies and loops the sounds she’s making.

“Three Leos,” composed by Jensen, offers her masterful art of looping the cello into symphonic layers of swirling, submerged choirs with a wistful tune soaring above.

Vak Eyck comes back for the final song, a wonderfully odd duet of cello and theremin.

The two musicians close with “Frequencies,” a piece jointly composed specifically for this Tiny Desk performance. Amid roiling figures in cello and melodies hovering in the theremin, listen closely for a wink at the NPR Morning Edition theme music.

Van Eyck make soaring sounds, while Jensen scratches and squeals the cello.  Within a minute Jensen is playing beautiful cello and Van Eyck is flicking melodies out of thin air.

[READ: June 24, 2017] Less

It wasn’t until several chapters into this book that I realized I had read an excerpt from it (and that’s probably why I grabbed it in the first place).  I also had no idea it won the Pulitzer (PULL-It-ser, not PEW-lit-ser) until when I looked for some details about it just now.

It opens with a narrator talking about Arthur Less.  He describes him somewhat unflatteringly but more in a realistic-he’s-turning-fifty way, than a displeased way.

And soon the humor kicks in.

The driver who arrives to take Less to an interview assumes he is a woman because she found his previous novel’s female protagonist so compelling and persuasive that she was sure the book was written by a woman (and there was no author photo).  So she has been calling out for “Miss Arthur,” which he has ignored because he is not a woman.  This makes him late and, strangely, apologetic.

He is in New York to interview a famous author H. H. H. Mandern who has, at the last moment, come down with food poisoning.

It takes only ten pages to get the main plot out of the way:

Less is a failed novelist about to turn fifty. A wedding invitation arrived in the mail: his boyfriend of the past nine years is about to be married to someone else. He can’t say yes–it would be too awkward–and he can’t say no–it would look like defeat. The solution might just be on his desk –a series of invitations to half-baked literary events around the world.  Can he simply get out of town, and go around the world, as a way to avoid looking foolish? (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: BUDDY-Tiny Desk Concert #815 (January 9, 2019).

Buddy is a pretty upbeat rapper from Compton.  He’s dressed in yellow, he laughs a lot.  he plays a groovy kind of gentle raping.

The same soulful hybrid of rapping and singing that compelled Pharrell to sign him as a teenager found Buddy stretching L.A. hip-hop beyond its typical gangsta narrative, while dancing with his dreams and shaking off his demons.

So it’s funny that the blurb is all about the drama of his Tiny Desk.

When Buddy, a preacher’s son from Compton, turns to me with eyebrows raised on the elevator ride inside NPR’s corporate headquarters, it’s hard to tell if the question that comes next is in preparation for his performance or pure provocation.

“Can we smoke in here?!” he asks with a grin that elicits stifled laughter from his bandmates and a few newsroom journalists along for the ride. It’s a blunt request, even from a self-professed “weed connoisseur,” and it kicks off one of the most dramatic Tiny Desks in recent memory.

That drama doesn’t happen until midway through the 11 minute set, and we don’t actually see it.

He starts “Legend,” which is really only an introduction.  He asks everyone to sing “Legend.”  You all got to say this, Legend.  You there in the glasses, you gotta say that shit Legend.

Everyone wants to be a legend, as far as I’m concerned, it’s my turn.

“Trouble On Central” is a song about aspirations and dreams, but being stuck.

Buddy is clearly a natural at this.  He’s also an alumni of actress Wendy Raquel Robinson’s Amazing Grace Conservatory, an L.A. program known for steeping inner-city kids in the performing arts. Between the two, he earned his dramatic chops early.”I’m so used to being in front of an audience of people,” he tells me, “just doing my thing and not really caring about it.” He’s definitely not afraid of the camera. In fact, he’s one of the rare Tiny Desk guests who stares directly into it throughout much of his set, performing for the camera in the most literal sense.

I did think it was odd how often he looked at the camera, and I see that most people don’t

“Hey Up There” is where the controversy arises.

So when Buddy proceeded to fire up a blunt midway through his set, we had to stop the show and ask him to put it out before re-recording his song, “Hey Up There.” (Smoking is not allowed on NPR property.) The performance was still lit,

“Real Life S**t”  has a sweetly sung “la da da da da” backing vocal which he joins in on from time to time.  He raps mostly and throws in some fast rapping at the end of a verse, but mostly this is a groovy song.

While onstage drama kept Buddy a safe distance from the streets, he still experienced the kind of coming-of-age struggles that shaped his personal and political outlook. On “Real Life S**t,” the opening song on his album and the last song in his Tiny Desk set, he conveys that reality with raw sentiment for the sitting President in lyrics straight from the record: “Fuck Donald Trump and that Nigger’s son.”

At first I didn’t think too much of Buddy’s set but after another listen, I enjoyed his whole attitude.  It would have been fun to see him light up and what reaction it caused.

[READ: November 1, 2018] Check Please Book 1

This was a fun, fully enjoyable graphic novel about hockey–with the typical First Second quality, of course.

Like many books lately, this one started as a webcomic and you can read all of this book and more online. (but print is better).

The story follow Eric “Bitty” Bittle as he goes off to college at Samwell University.  Ukazu went to Yale and Samwell is meant to be in the ECAC league just like Yale and Princeton.  Bitty came to hockey through figure skating.  He is quite tiny, especially compared to the other players.  He also bakes a lot of pies.  And, we learn soon enough, Bitty is gay.  Fortunately for our hero, he went to a school that is very tolerant (his coming out story is very funny).

His hockey team also has a star player Jack Zimmerman.  Who?  Jack Zimmerman is the son of the legendary Bob Zimmerman who has won more awards and trophies than you can count.  But Jack was anxious trying to live up to his legendary father and he took anxiety medication for it which ended up with him in rehab and presumably no career.  But he found a home at Samwell. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACKMIKE SCHIFLET-“00:00:00:00” (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.

Mike Schiflet released a 24 hour drone composition this year called Tetracosa.  This is the opening movement from it.  It is fifteen and a half minutes of slightly disconcerting drone composed of “effervescent guitar, blasted noise and electro-acoustic detritus.”

The drone is surprisingly “fast-paced” if that can be said of something without a beat.  The sounds and textures change and undulate at a pretty good clip.  At times it feels soothing, but then it throws in a note that pushes things a little off-kilter.  At times it is soothing but then comes zapping electronics which would certainly make for restless sleep.

I cannot imagine listening to this for 24 hours, although it would be a fascinating day if you did.

[READ: January 4, 2019] “Philosophy of the Foot”

This is the first story of the year and Soomro’s first published story.

It is set in Karachi and there is a boatload of subtext in this story.  As well, of course, as a lot of cultural information that I don’t understand.

Amer is an adult male (the younger boy calls him “uncle”) who stops to talk to the shoe repair boy. The boy has a cart and equipment and he takes great care of the shoes he has.   He is very knowledgeable.

Amer goes into his apartment and talks to his mother asking if they have anything for the shoe boy.  The ayah (a native maid or nursemaid employed by Europeans in India) suggests that Amer’s father had a trunk full of shoes which they could have sold.  Instead, Amer takes an old pair of his father’s shoes to be repaired.  (more…)

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