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Archive for the ‘New Yorker’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: CHASTITY BELT-I Used to Spend So Much Time Alone (2017).

Chastity Belt began as a kind of funny punk band with a message.

They have grown more sophisticated with each release.  And the humor has drifted away (except in their hilarious visuals), replaced by a kind of low-key, nonchalant attitude.

And with this album Chastity Belt exposes an unexpected vulnerability and a relatability.  Sure I miss songs like “Nip Slip,” but their song writing and playing has developed so much that I really love what they present now.

“Different Now” opens this third album with a very pretty lead guitar line–nothing too complex, but quite lovely.  And when Julia Shapiro starts singing, other things seem different now, too.  Her voice is gentle and her lyrics are even more thoughtful.  I love the way the two guitars intertwine later in the song and the main vocal melody of the song is really fun.

Lyrically the band still speaks about self empowerment:

You’ll find in time
All the answers that you seek
Have been sitting there just waiting to be seen
Take away your pride and take away your grief
And you’ll finally be right where you need to be

“This Time of Night” rocks a bit harder in the rhythm guitar but has a gentle echoing middle section.

Gretchen Grimm’s song “Stuck” is another highlight–a slow song that builds nicely with a catchy chorus and cool distorted guitar deep in the mix.  “Complain” has a catchy wooziness that sounds great too.  And they haven’t given up on feminism either:

I’ve had a drink and ate some stuff / Now I’m already bored / A couple of bros said some shit I’m choosing to ignore

Themes of being bored at parties abound in Chastity Belt songs.

“What the Hell” slows things down with an acoustic guitar as the main rhythm.  I love this lyric: “If I look at my phone again, I’ll just wanna die / Aside from that, I feel all right”

Its amusing to me that “Something Else also reflects on that phone: “But I got up on my own / And I looked at my phone / We’re all talking about nothing / I wanna do something cool / And I wanna get paid / And wake up feeling great every day”

“Used to Spend” starts slow and kind of dark and then tuns into a gauzy distorted middle section.

I love “5am” for the way the opening sounds like a long-lost Sonic Youth song–unexpected chords and intertwining guitars.  Even the delivery is not unlike Kim Gordon.  This song also has outro that is almost as long as the rest of the song.  It features some repeated guitars and some wailing feedback-filled soloing (more Sonic Youth again).   It’s a fantastic song.  And is a perfect album ender.

There are three bonus tracks.  Bonus tracks are kind of a mixed blessing in that they’re nice to have but they kind of ruin the natural arc of the record.  All three of them are kind of quiet and dreamy.  But it’s also a good opportunity for other members of the band to sing:

“Don’t Worry” is sung by Gretchen (when I saw them live she and Julia switched places for this song).  Lydia sings “Bender.”   And then Julia ends the disc with “I’m Fine.”  These are nice songs to add on, but do feel a bit more like bonus songs–or like songs from a gentler album.

I’m very curious to hear where the band goes next, as their skills improve and their feminism deepens.

Oh, and they are really fun live.

[READ: March 20, 2016] “1=1”

How strange that Anne Carson had fiction published in Harper’s and the New Yorker at the same time.

And they were both elliptical and hard to parse.

The story begins “She visits others. Before they’re up, dawn, she walks to the lake, listening to Bach, the first clavichord exercise, which she plans to have played at her funeral someday, has had this plan since she first heard the music and, thinking of it, she weeps lightly.”  That’s a sentence boyo.

So the first two paragraphs are about her swimming, the challenges of it, the intensity of it and apparently how the time in the water allows her to get into her own head.

Then her visit ends. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: CHASTITY BELT-Time to Go Home (2015).

Time to Go Home, the band’s second album is quite a large departure from the rawness of No Regerts.

It polishes some of the harshness of the guitar sound with lots of echo.  It’s more jangly.  The lyrics are still powerfully feminist but there’s no more Giant Vaginas–it’s more introspective.

“Drone” opens with cool guitars and a lovely melody–the guitars feel more significant.  And, more importantly, the bass and drums are more prominent, making the disc feel like a full band.

Lyrically the bridge offers a nice twist on ones: “He was just another man, tryn’a teach me something.”

And yet for all of the improvements, the song is kind of bland.  In part because all of those new sounds (which are great) kind of meld together a bit too much.  The same is true for the next two songs as well.  Although again the addition of lovely backing vocals on “Trapped” are also welcome.  The songs just aren’t that dynamic.

“Why Try” is a punky blast though, and returns to a blunt nihilism: Why try / Why do I try? / Why? / Alone and alive / Why can’t I escape my mind.  There’s some nice edgy jolts that keep the song interesting.

There’s also the two minute punk blast of “The Thing.”  “No one trusts anyone /
Everyone’s infected.”  It’s got fast guitars and death screams at the end.

Its with “Cool Slut” that the album seems to wake up a bit.  The guitar sound of the first album comes back with some of the sophistication of the newer songs.  Th guitar is clean and sharp, and the vocals are much louder and more direct.  It’s a great song and is something of Chastity Belt classic.  The video is great too (and not at all slutty, it’s more of a Friends opening credit spoof.

There are two songs on the record that have a really long outro.  “On the Floor” is 6 minutes long, but the song itself s really only about 3.  The final 3 minutes are a jam, but it’s kind of a bland jam, just repeating the same pretty guitar melody for three minutes.  “Joke” on the other hand, ends with a nearly 3 minute outro but it’s really successful.  There’s a guitar solo that meanders (it’s not great but it’s interesting) and half way through the end jam, the rhythm guitar gets louder and louder which keeps the whole thing fresh and interesting.  The song itself is a huge highlight of the disc, with a great melody and a really catchy chorus.  I love the way it slowly builds, first with drums, then a first guitar and then a second guitar.  It’s not often that one of the best songs is number 7 on the disc, but this song is outstanding (nad was great live).

Indeed, the last four songs are really terrific.

“Lydia” is sung by guitarist Lydia Lund.  Her voice is softer and the guitars are very pretty.  It sounds pretty different from the other songs, but it still retains that Chastity Belt feel.

“IDC” is a fun bratty song:

Is it cool not to care / I got drunk out of boredom / I did not want to be there /
I don’t care

Its a bit too long even at just 3 minutes with the endless repetitions of the title, but I like the way the end has the tape slow down all distorted.

The final song is the great “Time to Go Home.”  It builds slowly with slow chords and Julia’s laconic delivery.  But for the chorus, there’s a terrific pick up in speed and a great haunting backing vocal “oooh.”  The song is short but builds nicely to a crashing album end.

Between the two albums there’s a terrific diversity of materials.

[READ: March 25, 2016] “Day of Judgment”

I love Simon Rich.  He cracks me up every time.

The Messiah comes down to Earth in the middle of Manhattan.  He tells the world that everyone is saved and their pain is ending.

And then he gets ready to take questions.  He points to Chris Matthews and tell him to ask a question.  And the same with Anderson Cooper.  And then he looks around and points and says “You have a question, Al Roker?”  And there’s a hushed silence over the crowd, because he was pointing to Al Sharpton. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: NADA SURF-Peaceful Ghosts (2016).

Six years after the release of the Brussels live album (and 13 years after recording it!), Nada Surf released another live album.  This one featuring an orchestra.  Apparently Austrian radio station FM4 offered the band the yearly slot they give to a rock outfit to be backed by an orchestra for a whole concert. A similar session with Radio Eins in Berlin enabled the band to extend the collaboration with the Babelsberg Film Orchestra over two shows.  It is the show with Babelsberg on June 21 that was recorded.

I have often wondered what makes a band play with an orchestra.  So it’s interesting to learn that they were invited. What made the orchestra choose them is something else entirely.  Caws says that they were recording their new album when they got the call for this, so they sent over their friend (and occasional touring member) Martin Wenk (of Calexico) to supervise the project with composer Max Knuth.

So perhaps because the band didn’t participate entirely, or maybe just because that’s what they wanted to do, this recording is not a rework of the songs. Rather, it’s Nada Surf with an orchestral backing.  But Caws’ songs and voice are quite suited to this treatment.  They avoid their heavier songs and stay with primarily their mid-tempo stuff (wisely avoiding an orchestral version of “Popular”).  This gives the performance a bit of a samey quality, but each song sounds lovely.  Sometimes the strings are just there to accentuate the songs, but other times they really add power to the emotions.  They had recently added former Guided By Voices guitarist Doug Gillard to the lineup (“we hope to never be a trio again”) but despite his occasional solos, the flourishes comes from horns and strings more than guitars.

The album almost feels like a Storytellers session with Matthew Caws telling origins stories before each song.  Some of the stories are really quite fascinating.  Some just give some nice insights into the songs.  My favorite was the one before “Blizzard of ’77.”

It’s expensive to rehearse in New York.  No one has a garage and there are no basements, so they rehearsed in a space that cost $20/hr.  When they were in high school they could only afford two times a week.  So they played loud and fast to get everything out.  Later, they were touring in Amsterdam sharing a hotel room with Daniel.  He didn’t want to wake up Daniel so he went into the bathroom to write and that’s how their first quiet song came out. (it’s fascinating how short it is too).

The somewhat more unlikely story is for “Rushing” in which he says that a relationship can sometimes make you forget your own body dysmorphia:  “You come rushing at me and I forget my body.”

The best use of the orchestra is on the awesome minor key song “The Fox.”  He opens, “After all this joy, we’ll go somewhere dark.  American television.  Cable news.  FOX TV.  A fox is a clever animal–good at manipulating other animals.”  This is one of my favorite Nada Surf song anyhow (even before I knew what it was about), the bass line is just sublime.  And the dramatic buildup towards the end with the horns and flutes is really great.

There’s some nice orchestral hits and swells on “Believe You’re Mine” and “Beautiful Beat” has a pretty guitar melody that is nicely appointed to strings.  “Out of the Dark opens with the orchestra which is a nice change and the xylophone sounds quite pretty as well.

Before “80 Windows” he explains about visiting a friend in Sweden and how in the summer it is warm and dreamy, but in winter, he slept until 2 because of jetlag, and the day was over.  So he counted windows in the apartment across the street.  Knowing that really makes the lyrics more effective, I can really picture it.  There’s some great use of orchestra at the end of this song as well.

Between this album and the previous live album they repeat three songs (marked with a * below).  This is not an essential release, and I hope they rock a bit more when I see them in March.  But it’s a nice overall experience of the band.

Comes A Time                  The Fox                              Out Of The Dark
Believe You’re Mine        Blonde On Blonde*     When I Was Young
Beautiful Beat                  80 Windows                                       Animal
Blizzard of ’77*                 Inside Of Love*           Are You Lightning?
Rushing

[READ: March 25, 2016] “The Limner”

I really enjoyed the way this story unfolded.  I was especially intrigued at the details of the painter’s disability and how we didn’t learn of it until several pages in.

So this story is about a painter, Wadsworth.  I’m not exactly certain when this is set, but suffice it to say it is set when a portrait was the only way of guaranteeing your image would live n in posterity).  Wadsworth is painting a man, Mr. Tuttle. Tuttle is quite cheap (he is arguing about the fee–$12).

Wadsworth says that he has written Tuttle’s comments in a book–the book that every patron writes in–and that Tuttles’ comments are just as obvious and repetitive as all the previous patrons were.

Turns out that Wadsworth is an itinerant painter.  He moves into a town, puts an ad in the paper and if he has no customers in 5 days he moves on.  Some patrons give him lodging–some are even more generous. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: NADA SURF-Live in Brussels (2010).

This album was recorded while Nada Surf was touring their Let Go album.  This particular show was recorded at the AB Club in Brussels 31st March 2003.

This is a great live recording–the band Matthew Caws on guitar/vocals, Daniel Lorca on bass and Ira Elliot on drums–sounds terrific and the recording quality is excellent.  They added a keyboard for “Blonde and Blonde” but otherwise it’s just the trio.

They play nine songs from Let Go (not in sequence).  Those are mixed with four from Proximity Effect and three (including “Popular”) from their debut.

There’s some mild distortion on the guitars but the bass and drums are very clean.  Caws’ voice might be a tad loud in the mix, but since his voice sounds great, it’s fine.  They don’t deviate too much from the recorded versions–a few drums fills here and there near the ends of songs.

The most notable differences are on the songs from high/low which sounded a bit different from their “newer” sound.  “Stalemate, for instance, is far more up tempo, but less heavy.  The biggest surprise comes during this song when they seamlessly shift into a verse and chorus of (a very mellow) “Love Will Tear Us Apart.”

*from Let Go, **from Proximity Effect % from high/low

*”Blizzard of ’77”       *”Killian’s Red”              **”Bacardi”
*”Treading Water”     *”Hi-Speed Soul”         %”Stalemate”
%”Icebox”                   *”Happy Kid”               **”Robot”
**”Amateur”           *”Fruit Fly”      *”Blonde on Blonde”
*”Inside of Love”         **”80 Windows”         %”Popular”
.                                                                  *”The Way You
Wear Your Head”

Caws speaks rather good French (I guess) and does all of his announcements in French.  I enjoyed that before “Popular” he says the song is “tres, tres, tres sarcastique.”  I’m only mildly surprised they didn’t play “Là Pour Ça.”

I was amused at how “rushed” or “weird” “Popular” sounded.  Then I saw in the liner notes (the advantage to mp3s) that Caws says, during a previous performance in Brussels, “on a lark, we invited whoever wanted to get up onstage and join us at the end of the show.  Apparently, some members of that audience were a this AB show and decided to do it again during ‘Popular.’  We apologize for our slightly abstract performance of that song and the one after it.”

I have tickets to see them in March and I’m really excited about it.

[READ: March 25, 2016] “The Beach Boy”

I found this story to be very engaging and somewhat surprising.

It begins with friends meeting for dinner.  They are in Manhattan and there are three couples.  One of the couples–the protagonists–have just come back from a vacation celebrating their twenty-ninth anniversary.  They were at an (unspecified) island and everyone is asking them all about it.  Was it safe?  Was it worth it?

Marcia says the beaches were beautiful and the sunsets were better than any painting.  But then she speaks of the political situation and the beggars.  And there were the prostitutes–male prostitutes, called Beach Boys.  The women wanted to know about the beach boys–what they looked like and what they said.

Then they talked about the feral monkeys (and the one who stole John’s pen). (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: CELTIC FROST-Vanity/Nemesis (1990).

I used to like Celtic Frost’s early brand of noise and mayhem.  I had given up by the release of this disc, but I feel like either my friend Al or my old radio station gifted me this CD which I didn’t listen to much.

The recent passing of Martin Ain made me pull this out to see if it was any good.  And it’s an interesting mix of early Frost noise and some progressive tendencies that ultimately lost them earlier fans.

But the music on the disc is as confusing and unruly as the title.  Was this originally a single with those two songs?  They’re not connected in any way on the record.  It’s very strange.

And what’s especially odd is the way the album is sequenced–along with the lead guitarists that accompany the songs.

I see that Ain himself was relegated to backing vocals on all tracks and bass on only track one.  Curt Victor Bryant has taken over bass duties as well as lead guitar duties (on some tracks).

The album opens with a classic Tom Gabriel Warrior “ugh!” and heavy guitars. The first two tracks are like Celtic Frost of old. Low rumbly, minor key, heavy menacing dirges with Warrior’s growling vocals.  And that lead guitar sounds like it comes literally out of nowhere on both tracks–it just feels tacked on, a little too loud, just swirls of guitar–there’s no real playing, it’s just a lead guitar “sound.”

The first surprise comes on track 3 when Michelle Amar sings (quiet) lead vocals and some backing vocals on “Wings of Solitude.”  Amar went on to form the cool short-lived band Sulfur.  After the previous two songs, this feels far more complex although it doesn’t quite work with Gabriel’s grunting vocals.  But there’s some real songwriting going on here.  There’s also a proper guitar solo.  Turns out that on some tracks, lead guitars were supplied by additional musician Ron Marks and he’s a real shredder.

More surprises are in store as “The Name of My Bride” (written by Ain) has these lyrics.

Now, like the tempting snake of old
She has seduced my very soul
She took my rib she stole my heart
And hid it in her bosom’s warmth
Oh mother hallowed be thy name

The mother line aside, these is a broken-hearted love song!  No wonder Warrior kicked him out.

It’s followed by an aching ballad “This Island Earth” which is actually a Bryan Ferry song.  Tom sings a serous achiness and there’s some massive guitar shredding going on.

The second “Side” of the record turns away from this more progressive style with a pretty standard heavy metal music with a wailing solo at the end.  It’s followed by the hilariously named “Phallic Tantrum” complete with guitar noises by Bryant.  “A Kiss or A Whisper” is really heavy with big crushing drums and lots of ughs from Warrior.

“Vanity,” the first title track chugs along pretty nicely with more female backing vocals (I assume from Amar), but its “Nemesis” the is the biggest surprise.  A seven minute song that starts out with a pretty (simple) acoustic guitar melody (and spoken echoed words by Amar and Warrior) for  about a minute and 45 seconds.  Then there’s the ugh! and some chugging riffs.  The verses are kind of plodding but the final line around 4 minutes “Will death cleanse me of this nemesis” is pretty catchy even with Warrior’s lack of singing ability.  There’s a wild solo and then last two minutes are pretty cool.

The bonus track is a cover of David Bowie’s “Heroes.”  This may be the most peculiar cover of this song out there.  If not for the lyrics you would have no idea that this is the song.  Musically, it sounds like any other Celtic Frost song.  I can’t even tell is the main riff is meant to mimic the Bowie melody or if it’s just some random Celtic Frost chords.  The end of the song features Amar whispering something in French (why is she recorded so quietly?).  I assume it’s the French lyrics to Heroes.  No one will say it is better than the original,but it certainly interesting.

Celtic Frost broke up after this album (and then reunited etc), but this is a pretty wild collection of songs–all genres represented.  Many ideas all thrown together all within a pretty simple setting of grunting vocals and heavy guitars.

[READ: February 1, 2016] “Reading Comprehension: Text No. 1”

I have really enjoyed Zambra’s stories a lot.  As with most of Zambra’s work, this one was translated from the Spanish by Megan McDowell and I thought it was terrific.

It opens with the amusing sentiment:

After so many study guides, so many practice tests and proficiency and achievement tests, it would have been impossible for us not to learn something, but we forgot everything almost right away and, I’m afraid, for good. The thing that we did learn, and to perfection—the thing that we would remember for the rest of our lives—was how to copy on tests.

At his school especially, the teacher gave mostly multiple choice tests ostensibly in preparation for future standardized tests. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACKMASTODON-Cold Dark Place EP (2017).

The Cold Dark Place EP was apparently written to be a Brett Hinds solo project.  I don;t know how many songs he wrote for it, but he pulled his whole band together for these four tracks and they sound like the ever-evolving Mastodon–less heavy, more complex and with new, intriguing sounds.

“North Side Star” is a mellow song, with gentle guitars and rather delicate vocals.  The feature appears to be Brent Hinds’ 1954 Sho-Bud 13-string pedal steel guitar (which he acquired several years ago, fully outfitted with knee and foot-benders).  The slide doesn’t take over the song but adds really interesting soaring notes to the proceedings.  I love when both singers harmonize on their songs–their voices are quite distinctive and work together in a fascinating way.  Or as on the third verse when you can hear Hinds; voice and there’s a low harmony in the background.  Three minutes in there’s a cool guitar lick that leads to an almost (almost) funky break (it’s more heavy than funky) that leads to some cool guitar pyrotechnics.

“Blue Walsh” is sung by drummer Brann Dailor–his smooth crooning voice over the spiraling guitar line.  It has a cool bridge that leads to an aching chorus (with different lead vocals).  The end of the song turns into a blistering guitar solo that leads into a classic heavy Mastodon riff before returning to the chorus.

“Toe to Toes” opening with a very pretty acoustic guitar melody the song quietly shifts gears into a heavy circular riff and some rough but catchy singing.  The second vocal comes in on the second verse.  A pretty melody before a rather tough guitar solo.  It’s close to old Mastodon but still quite pretty.

“Cold Dark Place” opens with more of the Sho-Bud and Hinds’ singing.  This is a delicate ballad.  The keening slide guitar hovers over the pretty acoustic middle section (in which Hinds’s voice is too muffled).  Five minutes in, the song build into a screaming solo and a heavy prog-riffing end.

[READ: February 1, 2016] “Ghosts and Empties” (yes I read this almost two years ago)

This was a story in which I liked the heart of the story but I found the framing information to be less than satisfying.

The heart of the story is that a woman walks around her neighborhood every night and observes things changing–for better or worse.

Although it was a bit navel gazing and not especially compelling, I did enjoy her observations about her neighborhood.  It was especially useful once she gave the context of the neighborhood and how it has ups and downs and had its share of good news and bad news.  (Having a bay swan eaten by an otter is simultaneously adorable and horrifying). (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THUNDERCAT-Tiny Desk Concert #659 (October 18, 2017).

I had never heard of Thundercat.  Except I probably have:

Thundercat, born Stephen Bruner, is willing and able to shape-shift to fit into just about any box you show him — he just won’t stay in there for long. Whether fusing his talent for jazz while a bassist with punk legacy act Suicidal Tendencies or as a member of Snoop Dogg’s band — maybe running a little too far with a solo here and there — the focus seems to eventually drift his way.

After releasing two brilliant solo albums, he was plucked to work on what eventually became one of the most important works of art released this decade: Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly. Capitalizing off of the new exposure, he quickly released the EP The Beyond/Where the Giants Roam. That was followed about two years later by Drunk, his most solid project to date.

I didn’t know what to expect in the days leading to the performance, but I was hoping to get what I thought a Thundercat experience would be like. All boxes ended up checked: He arrived wearing a neon pink hoodie with his signature logo plastered about, kickboxing shorts, white chancletas, playing a Nintendo portable gaming console. He and his bandmates Dennis Hamm (keys) Justin Brown (drums) and Miguel Atwood-Ferguson (violin), all master musicians in their own right, polished off some bacon croissant sandwiches and proceeded to give us three of the best of what Drunk has to offer.

Overall, Bruner sings with gentle falsetto.  Most of the lyrics are pretty funny, with some pointed lyrics.  But the really impressive thing is that he is playing a six string bass and getting all kinds of great sounds out of it.

I love love love the bass sound that he gets on all of the songs.  And I love that he throws in some fascinating solo moments where he does these incredible runs up and down the fretboard.

The bass is sort of watery on the first track “Lava Lamp.”  It opens with him picking out the melody on chords and some delightful backing ooohs.  The violin is electric and plays these really trippy synthy sounds.

The second song “Friend Zone” opens with watery rubbery chords from the bass and then a great funky bass line while the keys play.  The lyrics are really quite funny:

I’m your biggest fan but I guess that’s just not good enough /
is it because i wear my hair weird or because I like to play Diablo

The next time you call me / I’m just gonna sit and stare at the screen /waiting for the call to end.

If you’re not bringing tacos / you should just turn and walk away.

There’s some really cool squeaking violin notes that add a wonderful texture to overall piece.  And of course, there’s some great fat bass riffs

The chorus goes: “no one wants to be in the friend zone.”  As the song ends, he chuckles.

The final song “Them Changes” has even cooler sounds from the bass.  There’s echo and flange and it sounds like three people playing.  It’s really great, particularly the amazing bass runs.  The violin also has a really trippy echo on it.

Bruner’s bass is tremendous.  And I’m really curious to check out more from this guy.  (In fact, just listening to a few songs from the album, it’s pretty wild).

[READ: January 27, 2017] “‘Borat’: The Memo”

George Saunders is not afraid to attack injustice.  Sometimes he does it with humor.  Sometimes he does it very subtly.  And sometimes he does it in an incredibly unsubtle fashion (but still with humor).

It is clear that Saunders was completely offended by the movie Borat (this is not a timely posting about this piece I know).  But he wasn’t upset simply because Sasha Baron Cohen did rude things or was a little offensive.  He was offended at the very essence of what this movie did.

Disclosure: Sarah and I think the scene where Borat asks a stock boy what this is and the answer is “Cheese” over and over is absolutely hilarious.

So, how does Saunders deal with this movie?  By offering some suggestions for the DVD extras. (more…)

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