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Jul 252014
 

Alright. Here’s the deal – every week I randomly pick FIVE new releases listed at Spotify and tell you what I think (YAY or NAY?!), very spontaneously! No holds barred – fasten your seatbelts! Let me know what you think of the music in the comments…

THE RAVEONETTESPe’ahi

Describing Danish rockers The Raveonettes simply as post-punk revivalists does not do their music any justice. Sure, their style is predicated on the 80s post-punk, especially an obvious admiration for Jesus and Mary Chain, but in fact their sonic agenda covers a much wider range that encapsulates influences as diverse as The Everly Brothers and The Velvet Underground. This new one – album #7 – is a sheer joy to behold, filled with the duo’s trademarked noise-rock ambience enveloping well constructed melodic songs. YAY!

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Jul 232014
 

army-navy-the-wilderness-inside

Here’s another album that fits Power of Pop’s criterion of POP with POWER! LA trio Army Navy’s third LP is chock full of unforgettable tunes allied with a 90s alt-rock sensibility that is always refreshing in this post-punk-revival obsessed times. In that respect, Army Navy (Justin Kennedy – Lead vocals, Guitar/Louie Schultz – Lead guitar, Vocals/Douglas Randall – Drums, Vocals) succeed wildly.

The agenda is straightforward enough, as tracks like the jangly “The Mistakes”, the driving shoegazy “Crushed Like the Car”, the Fannnies-imbued “Waiting to Win” and the unabashedly retro “World’s End” attest. Uncomplicated arrangements enhance the memorably melancholy pop melodies that make The Wilderness Inside essential listening for fans of gorgeous 90s alt-rock and especially good old fashioned power pop!

Jul 112014
 

DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES
Directed by Matt Reeves. Starring Andy Serkis, Jason Clarke, Gary Oldham & Keri Russell.

The original Planet of the Apes film might well have been the first scifi movie I had ever seen back when I was abut seven. I quickly became a fan and watched every single sequel and even the TV series obsessively. PotA was a cautionary tale about man’s self-destruction and the rise of the intelligent apes to replace man as the dominant species on Earth. The franchise lost steam around 1975 but was revived in a risible remake helmed by Tim Burton.

Back in 2011, the franchise was rebooted with director Rupert Wyatt taking a different narrative starting point, in effect re-writing the origin story of the entire premise. Personally, I thought that Rise of the Planet of the Apes was competent but nothing spectacular, although the motion capture work (especially by Serkis – as ape leader Caesar) was ground-breaking, to say the least.

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Jul 062014
 

The simple joy of honest rock ‘n’ roll  is what EdTang & the Chops achieve on this, their eponymous EP. Anyone who loves the committed, down to earth music making of Bruce Springsteen, The Replacements, The Pogues, The Gaslight Anthem and the Hold Steady will definitely like what they hear from EdTang & The Chops. Authentic country-folk-roots songs that are delivered with rock ‘n’ roll gusto by The Chops.

These five tracks – “When Death Should Find Us”, “Willy Loman”, “Brother in the Way Back”, “A Lapsed Catholic” and “Leaving of Liverpool” – all speak of heartfelt issues that the everyman has to face each and every day. Unsophisticated these songs might be, but when the tunes ring out and touch the souls of all rock ‘n’ roll lovers, then one barely notices. All one can do is smile in agreement, punch the air and groove to the lusty rhythms and the relevant sentiments.

Official Site

Jul 052014
 

Night_Full_of_Sharp_Edges

Matt Mocharnuk, the brains behind recording artist Bittersweet Machines is a songwriter with the ability to manipulate the emotions of anyone fortunate enough to listen to his musical creations. I count myself amongst this number – as I have followed Mocharnuk’s creative journey in the last couple of years and with each release, cannot help but be awed by the consistent quality of the songs found on Bittersweet Machines EPs and albums.

New EP – A Night Full of Sharp Edges – is no exception to this rule. Stylistically, Morcharnuk has moved away somewhat from the post-punk revivalist tendencies found on previous releases. The songwriting seems more organic without reliance on any particular ‘genre’. This creative decision has liberated the music to form it’s own conclusions based on the confluence of tunes and lyrics.

What remains the same is the emotional weight of the melodies, the astute use of dynamism, the appropriation of infectious hooks and riffs and ultimately the natural appeal of songs that do not need too much analysis or deep probing in order to divine their joys.

It is an absolute pleasure to move from track to track – songs like “The Longest Minute,” “Is It Enough” and “Screaming Underwater” – embellished simply by acoustic guitar and tasteful keyboards reach out to touch heart and soul, rightfully belonging to the sweet indie Brit rock epoch that birthed bands like Travis, Coldplay and Keane.

Yet another bloody essential release from Bittersweet Machines.

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Jul 032014
 

Screen shot 2014-07-03 at PM 11.34.33

Writer Mike Baron makes an interesting point about how marginalized the Jazz Rock ‘genre’ has become since its heyday in the 70s in his introduction to this book.

“The number of classic bands who have inspired youngsters continues to grow. Beatles imitators are legion. The Beach Boys have a growing and powerful following spearheaded by Explorers Club. Grateful Dead jam-type bands cover the hills. The Quarter After worship the Byrds. But one group is conspicuously missing. Where are the new jazz rock bands?”

Baron doesn’t really answer this pertinent question so much as to suggest that perhaps Jazz Rock as a ‘genre’ lost ground once the post-punk / new wave of the 80s arrived to drive many of these original Jazz Rockers to seek greater commercial attention by moving their music to the Middle of the Road (like Chicago).

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Jul 032014
 

Released at the very beginning 2014, Colours of Joy, the sophomore album from Indonesian indie band lightcraft is quite the thing of beauty. Whilst its live dynamic is waves of shoegazey dreamy noise pop, the sonic agenda on this album is more lilting, more subtle and ultimately more graceful.

And this marked contrast works brilliantly from a recording perspective where there is less pressure to deliver an immediate high. It’s quite impossible not to fall in love with the luscious sounds and melancholy sentiments evident on songs like “Amazing Grace” and “Get Out on Your Way” – singer Imam’s voice is almost a ghostly whisper hovering like an angel over swaths of heavenly constructs.

Things do get slightly more expansive in the epic soundscapes of “The Other Side of the Glass”, “Starlit Eyes” and “Hello Goodbye” which are both more representative of the band’s live sound albeit without sacrificing an iota of the emotional resonance that marks lightcraft’s work.

If I had to make comparisons, I would have to say that lightcraft reminds me of a more stripped down version of one of my favourite bands – Starflyer 59. Believe me, as high as the standards Jason Martin has set, lightcraft do a more than credible job in evoking the same nuances, references and power. Highly recommended.

Connect with lightcraft!

 

Jul 032014
 

Alright. Here’s the deal – every week I randomly pick FIVE new releases listed at Spotify and tell you what I think (YAY or NAY?!), very spontaneously! No holds barred – fasten your seatbelts! Let me know what you think of the music in the comments…

MAGIC!Don’t Kill the Magic

This sounds like these guys saw all the hype surrounding Blue Swede’s “Hooked on a Feeling” (as featured on the Guardians of the Galaxy trailer) and a lightbulb appeared over their collective heads. But seriously folks, this is really commercial pop-rock, which heavy emphasis on reggae party vibes. A bit too smooth of my tastes though. NAY!

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Jun 302014
 

Over at their Facebook page, the trio known as Gitar describes its ‘genre’ as ROCK N ROLL. Which is fine with me! Cuz I understand that term to mean – meaningful 60s/70s rock styles. Upon closer inspection, the band is probably kindred spirits with Frank Zappa, Talking Heads, Captain Beefheart & Steely Dan and any other band that gives sophisticated rock music a couple of offbeat & oddball twists.

Which makes new album, Active Cultures, a bit of an acquired taste. I mean, I would not imagine that contemporary indie kids will have the stomach for much of Gitar’s thoughtful experimental progressive work. Tracks like the funky “Spiritual Dunk”, the Beatlesque “Infamy Dream” and the quirky “New Martyrs” possibly get as pop as they get but even then, this is definitely one for the serious minded music enthusiast.

Jun 262014
 

An indie pop band that eschews all the conventional trappings of expectation is to be received with open arms! Sure, singer Jen Goma has the typical femme twee pop vox and the tunes are way simpatico but everything else tries to get as far away from ‘normal’ as possible.

Meaning: we get distinctive soundscapes that mix electronica, shoegaze and ambient approaches which act as sonic envelopes for the love letters of words and melody that make up these unique songs. Thus, the tracks on Sea When Absent have the advantage of being familiar to indie pop fans and yet arty enough to satisfy the edgier music enthusiast as well. Best of both worlds!

Highlights include the viscerally sweet “Byebye, Big Ocean (The End)”, the chirpy drone of “MTLOV (Minor Keys)” and the schizoid girl group channeling “Oh I’m A Wrecker (What To Say To Crazy People)”. Definitely one to savor and particularly ripe for closer inspection.

Jun 252014
 

I guess the standout detail for me about Brisbane’s The Trouble With Templeton is the fact that the band is signed to UK indie label Bella Union, who also have the likes of Fleet Foxes, Midlake, Flaming Lips, Beach House on its roster. Good company to keep!

Immediate impression upon listening to The Trouble With Templeton was that the band was your typical ‘hipster’ indie-folk outfit but thankfully that’s not really the case. Sure, there are obvious folk elements – acoustic guitars jangle and high register harmonies for example – but dig deeper and it’s clear that the band’s influences stretch to the 90s with Radiohead, Travis and early Coldplay prominent.

Thomas Calder, the nucleus of the band, has a distinctive voice that conveys edge and fragility, sadness with anger – a highly emotive instrument. The songs themselves are built on motivic patterns that anchor fairly static melodies, relying on ‘feels’ and atmosphere  and less on classical melodicism.

Which is fine if one is able to deliver emotionally resonant material such as “Whimpering Child”, “Heavy Lifting” and “Secret Pastures” whilst at the same time producing soaring ditties as “Six Months in a Cast” and “You Are New”. Wrapped up nicely in organic production, Rookie is essential listening for modern alternative pop fans looking beyond artifice.

Official Site

Jun 242014
 

Truth be told, I have been listening to Silverbird‘s fine new EP, Surface Life, quite a bit of late. There is something about these five songs that have got be somewhat entranced. Superficially, it all seems very contemporary (i.e. hipster) – with its folky acoustic guitars, the singalong nature of choruses and so on. But of course, it’s more than that. In fact, it has more to do with Silverbird’s penchant at channeling their inspirations – 90s bands like Wilco and Sparklehorse – where alt-country moves into even edgier art-rock territory.

Two songs stand out for me. “Honey You’re” where electric keyboard riffs collide with shimmering guitars and a atmospheric choral hook that seems to stretch for miles. And “Silverbird”, where a throbbing bass stomp anchors a jangle pop vibe so that singer Tim Barr can suspend a fragile vocal above. The closing “When We Went to the Country” sums up Silverbird’s game plan – dreamy, ambient roots rock that drones like the Velvets when it truly needs to.

This is exactly where indie rock should be heading – into the fucking ditch! The future of rock ‘n’ roll and that jazz. Seriously.

Official Site 

Jun 232014
 

Best known for being the guitarist in Southern rockers The Black Crowes, Rich Robinson has truly come into his own on this excellent album of high quality country-folk-blues-rock! It’s probably a cliche to say this but one cannot but be impressed by the honesty and authentic passion expressed on this 12-track album. There’s so much genuine affection for the source material that The Ceaseless Spirit is a brilliant distillation of the late 60s attitude towards organic rock ‘n’ roll as represented by the likes of The Rolling Stones, The Band, The Byrds and The Flying Burrito Brothers.

From the moment that the familiar descending chord pattern emerges with the opening “I Know You”, 60s rock buffs have no doubt that they are in for a thrilling ride. Each subsequent track maintains this feel brilliantly with Robinson’s vocals standing up very well. The Ceaseless Sight is one of those rock albums that challenges the idea that the album as a concept is now meaningless and irrelevant. Old school to the max and loving it! Highly recommended!!

Official Site 

 

FOXY SHAZAM – GONZO

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Jun 222014
 

In May, Foxy Shazam released its new album Gonzo and it is now available as a FREE DOWNLOAD over at Bandcamp (link at the foot of this review). I am sure I had you at “free”, eh? But seriously, folks, that’s the state of affairs for bands in 2014. Consider the album as a portfolio for the band so that you might pay actual money for its shows, merch and perhaps the vinyl LP as well.

If nothing else, it gives us music fans unfettered access to one of the strongest albums this year. Recorded by the legendary Steve Albini live in a single room, the new music comes across visceral, in-your-face, dynamic and REAL! Believe me, Gonzo SOUNDS amazing! The songs themselves are typically Foxy Shazam – theatrical, epic, and funky pop – with punchy horns for good measure.

Tracks like the stomping “Poem Pathetic”, the bouncy “Tragic Thrill”, the slinky “Shoe Box” and the gorgeous “Story Told” are prime examples of the range of Foxy Shazam’s compositional skills. Best part is that the band executes each number with lusty aplomb – with singer Eric Sean Nally in fine form. Pop music making of the highest order!

Download your free copy now and enjoy!

Jun 212014
 

Apart from his somewhat diminutive stature, the late great Ronnie James Dio was the quintessential metal frontman, even laying claim to pioneering the use of the ‘horns-up’ gesture (though a certain Gene Simmons would quibble with that claim). Little doubt though that Dio, with bands like Rainbow, Black Sabbath and Dio, was responsible for some of the most iconic hard rock songs ever. And this is clearly evident on this previously unreleased concert film from two decades ago, which documented a reformed Dio performing in support of its Strange Highways album.

The quality of the concert film might not grainy but it is exciting to watch Dio not only play its best known numbers like “Stand Up and Shout”, “Don’t Talk to Strangers” and “Holy Divers” but throw in a couple of Black Sabbath (“The Mob Rules” and “Heaven and Hell”) and Rainbow (“The Man on the Silver Mountain”) tunes as well. There’s a bonus of behind the scenes the footage which is perfunctory at best.

Absolutely essential for hard rock lovers!

 

 

 

Jun 212014
 

Fourth album from these Brooklyn-based melodic rockers finds the band in psych-garage territory. What does that mean you might ask? Well, basically it’s mid-60s flavoured three-chord pedal-flooring bubblegum tunes with heavily reverb-drenched harmony vocals. Can’t decide whether the album is played straight or tongue-in-cheek – doesn’t really matter I suppose.

Tunes are kept simple as are arrangements but be warned that the lo-fi, echo chamber sound is artifice in the extreme. Oddly enough, the dreamy albeit atonal soundscape that is “Silent Minus” is one of my favourite moments on The Dead Age. It demonstrates that Unicycle Loves You has more to offer than the meat and potatoes spinning in a wash cycle ambience that characterizes too much of this album.

That said, one cannot help but be entranced by the much of the repetitive atmospheric motives of tracks like “Endless Bummer” and “Any Daydreaming Morning” where psychedelic flourishes rule the day, in a pleasant way. A mixed bag but worth checking out by modern rock fans.

Jun 212014
 

Truly amazing how Fremantle outfit The Amani Consort is able to glide effortlessly over myriad styles within the R&B milieu. If you love jazz fusion, funk, soul and hip hop, then picking up this wonderful debut EP is pretty much essential. Of course, with the smooth larynx of front-lady Aysha Amani leading the way with highly positive lyrical vibes, getting on board this particular bandwagon is a no-brainer.

“Everybody needs a dream like the air that we breathe” (“Don’t Sweat”) is a good example with the track a lesson in keyboard skills from Gordon Cant. In fact, instrumentally the band is so tight and so expressive, equally at home delivering jazz, funk and hip hop chops.  And Amani is also comfortable with rapping as she demonstrates on “Rock Your Soul”. Fans of Erykah Badu, Jill Scott, Lauryn Hill and Meshell Ndegeocello will simply fall in love with Amani’s voice. And on “Attitude”, she delivers the pointed sentiments perfectly with an equal measure of menace and determination.

Suffice to say that this is an assured debut that deserves all the attention it can get. Highly recommended!

Official Site

 

Jun 192014
 

Second EP from these Perth-based smart poppers finds them in the sweet G-spot between British post-punk and American new wave. Simply put – infectious melodies, bouncy rhythms, quirky lyrics and cool vibes overall. Seriously folks, they don’t make pop music like this anymore. This is the kind of pop, Power of Pop was established to drool over!

The title track is a masterwork of tightness and economy, crammed into its 3:31 minutes is more absolutely gorgeous pop (is there a better middle-eight/bridge from anyone else in 2014?) than anything most of the post-punk revivalists will be able to muster in their unreasonably overlong careers (you know who you are!)

Amazingly, the other four tracks do not fall too shy off the pop perfection of the title track. “I Disagree With Myself” is a brilliantly clever pop single that the likes of XTC and Split Enz would be proud to call their own with an irresistible chorus hook to  boot – “I don’t wanna be dumb and bored”. No danger of that!

“Far From the Moment” and “Don’t Look at Me” have similarly mellifluous refrains – sweetness perfected in hooks and riffs that dig deeply into the ear. And of course, opener “Uppers and Downers” is a wonderful study in tone – offbeat, sinister and yet funny at the same time. No mean feat.

The Disappointed – check them out cuz believe me, you will not be!

Official Site

Jun 192014
 
Photo by YC Yak

Photo by YC Yak

Nothing quite compares to an intimate club show where one is able to get up close to the artist. In the past, such gigs were fairly scarce in Singapore as promoters tended to favor artists who could draw upwards of a thousand fans. But thankfully of late, these kinds of gigs are becoming more and more common in the live music scene here with recent examples being And So I Watch You From Afar at Zouk, Dirty Beaches at Pink Noize, Deafheaven at Beep Studios and Music Matters Live at various Clarke Quay outlets.

Spanish artist Russian Red (born Lourdes Hernandez) has played on our shores twice before in close quartered environments and it was pretty much the same on her third visit, this time at TAB. Thus, it was easy to make out Hernandez’s fine outfit of the night – a black frilly dress, shiny golden heels and bangs tied up in a bun – which when combined with a stylish Gretsch electric guitar (whom Hernandez referred to as ‘Gretchen’), provided a somewhat incongruous image of the dainty female rocker.

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THE CRUSH

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Jun 172014
 

The Crush is a Seattle power pop trio that isn’t afraid to list a whole bunch of old school (read: classic) rock bands as influences. The standouts for me? The Stones, The Jam, Teenage Fanclub, The Kinks and fellow Seattles power poppers The Fastbacks! On its latest EP, Future Blimps, the band delivers all the necessary ingredients to make tasty power pop viz. beaty rhythms, meaty guitars, catchy tunes and singer Kira’s appealing larynx as the cherry on top!

The five-track EP kick offs with the rollicking “Never Gonna Stop” and the trio keeps energy levels high throughout. With tracks like the jangle-y “Around”, the garage-y “Better and Better”, the sunshine-y “It’s Love” and the bounce-y “Nothing to Lose”, the agenda is clear viz. cool vibes, poppy fun and an ephemeral musical infatuation with songs that aim directly at the heart!

Future Blimps is available at Bandcamp from 21st June!

… still there’s more …

THE LEGAL MATTERS

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Jun 052014
 

cover

Consisting of Chris Richards, Andy Reed and Keith Klingensmith, The Legal Matters, a powerpop supergroup of sorts combine their distinctive talents, experience and songwriting chops to produce an eponymous debut album that lives up to the bands & artists that served as inspirations. It isn’t difficult to detect the primary influences of The Beatles, Beach Boys, Big Star and The Byrds (the usual suspects) over the 10 songs presented here but what is remarkable is the quality of the music that is greater than the individual parts.

To distill it further, one can savour the authentic 60s pop flavour in songs like “The Legend of Walter Wright” “It’s Not What I Say” and “Rite of Spring” that bring vocal harmonies to the fore coupled with melodic fervour and knowing references to 1st generation powerpop outfits like Badfinger and The Raspberries. However, like Big Star, there are also enough nods to other pop-rock sub-genres to keep things on an even keel. The country-folk touches of “Have You Changed Your Mind”, the chamber pop sensibility of “Mary Anne” and the dreamy Byrdsian pop-scapes of “Outer Space” fill up the gaps nicely and complete the picture somewhat.

It’s refreshing to listen to music that hearkens back faithfully to the 60s/70s without sounding derivative or dated, imbued with enough distinct personality to make it relevant for 2014. Highly recommended.

Official Site

 

 

 

MUSIC MATTERS LIVE ’14

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May 222014
 

JPNSGRLS

Believe me, it’s not often a band that I actually dig plays in Singapore. Yep, I’m weird that way. But when I first realized JPNSGRLS (Japanese Girls) that were coming down to Singapore for Music Matters Live ’14, I was pretty stoked. I had loved the Vancouver band’s debut EP Sharkweek from one year ago and well, I was excited by the prospect. The combination of pop smarts, post-punk veneer and rock ‘n’ roll attitude made JPNSGRLS a top band in my opinion and a definite highlight of MML’14.

Once I had met up with Oliver Mann (guitar) and Charlie Kerr (vocals) at the Music Matters conference, watched the band’s thrilling set at Fern & Kiwi last night with Chris McClelland (bass)
Graham Serl (drums) and hung around with the boys post-show, I was pleased to confirm that my instincts about JPNSGRLS was spot-on! Down-to-earth and deeply passionate (and ambitious) about their music, the band deserves everything they have achieved so far and I believe that more is in store for them. Don’t miss any of their remaining gigs in Singapore!

And this awesome experience was only possible because of Music Matters Live. That first night, I managed to catch Buffalo Sunn from Ireland, who impressed with their folky melodicism and indie pop vibe, Aussie blues-rocker Ash Grunwald, French electro-rock outfit The Juveniles and my good friends Lyon Apprentice. So much good music. Best of all, the opportunity to connect with really cool music people – the best kind!

The conference (both Digital and Music Matters) provided food for thought on this fruitful first day and suffice to say, much of what I heard gave me pause to re-assess some of the things I am doing in all my areas of interest.

… still there’s more …

 

GREASE

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May 092014
 

Screen shot 2014-05-09 at PM 05.51.44

GREASE started off as a Broadway musical by Jim Jacobs & Warren Casey in 1972. However, the musical is most popularly known for the 1978 hit film starring John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John. This production knows that, so four songs written specially for the film, “Grease is the Word”, “Sandy”, “Hopelessly Devoted To You” and “You’re The One That I Want” have been incorporated into this version. On top of that, Sandy is now Australian, which is a nod to the film. (The film changed the character of Sandy to an Australian in order to accommodate Australian pop-star Olivia Newton-John’s accent.) This is, of course, ironic given that this is an Australian cast.

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BLURB-O-RAMA

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Apr 272014
 

BOB

More capsule reviews of the newest releases.

FEAR OF MENLoom

This highly-rated trio hails from Brighton, UK and this debut album justifies all the hype. There is a strong chamber pop vibe that enhances the obligatory post-punk indie pop stylings. The band manages a fine balance between atmospherics and arty edge with singer Jessica Weiss cemented associations with 90s bands like Curve and Lush. Recommended.

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Apr 202014
 

DB-01

When I spoke to Alex Zhang (aka Dirty Beaches) a couple of weeks ago, he was adamant that his live performances would not consist of reproducing his recorded work but would focus on being more experimental and spontaneous. In fact, halfway through his concert at Pink Noize on Wednesday, 16th April he remarked – “True blue’s for pussies” when a request was shouted out from the audience.

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