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Archive for the ‘Superstitions’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: THE MYNABIRDS-Tiny Desk Concert #668 (November 10, 2017).

I thought the name The Mynabirds sounded familiar.  Turns out they performed Tiny Desk Concert #64 (by my count).

Bob Boilen says he

first met Laura Burhenn ten years ago for a songwriting project she did with John Davis, her then bandmate in the duo Georgie James, here at NPR called Project Song. [which I plan to write about at some point].  Her current band, The Mynabirds, are Tiny Desk alum, Laura having played her first Tiny Desk Concert in the spring of 2010.  I’m not one to repeat artists at the Tiny Desk. I’m more into discovering and challenging new bands to play in this intimate and awkward setting. But this project was so different and Laura had ideas about how to make it even more special from what she’d done back in 2010, so I couldn’t resist.

2016 was a tough year … the elections and subsequent inauguration, which were devastating to many. But what transpired next for anyone dismayed by those events was inspiring: The Women’s March united many who were in despair, while giving purpose and focus to what for them was an unthinkable outcome in the election of Donald Trump.

Then came the songs – nine new ones Laura Burhenn wrote with Patrick Damphier, inspired by the many marches around the country, listening to the news, seeing social media, talking to friends and taking it all in. The result is The Mynabirds’ politically charged 2017 album Be Here Now.

The band sings four songs.  “Golden Age” features Laura on keys with a backing band of cello (Alexia Kauffman), guitar (Emily Moore) and bass guitar (Damphier). This song is full of lamentations and her husky voice works quite well with it.  She speaks of dead musicians, and political horrors.  The solo in the middle is interesting for it being deliberately jarring and somewhat out of tune.  Lyrically the song is pretty outstanding

Tell me, where are our heroes
Are they stuck at the wall?
Cause we got some real villains to stop
Before they kill us all

I see what you’re doing
With the Jews and the Muslims
You’re sawing us all
In half with your fake fear

My heart’s full of love
And all kinds of peace
But I think even
I 
Could punch a Nazi 
In the face

I just wish the song was more angry than sad.

For second song, “Shouting At The Dark” The People’s Choir come in.  The song rocks more with a great swinging bassline and some interesting muffled chugging guitar.  The choir really fills out the song and it sounds great.

I love the melody of the chorus which is once again, not entirely pretty–slightly haunting, except that they sound beautiful.  Adriana-Lucia Cotes is hitting these slightly dissonant notes that really standout in an interesting way.

Before the third song, “Hold On,” Laura talks about the choir, songwriting and the Muslim travel ban:

While recording this album, a travel ban was issued affecting six Muslim-majority countries. She wrote a song for refugees inspired by the ban and got in touch with friends back in Omaha at the Refugee Empowerment Center. It is there she learned of the Umoja Choir whose members include resettled refugees from The Congo, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia and they ended up singing on her record. Laura also started a GoFundMe campaign for them to record their songs. Now some of those choir members Diendonne Manirakiza and Eric Esron (refugees from Burundi) have come to the Tiny Desk for a powerful set of songs. They’re joined by Michael Boggs, another Tiny Desk alum: Jessica Lea Mayfield. It’s an inspired project that I’m excited to share.

“Hold On” is “about having a heart.”  It’s a slower song with acoustic guitar and prominent cello.  The choir sounds like a “real” choir instead of backing vocalists on this uplifting song.

“Wild Hearts” opens with a cool echoed electric guitar.  For this song the choir works as powerful backing vocalists on this even more uplifting song.

[READ: May 20, 2017] Pretty Deadly 2

I didn’t really like the first book of this series.  And I didn’t like this book much either.  So I am officially giving up.

This book continues with the exposition by butterfly and dead rabbit.  An old woman, Sarah, is dying.  During the night she is visited by a ghost–of the man with slashes across his eyes, Fox (I can’t recall their relationship). Granddaughter Clara walks in and see the ghost.  Clara’s mother comes in and sees the ghost too.  And after some ugly words they ask if they can keep Sarah from dying until her son gets back to see her one last time–he is off fighting in a war somewhere. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: ANI DIFRANCO-Tiny Desk Concert #667 (November 8, 2017).

Back in the day, I really liked Ani DiFranco.  I saw here live a few times.  I loved her whole indie thing (all her music on her own label) and her politics.  Plus her songs were interesting and catchy.  And then, some time around 2000 I lost interest in her music.

I didn’t really like the new jazzy/funky/extended sound that she was playing with.

This Concert has two newish songs and one old song (it’s great to hear the old song again).

For her Tiny Desk debut, DiFranco brought a hell of a backing band, with drummer Terence Higgins and singer/violinist Jenny Scheinman joined by none other than Ivan Neville on keyboards.

I felt that her song writing style didn’t really lend itself to jazzy funky style. And I still feel that way.  The blurb notes that the band lends a slithery underpinning of funk to three songs that stretch across much of DiFranco’s career.  And Opening with “Dithering,” from 2014’s Allergic To Water, that is true.  But one of the things I loved about her music was her excellent guitar playing.  And on “Dithering,” all of the action of the song comes from the funky keys (and it’s a great groovy funky song), but I find that he singing style doesn’t quite work with the music.  Her voice still sounds terrific, though and Scheinman’s backing vocals are terrific.

Even if I still don’t love her new songs, I’m glad she’s still doing her own thing:

But she’s also kept her core values intact, from her outspoken commitment to progressive social causes to her strenuously maintained independence from the machinery of the music industry.   DiFranco introduces “Play God” (from this year’s Binary) with a monologue about reproductive rights and gender relations.

And it’s fantastic–pointed and thoughtful with just enough edge.  Musically, the song brings back some of her fingerpicking style and I do like Neville’s funky keys.  In fact the funkiness of this song feels natural.  And lyrically it’s great too.

She and her band close with 1998’s “Swan Dive,” which she calls “an early attempt at a happy song.”  I get a kick out of how she gets another guitar change and says “I never play a guitar twice.”  This song showcase what I loved (and love) about her songs–a complex and interesting guitar/rhythmic/percussive pattern that she does by herself.  The additional musicians add more fill, which sounds nice–the gentle keys and the slow violin (which also makes some great noisy sounds) as well as the way the drums kick in for the chorus.  It all works great.

It’s been about fifteen years since I really listened to her and I’m glad she’s still rocking to her own beat.

[READ: May 1, 2017] Pretty Deadly 1

I love Kelly DeConnick’s work with the Marvel Universe.  So I was pretty excited to read this story which is her own creation.

When I went to log this book on Goodreads, it said that this book marries the magical realism of Sandman with the western brutality of Preacher.  And I found that uncanny because as I was reading it I thought that the style of elliptical writing and even the placement of the text boxes in relation to the pictures was very much like Sandman. But the brutality of the art and the setting reminded me of Preacher. Clearly I was onto something.

I loved Sandman. I liked Preacher (never actually finished it, though), and I fear that this book is more Preacher than Sandman for me.

It begins very confusingly with a butterfly talking to a dead rabbit.  They are telling each other stories and they tell the story of when they met (which appears to be when the rabbit was shot and killed). (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: FIRE IS MOTION-Days 1-7 (2014), Demos (2014), Flowers in Kawameeh Park (2017).

Fire in Motion is more or less the project of Adrian Amador.  But he had a full band when they opened for Public Service Broadcasting.  I got a copy of their CD at the show (which you can stream or download here).

The first 7 songs were done with this template:

I decided to write and record a song every day for an entire month using no pre-written material. Around the third day, I realized just how overly ambitious this idea was

“Day 1” has nice ringing guitars and some great backing vocals.  There’s drums on this song too. (Ambitious first day).
“Day 2” is one of the most exciting songs here.  The riff is fantastic in this slow version (Live they played it faster), but the way the guitar echoes is really lovely. When more guitars get layered on top, it’s really quite something.
“Day 3” is an acoustic ballad.  Simple guitars with a falsetto note in the vocals that keeps it interesting.  It’s just over a minute, but when the clapping comes in around 45 seconds it feels like it could be developed into a really full song.
“Day 4” is a delicate acoustic ballad with some pretty overdubbed guitars and vocals.  This could also be expanded into something lovely.
“Day 5” Again, the overdubbed guitars are lovely and the vocal melody on top shows another interesting start to a song.
“Day 6” In the spirit of “Day 2,” this has a slow guitar melody that unwinds as the vocals sing a slightly different melody.  This song could use an interesting guitar line on top, like in “Day 2” but otherwise its very promising.
“Day 7” has an organ sound for some diversity and the female and male vocals offer nice harmonizing again.

The demos are a bit more complete sounding but still sound like demos, of course.

“How Long to Get Home” is the cleanest sounding song so far.  It has that wonderful echoed main guitar and several different pretty guitar lines.  I love the way this built from a quiet song with some big drums and backing vocals.  This song sounded great live.

“Ringside” sounds more like a demo.  It has plucked guitar sound and deep vocals.  The song is spare at the start but when it gets to a bout a minute in, more instrumentation and percussion is added and the song feels really full.  The harmonics near the end are rally a nice touch and the kind of distantly screamed vocals add a sense of urgency.

“Smile It Makes This Easier” has an upbeat melody on acoustic guitar (with a nice little riff) and the  harmonies (both high and low ) are nice addition.

I’d love to hear any of these songs fleshed out and I wonder what is on their forthcoming CD.

“Flowers in Kawameeh Park” is a single that is not going to on the record and is only available here.  It is the most full-sounding of the bunch with vocals from Avery Salermo and Adrian Amador (who plays everything else but the horns).  The quiet middle section with the great backing vocals leads to a large crashing section.  The horns make the song get bigger and bigger until the dramatic buzzy ending.

It’s really cool to listen to these songs in order and hear the band develop.  They are going to be opening for Pinegrove in late December.  I’m looking forward to that show and the CD.

[READ: August 2, 2016] Amulet: Firelight

Kibuishi has stated that there will be nine books in this series.  This is number seven and it was just released this year, so it will be a pretty long time (I suspect) before books 8 and 9 come out. Which is a real shame because, although the story has been good so far, this book was hugely exciting.

It opens with Emily and her father (!) hiking.  He gives her some advice which I have to wonder if it is true–gently push yourself away from the rock…we’re at enough of an angle that it will give you leverage.  Holding the surface tight is only going to make you slide.  Sounds like it should work.  And it also might be a good theme of the book–push away rather than grabbing tighter for your safety

But Emily realizes it is only a dream (not even a memory and soon it is gone).

She is actually still on the ship with Enzo and they are pulling into a station to hope for refuelling. The station seems empty, although it is full of memories.  As they explore, they discover that they are already on Algos Island –their intended destination (which was not an actual island after all).

But before they can secure the ship, they are boarded and a fight ensues–little Dagno even manages to help out.  It turns out the invader is Galiban–the elf from earlier in the story who stole everyone’s memories.  They secure him and he reveals that he has been saving all of the memories he stole in an underground ship.

And that’s when Galiban lays a tough truth on everyone–the stonekeepers were chosen for their weakness not their strength.  He is quite certain that Emily is being used against her will.  And while he hated the stonekeepers for the horrible things they did to his home, he realizes it was not their fault-they couldn’t control it.

And then we flash to Navin and his friends.  They are trying to get to Valcor but they are still in those giant rumbling robot suits.  They can’t earn enough money to book a ride to Frontera, so they get jobs working on the ship–they are the waitstaff (and they are terrible).  And worse yet they are spotted by Elven solders.

But it turns out that soldiers are in disguise, they were sent by Riva and she tells them that there are bounty hunters here looking for them.  The “soldiers” are Loni and Roni and they are going to fly Navin and friends to safety.

Back on the underwater memory ship, Galivan shows Emily and Trellis where the memories are stored.  This leads them to a memory that Trellis needs to see–the one where he learns that his father has been taken over by the voice.  And that the shadows have really overtaken their people.  That memory was clouded so he would forget it.

Then two exciting thing happen at once. They are detected in their underwater location and the bad guys come to attack them.  And Emily chooses a path (against Trellis’ wishes) which might be an escape but turns out to be actually another memory.

And this memory is of someone who Emily doesn’t recognize.  But he turns out to be someone who is instrumental in the accident that killed her father (it’s an intense sequence to be sure).  But in this memory she uses her power to rescue her family (including her self).  And as the memory concludes, her father is getting Riled up about the guy who caused the accident and the says he’ll make him pay.  Which means that Emily has given up control over the stone.  And that can’t be good for anyone.

While things are going very badly for Emily, things are going pretty well for Navin.  The crew lands on Frontera.  And while the landing area looks pretty run down we soon learn that Frontera has served as an underground base for the resistance–they have another base in the planet’s atmosphere (and they have a very cool-looking ship to take them there).  So while one sibling is taking control, the other one is losing control.

How can  wait a year for book 8?  [Word has it Book 8 will come out in 2018].

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SOUNDTRACK: DAWG YAWP-Tiny Desk Concert #654 (September 29, 2017).

I first heard a Dawg Yawp song on All Songs Considered.  Since then I’ve heard the band’s name mentioned around but I’d kind of forgotten what they sounded like.  I certainly forgot that they played with a sitar.  In fact, it is just a duo: Tyler Randall (sitar, vocals, guitar, synthesizers, drums) and Robert Keenan (guitar, vocals, synthesizers).

I love watching unconventional (Western) instruments.  And I love watching them played unconventionally–in this case

A man in a black cape holds a sitar like a guitar all while singing a dreamy tale about wanting to be a dog. Well actually a “dawg.”  [The band is] a vessel for humor, experimentation and foot-stomping fun, whether that stomping is to an original techno beat or a classic bluegrass tune.  Listening to their debut, self-titled album is like listening to kids music made for grownups. It’s both clever and wonderfully weird.

“I Wanna Be A Dawg” is a gentle ballad–a pretty, rather complex melody on the acoustic guitar with the lead and vocal melody played on the sitar.  I love the middle section where the guitar is playing a finger-picked section and the sitar is soloing.  It sounds terrific.  I love that he is employing the sitar with some traditional sounds but also with an electric guitar sensibility.

“Can’t Think” opens with some rowdy sampled guitars and a neat drony singing style while Tyler plays the sitar.  There’s even a sample of someone scratching the strings of an electric guitar.  It is repetitive but with enough variation to make it incredibly infectious.  And it rocks, too.

Before the third song, Tyler mentions talks “the first sitar capo.”  He says they weren’t supposed to talk but the silence is intense.  “East Virginia Blues,” is a song made famous by the Stanley Brothers “that first won my heart when I heard them replace the more traditional banjo with a sitar”.  You can tell that this song was probably played on a banjo but he sitar give its such an interesting twang (as their vocals twang a bit, too).  I’m not sure if the drums are done by foot pedal or sequencer.

Before the final song, “Lost At Sea” Robert says, “we’ve played a lot of outdoor summer festivals and I don’t think I’ve sweat as much.”  This song is incredibly catchy.  The melody is familiar but with a new spin.  There’s interesting plucked guitar and a nice sitar solo.  There some other kinds of sounds in the sequencer, too.  It’s fun to watch them push the squares to get a whole new set of drums and such.

This band seems like a must-see attraction.

[READ: July 26, 2016] Amulet: Escape from Lucien

As the book opens, Max addresses the Elf king and asks for one more chance to destroy the stonekeepers.  The king is not in the habit of clemency, but Max’s thirst for vengeance impresses the king, so Max is given another chance.

Meanwhile back at “school” (I seem to have missed this transition), Emily and Navin are flying some aircraft and wind up being late for class.  Navin takes the blame to spare them Emily getting in trouble.  But his teacher put a governor bracelet on him which prevents him from flying anything on site. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: CHRONIXX-Tiny Desk Concert #653 (September 27, 2017).

Chronixx and his band Zincfence Redemption paid a long-awaited visit to the Tiny Desk to perform three songs from his sophomore album, Chronology.

At a time when dancehall has been dominating the Jamaican soundscape, its refreshing to hear the man born Jamar McNaughton carrying the roots-revival torch for a younger generation and expanding upon the footprint left by his world-renowned predecessors.

This is especially true for roots reggae, whose staccato guitar licks, billowing bass, and sonic splashes on a canvas of negative space, are like salve for the soul. The mid-tempo pulse conjures up relaxed days on the beach, living amid nature’s unrestricted beauty.

I allowed the blurb to speak for me because I really don’t care for reggae.  Or I should say I like one or two songs but beyond that it’s all too samey to me.

But Chronixx adds some changes to the classic sound.

In “Skankin’ Sweet,” the tempo is faster than a lot of reggae so I like this a bit more.  Chronixx’s delivery is light and fluid.  I enjoy in the middle section that the percussionist Hector Lewis has time to dance before he gets back to the bongoes.

“Majesty” is a smoothy dancy song with a solid bass line from Adrian Henry and drums from Oliver Thompson.

On “Spanish Town Rockin'” percussionist  Lewis sings some delightful falsetto backing vocals. There’s a cool moment when one of the guitarists Stephen Coore or N’Namdi Robinson slides his finger up the next with a neat echo effect on it. This song is pretty extended and dancey and Chronixx does a little freestyle.  I can’t quite make out everything he says, but there’s a bit about “NPR session / Chronixx rasta mon / roll up the mad ribbon / and then he cracks up.  J. Evan Mason on the keys has done most of the melodies while the guitars played chords, but he gets a special little section during the outro of this song.

he hasn’t converted me to reggae, but it’s much more fun live than on record.

[READ: July 24, 2016] Amulet: Prince of the Elves

The book begins with Max as a young boy.  He is learning from his friend, an elf named Layra.  Then we meet Max’s dad.  Max’s dad is pretty intense and he wants Max to serve on the Guardian council “he will follow my path, not my father’s.”  Then we see that Max’s father does not like elves

When Max goes to Layra’s house, her parents have been put in jail and a headline reads “Elves declare war.”

Max runs to the prison, frees her parents and has the three of them get on a ship to freedom.  But as soon as they try to escape, the ship is blown up and all the passengers killed (this story is really dark).  Max is sentenced to prison for helping prisoners escape.  Soon enough Max escapes prison and the stone is trying to tell him what to do–“just give me complete control and I can keep you alive long enough to have your revenge.” (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: STEVE MARTIN AND THE STEEP CANYON RANGERS-Tiny Desk Concert #652  (September 22, 2017).

Yes, that Steve Martin.

When I was a kid I used to listen to Steve Martin comedy records all the time, he often included a lot of banjo with his stand up.  He was good then, but he is pretty amazing now.

Throughout his 50-year career, one constant in Steve Martin’s life has been the banjo. It was a staple of his early standup shows and even fans who only wanted to laugh couldn’t help but marvel at his playing. Over the years, he’s continued to perform and record with country and bluegrass luminaries like Earl Scruggs, Dolly Parton, Vince Gill and others.

These days Martin is working on music full-time. He’s just released a stellar bluegrass album he recorded with The Steep Canyon Rangers called (perfectly) The Long-Awaited Album, a record filled with often hilarious story songs and world-class performances.

The band plays three songs and then an “encore.”  “So Familiar” starts as a banjo “solo” an impressive display of fingerprinting and string bending from Martin.  Then it settles into a traditional-sounding folk song with a lot of mandolin from Mike Guggino and fiddle from Nicky Sanders.  I pity Graham Sharp, the Rangers’ banjo player who clearly takes a back seat to Martin.

After the song, Martin says, they’re gonna tune for this next little song.  He says it’s tricky tuning indoors when there’s heat and air conditioning.  “It’s a scientific process  I could explain it to you but… [laughs].  The photons come in and they effect the positrons so that [points to himself] the moron can play.”  “All Night Long” features “our lead singer [and guitarist] Woody Platt.  It’s a pretty traditional song held down by the steady thump if Charles Humphrey’s bass.  The lyrics are sweet (“I only love you in the day and all night long”) and the harmonies are wonderful.  Martin plays the lead intro and a cool little outro.

“By the way, he asks, “who’s running NPR right now?”  He says the melody of “On the Water” came to him in a dream.  He woke up and recorded the melody so it probably sounds like “Oklahoma.”  The band starts with box rums and harmonics from the other banjo.  He messes up an says “Let’s start again.”  Steve turns on the drummer Mike Ashworth (who did nothing wrong and teases: “Yeah.  You screwed up so badly.  Try to get it right this time.”  Ashworth jokes, “Am i fired?  I’m scared.  Martin says, “I’m so glad someone else screwed up besides me.”

Platt leans over and says “How about ‘Caroline’ for an encore?”  Martin says, “This is not for the Tiny Desk.  I don;t think it’s suitable for the Tiny Desk.  It’s about a romance gone bad-looking back two years later.”   As the blurb says, the song is a “hilarious, first-person account of how not to handle a breakup.”  Martin delivers a funny story with a great catchy chorus.

I never got to see Steve Martin do standup, but I would love to see him do bluegrass.

[READ: June 24, 2016] Amulet: The Cloud Searchers

Book four opens with Emily dream-talking to the spirit in the stone.  It tells her that it can no longer be with her in Cielis and it gives her some warnings.

When she wakes up, Max is there to greet her and they are going to head off to the council.  But things aren’t very happy in Cielis.  Trellis and Luger are Elves, true, but even though they are vouched for, the residents still put them in jail for being the elf king’s son.  And none of the non-human creatures are allowed into the city proper.

So when Leon and the cats go looking for a bite to eat, they are not welcomed anywhere.  Until a girl named Aly sees the good in them and invites them into her restaurant (despite her parents protests).  Her parents say the guardian council will lock them up if they are caught. Leon say that the council invited them to help.  But the council is no longer what it once was.  And that’s when Aly reveals that the council is made up of the ghosts of dead people.  Her parents tell her to hush but she refuses to be silent any longer.

Until the rapping on the door makes them all hush. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: BOMBA ESTERO-Tiny Desk Concert #651 (September 22, 2017).

Band leaders Simon Mejia (bass/keys) and Liliana (Li) Saumet (lead vocals) have been consistent in their devotion and homage to Afro-Colombian music throughout their five albums, and steadfast in their fantastic mash-up of electronic music, creating a sonic signature that has become popular around the globe.

But you won’t hear that on this video.

What you’ll hear is the power of their songwriting and arranging with this stripped-down presentation— which helps remind us of why we fell for this band in the first place.

“So Yo” opens with some flute and cool synths.  I like the almost menacing quality those two notes have, Li raps in what seems a very fast delivery and then the chorus comes in and she sings with a beautiful voice.  The song is groovy with some cool guitar from Jose Castillo.  I like the way it reverts back and forth between rapping and singing and the constant presence of the flute from Efrain Cuadrado.  There’s a cool mix of defiance and dance in this song.

Before the second song “Somo Dos” she pushes a button on a device that says “come on people.”

During their performance, Bomba Estereo’s Simon Mejia (bass and keyboards) observed that it was the quietist the band has ever played; they rose to the occasion with an intense performance that reflects their earliest days working smaller venues in Colombia.

He says, “we’re like always boom boom boom.”

“Somos Dos” is an even groovier song with some nice low bass and gentle singing with some echoed guitars.  I really like the main riff and the picked riff in the verses.  Through both songs, the live drums from Andres Zea really bring an exciting element to these songs.

They only play the two songs and then it’s over far too quickly.

[READ: June 24, 2016] Amulet: The Cloud Searchers

As book three opens, we see the two Elves, Luger and Trellis.  But Trellis seems to have changed.  He is now angry with Luger who was once powerful and has been brought low.  And he is willing to stand up to his father–whether that makes him good now or not is something to be seen.

Meanwhile the father has called Gabilan, the assassin, and has sent him to kill his son, Prince Trellis.  And it seems that he has his sights set higher.

On to our heroes.  They are heading to a small town called Nautilus, the capital of Alledia.  For they are in search of an Airship.  Their ultimate goal is the (possible fictional) city of Cielis.    When they get to the bar where the pilots hang out (much to Emily’s mother’s dismay), they talk to a cat creature, Enzo, who has been looking for Cielis all of his life but has recently given up–he lost everything.  But they show him Emily’s stone and the journal of Silas Charnon who got very close to finding the city.  And Enzo’s search continues. (more…)

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