Archive for the ‘The Sound of Young America’ Category


Some time ago, I reviewed all of the Superchunk EPs.  After progresing to their most current music, returning to their first album is a bit of a shock.  Superchunk’s first full length album is incredibly raw, with lots of screaming (two vocalists at once, even) and a very grungy attitude.  It has a DIY aestethic, in keeping with the undeground scene at the time.

The first four songs fly past in a pretty quick blur of adrenaline (the longest is just over 3 minutes).  The fifth song, the aptly named “Slow” slows things down and strecthes things out with a five minute track of slow distorted chords and a long solo.

Of course, the pinnacle comes with the next song “Slack Motherfucker” one of the best grunge anthems of all time. 

The last four tracks speed things up again with the bratty attitude that Superchunk is so good at (see especially “Down the Hall”).  But it’s not all just blistering speed.  The band has some dynamics down and there are a couple of tempo changes as well.

The album is a lot of fun to listen to, especially if you’re lookig for grunge before it became Grunge.  Although there’s very little indication that they would become the indie superstars that they eventually became you can clearly hear proto-Superchunk chunks–Mac’s voice is as it ever was and the noise is present but not overpowering.  There are even hints of melody (although nothing as catchy as later albums).  And yet for all that it sounds like a criticism, the album is really quite solid.

[READ: June 15, 2011] The Hollow Planet

Yes, THAT Scott Thompson, from The Kids in the Hall.  I found out about this comic book from my good friend Jessee Thorne at The Grid.

The backstory is that Scott Thompson had been working on this story for years and years.  He imagined it as a movie (starring him, of course).  When that didn’t pan out, he decided to sell it is a comic book.  And while he was recovering from cancer, he worked on it extensively with Kyle Morton–character likenesses and whatnot.  And now we have a cartoon rendering of Scott Thompson!

This story focuses on Scott’s character Danny Husk…

The book opens with Danny and his wife and kids at a carnival.  After a few moments, Danny’s son gets lost on the merry-go-round.  In the next scene we see just how much his wife is estranged from him (she may even be cheating on him), and how little his daughter thinks of him.  Soon after, Danny goes to work, inserts a disc into his laptop and more or less brings down his company.

So far nothing out of the oridnary for this type of  story–henpecked husband on a quest for revenge that he doesn’t know he wants yet.

Then Danny visits with his old friend Steve.  They talk, they bond over Danny’s concern about his wife.  And Danny feels better.  Until he gets home.  After a scene which I won’t spoil, the story suddenly takes off with a high speed car chase (no kidding) and with Danny entering the titular hollowness of the planet. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: TRENCHMOUTH-Vs the Light of the Sun (1994).

I learned about Trenchmouth from an interview with Fred Armisen on The Sound of Young America.  He informed us that he was the drummer in Trenchmouth before he was on SNL.  And he and Jesse Thorn had an amusing discussion about how he was sure they would make it big.  I can’t recall if they played a snippet of the band or not, but it’s a pretty laughable thought that Trenchmouth might be his claim to fame.  Because they are awesome, but they are totally NOT commercial.

In fact, just a few seconds into the lead-off track “Washington! Washington!” will tell you how noncommercial they are.  (It’s a sort of fast heavy punk version of prog rock–jazzy guitars, independent bass, wonderful drumming (Armisen kicks ass) and the screamed hyperkinetic vocals of Damon Locks (he’s passionate, man).

There’s a lot of atonal work here (“Washington! Washington!” opens with drums and Lock’s ragged voice), and once the guitars kick in, it actually makes the song more confusing.  “A Prescription Written in a Different Language” opens with wavering harmonic notes before busting into a full on punk noisefest.  The album lurches around to different styles of weird noise rock (most of the songs are quite short, although “A Man without Lungs” runs over 6 minutes).

But before making it sounds like this is a mess of a record, a few listens will reveal the sanity beneath the chaos.  There are even some discernible choruses: “Here Comes the Automata”‘s “Everybody needs protection” and “Bricks Should Have Wings”‘ “Let the bricks fly” are fun to sing along to.  Similarly, the guitar work that opens “Set the Oven at 400” is rather conventional and quite pretty.

This disc is not for most people, but Trenchmouth is a cool band that has been unfairly lost to the annals of history.

[READ: April 4, 2011] “Rome, 1974”

I had received a pre-pub of Bezmozgis’ novel The Free World, but I haven’t read it yet.  I am interested in Bezmozgis’ writing and was planning to read the book.  As it turns out this “story” is really an excerpt from the novel.

The story is about the Krasnansky family, a Jewish extended family emigrating from the Soviet Union to Italy.  The opening scenes detail the physical hardship that such a move would have taken (it’s played for somewhat comic effect when the large duffel bags are thrown off the train).  There is much dissent among the family members although they sem to settle in well–except for patriarch Samuil who is disconcerted by everything and unhappy to have left the communist country he feels comfortable in. (more…)

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ij8SOUNDTRACK: SONIC YOUTH-Experimental Jet Set, Trash & No Star (1994).

ejstns“Bull in the Heather” is one of my favorite Sonic Youth songs.  I love everything about it (even if I haven’t got a clue what it’s about): the simple opening, the switch to harmonics, and, my favorite part, the drum break that leads to the chorus (who ever heard of getting a drum break stuck in your head?).

There’s a lot to speak for this disc even though it seems to be overlooked (as the empty spot between Dirty and Washing Machine).  Take the absolute variety of textures, and the almost surreal mixtures of styles within (short) songs (like “Bone” which opens with super fast paced drumming and howls from Kim and then breaks into a very mellow (and catchy) chorus).

For sheer variety: the disc opens with an acoustic guitar strummer by Thurston (“Winner’s Blues”), and then, after the single “Bull in the Heather,” there’s the 2 minute noise-fest “Starfield Road.”  This is followed by the cool and catchy “Skink,” which is like Kim’s version of the slinky and cool “Self-Obsessed and Sexxee.”  This is definitely Kim’s disc, she sings about half of the songs, and shows a great variety of styles here.

“Androgynous Mind” is one of those weird songs that has a wonderfully catchy vocal line but where the music is pretty much abstract nonsense.  And speaking of catchy, this disc continues with SY’s notion of sing along choruses (even if what you’re singing doesn’t make a lot of sense (“Screaming Skull” fits that bill perfectly)).  And then “Quest for the Cup” does a 90 degree turn after the intro.  All of these shifts and changes occur in less than half an hour.

The last 20 minutes or so settle the disc down somewhat (except for the brief “In the Mind of the Bourgeois Reader,” but the 7 minute closer “Sweet Shine” ends the disc on a mellow note.

This is also the last SY disc produced by Butch Vig.  Vig’s production is often described as clean. But Vig doesn’t clean up the noise that SY makes, he just makes it, I guess, crisper would be a better word.  Compare the way that Garbage’s “Vow” opens with a big grand noise and then stops dead after a few seconds.  Vig seems to be a master of controlling noise to make it stand out more.  And in that respect, his technique really shines through on this disc…it feels almost mechanical in its precision.

From this point forward, Sonic Youth would break away from this style of music into a freer and looser almost jazz feel, so even if the album title doesn’t make literal sense, it describes the disc quite well.

[READ: Week of August 10] Infinite Jest (to page 589)

Last week, showed Gately’s car speeding through Cambridge.  He runs over a discarded cup which we follow as it sails down the street and hits the Antitoi’s door.  It was very cinematic.  Discussions abound about whether IJ could (or should) be filmed.  I’m not going to add to that discussion but I did want to mention what I see as the filmic way the book written.

In many movies you are introduced almost casually to many of the protagonists, seeing them in their most typical place of employment or hang-out spot or some such thing.  And in films, it doesn’t seem that weird to get a two minute or even 30 second establishing shot of character A before jump cutting to character B.

And that’s how IJ starts, with all of these jump cuts, establishing shots, of characters.  Clenette’s scene is hard to read, but if you saw it in a movie, you’d say, okay that’s her character.  And, for the most part you would expect her to reappear later in the movie. I’m not sure what anyone expects to happen in IJ, so who knows what we think the Clenette scene is about, but realistically, the character has to come back, even if what she said didn’t make any sense at the time.

And as movies go, so does the book, cutting back and forth between scenes building the stories along as they inevitably intertwine.

It’s also not unheard of to have what seems like it may be the end of the chronological story appear first (we haven’t seen any return to the Year of Glad yet).

And so, yes I will say a thing about the filmic possibilities of  this book.  Sure the book is long, and yet so much of the book is description, stuff that in a movie can be done with an establishing shot, even a slow one.  The whole Joelle/overdose scene which covers so many pages could be filmed rather quickly.  So could Eschaton. The question of course is how much would be lost in translation.  And that I can’t answer (although I expect quite a lot).

Be a hell of a film, though.


So, in a few places, especially on Infinite Tasks, people have been mentioning some crucial information that happens on Page 17.   I felt bad that I didn’t recall anything that happened on page 17, so I went back and re-read this section (and how weird is it to re-read parts of a book that you haven’t even finished yet?)

And so Page 17 feels like a major spoiler!  It feels like so much is given away!  It feels like such an essential part of the story that it’s amazing how it’s sort of tossed off in a hallucinatory sequence.

I think of John N.R. Wayne who would have won this year’s WhataBurger, standing watch in a mask as Donald Gately and I dig up my father’s head.  There’s very little doubt that Wayne would have won.

Wow.  So much packed into those two sentences!  Holy cow.

And, the end of that sequence has an orderly ask Hal, “so, yo, then man what’s your story?”

Is that the device that sets up that Hal is telling this whole book?  I just blew my mind.


This week’s reading begins with the aftermath of The Escahton debacle.  Or the precursor to the aftermath, anyway.  And it features the color blue. A lot.

It also gets to a question I’ve been puzzling about for sometime: why isclouds every IJ book jacket/promotional material designed in a sort of cloud motif. Well, in the section we lean that Uncle Charles’ office is decked out in an unsettling cloud wallpaper (which is coincidentally the same wallpaper as Hal’s dentist).  It has only appeared briefly so far, so it seems odd that it would take on such an iconic feel.  But we’ll see if it comes back.


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more-infoSOUNDTRACK: Dungen-4 (2008).

4Vill du tala svensk?

Even if you don’t speak or understand Swedish, Dungen plays music that is pretty universally understood.  The album feels more or less like an all instrumental affair.  There are some songs with words, but they are all sung in Swedish. So, no, I have no idea what he’s singing about, and in that respect it feels all instrumental.

Like the previous discs, 4 feels like a blast from the psychedelic days.  It is trippy, at times loud and raucous, (with some amazing guitar workouts) and even has flutes on a few tracks.

The big difference between this disc and the previous releases is that there’s a lot more piano.  This has an overall calming effect on the music.  And in some ways, I think I don’t like this disc as much as previous ones.

The piano really comes to the fore on track 2 “Målerås Finest” which to me sounds like a a tribute to one Zappa’s instrumentals (it reminds me of “Peaches en Regalia,” although I don’t mean to suggest it’s a rip off at all). “Samtidigt 1 an 2” are the major instrumentals of the disc.  They also remind me of Zappa in that they feels like a snippet from some crazy guitar jam session.  (Zappa releases a lot of  “songs” like this on his …Guitar… albums. On this disc, we’re privy to about 3 minutes of wild guitar solo but since they fade in and then fade out at the end we have no idea how long the jam went on.  The final track “Bandhagen” also feels Zappaeque, but maybe it’s just the staccato notes that Zappa also uses to such good effect.

“Fredag” has a feeling like some of the more otherworldly Flaming Lips songs.  And “Mina Damer Och Fasaner” has a choppy heavy metal sound that really stands out from the disc.

Really there isn’t a bad song on the disc, but for some reason it doesn’t move me quite as much as the others.  I don’t want to bring a negative vibe to the review.  I’m sure if this was the first Dungen CD I had, I’d think it was amazing, I just got spoiled by them.

[READ: February 14, 2009] More Information Than You Require

John Hodgman is a man you will no doubt recognize from the Mac Vs PC ads (he’s the PC). He’s also a contributor and guest on The Daily Show. When this book was released he promoted it on The Daily Show, and on the Sound of Young America. It sounded really funny. And I was delighted that Sarah got it for me for Christmas. (more…)

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skymailSOUNDTRACK: THE CURE-The Cure (2004).

cureI’ve been a huge fan of The Cure since my friend Garry introduced me to them circa 1985.  I saw them twice in concert, I overplayed Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me, and even got the giant Boys Don’t Cry poster.

And then I grew up.  I basically stopped getting Cure albums around Wild Mood Swings (which was only two albums before this one even though it was nearly a decade ago).  I eventually got Bloodflowers when a friend said it was very good, and I agreed.  But it took me a long time to get this one (I think I was tired of the persistent “last album ever” deal).  Nevertheless, I still like the Cure, and I do like this one.

This self-titled disc is very familiar sounding. In fact, it’s as if someone told Robert Smith: make a greatest hits album but with all new songs.  And that’s more or less what you get with this disc.  It doesn’t have a theme like Disintegration or The Top.  There are manic highs and lows all over the album.  In fact, on several songs Robert is happy and in love, and on others he will never be in love.  Rather than depression, it’s almost all schizophrenia.

It starts in a very downbeat fashion (“Lost”) with scowling, reeling vocals despite him singing about being “so happy and so young.”  The mood continues on “Labyrinth” with its sinister, somewhat Egyptian sounding guitar line.

And then you get two of Robert Smith’s upbeat songs, “Before Three” (“The happiest day I ever knew…”)  and “Until the End of the World” (“I couldn’t love you more!”).  You know they’re happy songs when he drifts into that impossible falsetto.  “Anniversary” is one of their dark songs like ” A Forest” with that great Cure drumming tribal drumming. And there’s the single “alt.end,” which is, simply, another great single from The Cure.

The sonic landscape continues with another falsetto song “(I Don’t Know What’s Going ) On.” And then we’re back to the aggrieved and angry “Us or Them” where Robert almost repeats a line from “The Kiss”  “get your fucking head out of my world” (the original being “get your fucking voice out of my head”).

The only questionable song is the final one, “The Promise”.  And the only reason it’s questionable is that it’s 12 minutes long. That’s not necessarily a bad thing for The Cure, since the aforementioned “The Kiss” is 6 minutes of delightfulness.  But I think 12 might be a bit too long.  Nevertheless, it lets the album end on an angry, bitter note, just as it began.  Symmetry, after all.

I guess I’m still a Cure fan after all these years.

[READ: March 8, 2009] SkyMaul

I heard about this catalog through a plug from The Sound of Young America.  They said it was selling cheap on Amazon, so I snatched up one of the last remaining copies.

This catalog is hilarious.  Obviously, it is a parody of the Sky Mall catalog that you look at on airplanes when you have run out of everything else to look at, and have no intention of purchasing anything from (unless you are Barney Stinson [I tried to find a link to his Sky Mall compulsiveness, but there are no official ones, so if you just Google “barney skymall” tons of things comes up].

Many parody titles don’t live  up to the hilarity they promise.  This boils down to a couple of reasons: They are so true to the original it’s hard to tell them apart; they require a deep awareness of the original in order to really appreciate the joke; most people who know they original that well actually LIKE the original, and don’t want the parody.

SkyMaul however, is that rare beast: a parody that is very funny but is also full of crazily inventive and absurd humor.  Unlike many of the very specific parodies that exist, SkyMaul allows for across-the-board humor, so it never gets bogged down in finding that “perfect parody moment.”

SkyMaul works similarly to The Onion, in that some of the items in this catalog are direct parodies of existing items (Atheist motivational posters; the first ever Milk vacuum–for when people put unwanted milk on your cereal), and others are simply utter nonsense (like the Llamacycle (a llama with a wheel for front legs, or the Air Straightener “Stop Breathing Disorganized Air!”)).

There were a number of things that had me laughing out loud and thinking of people who would love to read this (Happy Birthday, Matt).

The genius of the book is dividing the catalog into smaller subsections (just like the real thing) which allows them to diversify their products.  Some subsections include: The Image Sharpener; The Statuetory (Meeting and Exceeding Your Home Statue Needs); J. Crewcifix (Extreme Religion Since A.D. 33); Tomorrow’s Garage Sale (Filling up you home, office, and storage areas); NASCAR Stepdad; WhadjaGITme? (Toys for demanding kids…); Shemail (Doodads for ladies) [Although that’s not as good as Arrested Development’s designer Shemále]; Heavy Petter (pushing animal product on people]; The Nicest Gift (is to let people deal with stuff on their own); Coming Soon (the store 4 sex toys ‘n’ stuff).

You get the idea of where this catalog is going. And to top it off there’s even a crossword puzzle in the back.  This may have been the funniest part of the book, so don’t skip it!  Sample entry: Q: Superman’s weakness. A: Chocolate.

To see some examples from the book, click here.

Oh, and in case you’re like me, you didn’t know that Kasper Hauser is not a person but a comedy troupe.

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mother[READ: February 14, 2009] Mother on Fire

I heard about this book on The Sound of Young America.  Sandra Tsing Loh was pretty funny.  She’s a writer/performer and a contributor to NPR. This book is all about being a mother at 40.

I read about 15 pages and decided that a) the book is more for moms than dads; b) it was funny in parts, but was more of a potential one woman show of quips than a book and c) I just really didn’t care about her or her husband very much.

I tried again to read the book last night, I even skipped to another chapter, but it just kept eluding me.

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: PEEPING TOM-Peeping Tom (2006).

peepingPeeping Tom is one of the many side projects that Mike Patton (known mostly as the vocalist for Faith No More) has created in the last few years.

As Faith No More moved past “Epic” into their later releases, it became increasingly clear that Mike Patton was one wacky little monkey.  And as he moved into projects like Mr. Bungle and his solo releases, he really let his freak flag fly.

Peeping Tom has Patton collaborating with all kinds of people.  And it is a surprisingly accessible record (even though it is still pretty unusual).  The album has a sort of hip hop feel to it with loud pulsing drums on most of the tracks as well as collaborators like: Kool Keith, Amon Tobin, Doseone, Kid Koala, and uh, Norah Jones.

“Five Seconds” starts as a pretty straightforward song, but the chorus of him counting/shouting 1 second, 2 seconds… faster and faster, takes on a new meaning of sinister.  “Mojo” has fun with Britney Spears, although the fun is in lyrics only, as the song is a heavy blast of illicit substance references.  The third track “Don’t Even Trip” continues this carnival of dementia with the wonderful lyrics, “I know that assholes grow on trees, but I’m here to trim the leaves.”

The middle of the album is less manic, it slips into some really catchy trip hop moments with the guests taking some control of the songs.  Kool Keith raps on “Getaway” allowing Patton to take charge on the choruses, while “Caipirinha” sounds very smooth and jazzy, as any song with Bebel Gilberto should.  “Celebrity Death Match” has a very funny vibe to it, not unlike Kid Koala’s tracks. The final track “We’re Not Alone” says it’s a remix, although it’s not a remix of any tracks on the disc.  It returns to the heaviness of earlier in the album.  And near the end it sounds not unlike a Foo Fighters track (despite its slow-paced and falsettoed verses).

But probably the most fun/giddy song on the disc is “Sucker.”  In it, a whispering, sultry, derisive Norah Jones sings the line, “What made you think you were my only…lover?  Truth kinda hurts, don’t it mother…fucker?”

There are many many moments on this record that seem borderline commercial, yet the schizophrenic nature of Patton’s songwriting means that those moments are quickly replaced by something else.  Compared to say Fantomas, this is a very commercial disc, but fear not, Patton fans, there’s enough weirdness on here to keep you coming back.

Plus, the album packaging is really cool. You pull open the tab on the right side and the disc slides out on the left side. There’s a keyhole cutaway that reveals different layers as the package opens, too.  Very cool.

[READ: November 22, 2008] Free Range Chickens

I had forgotten my book for lunch time reading today, and I didn’t want to start anything big, so I was thrilled to see that we had gotten in Free Range Chickens (at my request, of course).  It was the perfect lunchtime book as I finished the whole thing in 40 minutes.  (This may be a warning not to buy it, unless you intend to re-read it). (more…)

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Since the book had no words, I figured I’d review a record with no music. We heard Paul F. Tompkins on some random NPR show one night during dinner. They played the “Peanut Brittle” skit and Sarah and I were in tears. The kids must have wondered what was going on. We could barely eat; for six minutes we ignored all but Paul.

I tracked down the CD and it is very funny. Tompkins has a wonderful delivery and a way of making asides that keep the joke going longer than it should, but still staying funny. The very premise of the first joke is seeing a goth girl running, which is funny in and of itself, but he takes it in a new direction and turns it back against himself. Some other great tracks include the hilarious “Elegant Balloons” “Genetic Engineering” (house bears!), and the so true it hurts “Letters to Magazines.” Oh, and “Jazz” is also very funny, and I even like jazz.

It is clearly impossible to describe a comedy album without retelling the jokes, but I will say that Sarah and I had both listened to the CD individually, and then on the way back from the airport we listened to it together and were in tears yet again. Now we even get to make a few remarks just to relive the hilarity.

A little research uncovers that Tompkins was a player and writer for Mr Show as well as the Tenacious D series. And, in fact he is bubbling under in many venues. I guess don’t read credits well enough to have remembered him. So, good for him, and thank you NPR.

More research uncovers that this NPR shows was The Sound of Young America. Diligent readers will know that I discovered Simon Rich on this show as well. So I have listened to this show twice and come away with new material both times. I should make this a regular listen. You can hear an interview with Paul here.

[READ: June 21, 2008] Superbad: The Drawings

Now this book has nothing to do with the Ben Greenman books I mentioned earlier. This is a collection of 90 some pages of phallohgraphics (ie drawings of penises). If you’ve seen the movie Superbad, and who hasn’t, you’ll know there’s a story about the Seth character drawing penises and getting into trouble. Well, this is the collection of all the penises that the cowriter’s brother David Goldberg drew for the movie.

What can one possibly say about this except that the book is hilarious, childish and totally obscene. From an artistic standpoint, the drawings are first rate. Somehow, he was able to draw penises that look just like McLovin, Seth and Evan. Why on earth would anyone buy this? Beats me. I know I did. I’m sure I’ll peruse it from time to time and then hide it when my kids get old enough to browse the bookshelves.

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antfarm.jpgSOUNDTRACK: BARENAKED LADIES-Born on a Pirate Ship (1996) & Rock Spectacle (1996).

Continuing with my review of the BNL catalog…

Born on a Pirate Ship.pirate-ship.jpg
I recall really liking this album when it came out. But I just read the review on allmusic.com and they’re pretty harsh about it. I didn’t realize that “Shoe Box,” a really great song about adolescence, was an old song reworked. That said, I think the album overall still holds up well. “Stomach vs Heart” is a decent opener, but it’s really “Straw Hat and Old Dirty Hank” that really wakes the album up. A great rousing song with the chorus “I am a Farmer… I work in the fields all day.” I enjoy it every time I hear it. “The Old Apartment” totally rocks, and was justifiably a single.

And, of course, the simply best song of passive aggressive breakup neurosis, “Break Your Heart.” The lyrics of this song are simply too good to pass up and should be investigated by anyone. But more important is the delivery. Hearing Steven Page’s voice crack as he bursts into that last verse is really moving. But it’s even more affecting on the live record, which came out next.

Rock Spectacle (1996).rockspec.jpg
This album is a fantastic live representation of the band. It really captures the greatness that was a BNL show. There’s great stage banter, some funny outtakes after the set is over, and some really fantastic renditions of the band’s greatest hits. You cannot go wrong with this collection.

[READ: December 13, 2007] Ant Farm.

I heard about this book while listening to a program on NPR. I had never heard of Simon Rich, but he was really funny; he and the interviewer seemed to be having a great time talking about various neuroses and phobias. The more he talked, the more I laughed. But I hadn’t hears who he was, and I was just hoping they would say his name before I had to get out of the car. Then I learned who he was and that in addition to being an editor at Harvard Lampoon, he also had a book out. After he read a story, I made a mental note to check out the book. But when he sheepishly admitted that it was “really short,” only about 140 pages and with really big print, and five blank pages at the end, then that I knew I had to read it immediately. (more…)

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