Bitter nuts and sour wine are all we find within the larder

I should probably count this to check it (although in our post-truth, Bannon-esque world, my facts are just as good yours….), but Alasdair Roberts is probably the artist I’ve written about most of all on these tattered, coffee-stained pages. (Apart from Robert Wyatt, of course, and maybe Griff…)

In fact I wrote about him, here, only about six weeks ago, which in relative terms is pretty much yesterday on this Blog. I spoke then with breathless excitement about said folkie’s planned trip to Cheltenham. All the more surprising then that it should take me so long to get round to talking about the evening – countless eager punters have been besieging me with requests for a few words and perhaps the odd snatch or too…? Well, as you know, I’m a slave to my readership.

Alasdair Roberts, Smokey Joe’s

Might as well get my cantankerous, valetudinarian rant out of the way first – it was bloody freezing at Smokey Joe’s, like sitting outside pretty much. I’m a chilly mortal, me, and I can’t stand being cold – caught out by the slightest cold snap and I’m likely to go over all Mr Woodhouse and retire to my bed with a hot lemon.

Alasdair Roberts is made of sterner stuff than I and the polar conditions didn’t seem to trouble him over much. To be honest, fond as I imagine he is of long walks in the bracing Scotch air, he will have shrugged this off and scorned me as the southern softie I clearly am. In fact I fancy every new Roberts song is unveiled on the scotch muir, ‘midst the purple heather, to a mildly curious audience of highland beasties.

In the last post, I raved about Plaint of Lapwing, his joint record with James Green, labouring under the illusion that this was his most recent record, but it was pointed out by a forbearing friend on Twitter that there’s actually a newer record out, March’s Pangs. And it was this record Roberts drew most of the evening from – I don’t think he played anything from the Lapwing record at all.

The Guardian used the phrase “the weirdness of ancient folk” in one of its throw-away (although positive) reviews, and that’s actually a great description of Roberts’ craft. I’ve spoken before about all of this and it’d be fairly easy to put together an Alasdair Roberts bingo card, with words hapless reviewers will fall back on (“bleak”, “brogue” and “austere” all turn up in the Guardian’s piece). I’m as guilty as everyone else of this – it’s impossible not to marvel at the old-worldliness of the man’s vision, and to revel being taken back to harsher, more open times; all part of his charm.

If you’re energetic enough (ie not as lazy as me) to look further, however, you’re going to find echoes that speak to modern times. At one point, Roberts wryly speculated as he was using some wilfully obscure tuning that once Article 50 was triggered he’d possibly not be able to use it anymore. It was something of a jolt back to current woes and reminded me that songs such as “In Dispraise of Hunger”, “Farewell Sorrow” and the beautiful title track of the new record have as much to do with today’s misery as yesterday’s.

A few old favourites appeared – “Fair Flower of Northumberland”, “Jock Hawk’s Adventures in Glasgow” and “Farewell Sorrow” – but enough of the fragile splendour of the new songs was revealed to make me buy a copy of Pangs from the man himself. And it’s actually a bit of a revelation. He has a full band with him for most of the record, and a number of the songs feel completely new creations, when compared to the reedy charm of their solo versions.

Have a listen to these gaunt unclothed offerings and then go and buy the record for their fuller, finer, fattened-up versions.


An Alter in the Glade

The Downward Road

(Oh, and for old time’s sake, In Dispraise of Hunger)

Is he even real?

Such is my life.

A barren, no-gig fast of more than three months is eventually broken and then speedily followed by a couple of smashing evenings in a week. By rights I should be writing about Alasdair Roberts coming over to Cheltenham (it was a good time – I’m sure I’ll get onto it) but I’ve spent most of this Saturday chuckling indulgently to myself as I think back to a classic Thekla Thursday night…

Lemon Twigs, Thekla

Coleser has of late taken to texting me with “I’ve bought you a ticket for,,, You’re going to love them!”. I approve of this hugely, of course, and I’m hoping to be the beneficiary of similar largesse in the future. I’d certainly never heard of siblings the Lemon Twigs from Long Island when I received the most recent message, but a few sessions on YouTube and the loan of their debut record had me suitably piqued, although I have to say I wasn’t sure I quite ‘got’ it…

Pretty much missed the support band, having been caught in traffic coming in, which always seems a shame, but then again, I’ve seen some pretty ropey support slots of recent. The charming, old boat was rammed full of ove-excited college lads and lasses (and a few curious old gits), and was suitably dense, drab and humid, for the first date of what I reckon’ll be an unforgettable UK tour.

Older (but still only 20) brother, Brian Addario, led from the front, dressed in some sort of mauve crushed velvet jacket, longish hair tucked studiously behind his ears, introducing the band and launching into a lustily-received “I want to prove to you”. It was a great start and they banged through three or four more songs really quickly, with all the playfulness and lack of restraint that makes the record such a bag of tricks. It’s as if they can’t resist adding an extra run of notes or another sprig of tinsel to the tree.

“We could make this part sound like a fairground jig!”

“Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!”

“Or, what if we tried a waltz here?”


He was supported by Danny Ayala on keyboards and ooh-sha-la-la vocals, a retiring, put-upon Megan Zeankovski on bass, and the not-so-retiring figure of younger brother Michael slugging away flamboyantly on a drum kit he’d damaged within 10 minutes. He actually spent an unwarranted amount of his drumming duties standing, twirling his sticks aloft, and as Coleser wryly observed, it was obvious there was no way he was going to spend the whole of his evening behind the kit.

It was only when older brother moved to Ayala’s keyboard for “How lucky am I?”, that we got a real look at Michael, stepping forward for backing vocal duties. From this point, it was clear Brian wasn’t coming back. (An acrimonious Noel/Liam, Ray/Dave split looms…)

Resplendent in leopard-skin catsuit, open to the waist, and furiously primping his feather cut, Our Kid looked like a blinking, alien rock-child, parachuted into the West Country from a Ziggy bootleg. Wearing his 18 years proudly, he cut an impressive and outlandish figure. The confidence of youth for sure…

I’ve gotta say though, that from the moment he propelled himself into his vocal part and latterly took up his guitar to lead the rest of the set, there was no question of him being some sort of dumb parody. He absolutely had star quality and the whole show went up another notch from here on.

Into each song he crammed heaps of precocious, hormonal oomph and referred to pretty much every page of the rock’n’roll book of stage tricks – extravagant high kicks, prone guitar solos and a whole series of gratifyingly lewd guitar gestures. Oh, and a hell of a voice – powerful, frisky and self-knowing.

It was only when they launched into an Alex Chilton cover that I twigged (Ah… sorry… I’m not changing it now…) that instead of being a Dolls band, with a line in Rubettes harmonies, the overwhelming influence was Big Star, not in a Teenage Fanclub sort of a way but with a full on seventies power-pop sound. It was a great sound.

Thought I’d try recording the gig with my iPhone as an experiment which has turned out ok but the sound is not quite as “full” as with my normal recorder. It was also a pretty rowdy night, with loads of unruly audience participation and a general feel of insobriety. It gets in the way of the recordings a little but, to be fair, it all seemed entirely appropriate. Even I can’t find it in my curmudgeonly old heart to get upset about foolish young things having massive fun while a band of foolish young things do the same onstage.

As Long As We’re Together

All of the Time

Why Didn’t You Say That?

A Great Snake

There’s a good Alex Petridis interview with the brothers online and quite a bunch of YouTube stuff available, including a whole lot of charming videos of the lads practicing as youngsters, shot by their father (one of whose songs they covered on the night – another first for me).

Terrific evening…

Be soft, be softer still, give yourself love beyond all thrill.

I’ve been fannying around with this for a while now and all too quickly it’s a couple of weeks old already…

A rather late first gig of the year for me (a close-to-six-month drought in fact) but a welcome one, for sure. Having seen Meilyr Jones last year “unseen”, with pretty much no previous knowledge of him and been suitably wowed by the whole experience, the enchanting Welshman and his wonderful 2015 record have assumed impressive proportions in this old git’s mind (and record collection).

Meilyr Jones, The Fleece

A second gig can be a disappointing affair and it occurred to me this might be a bit of an issue as we walked through the doors of the ever-dependable, gummy-floored Fleece. A brief period of ho-hummery with a support band whose name passed in one ear and out the other, and all of a sudden Meilyr Jones is once again bounding on stage, grinning like a loon on his first day at school. And we’re back there.

I’d forgotten how fond I am of his soppy little face, how much I envy his flimsy Byrds haircut and how much I want to iron his rumpled outfits. In top-buttoned shirt and the shortest grey slacks I think I‘ve ever seen, he cut the gawkiest of figures, a look he embraces unswervingly.

What a guy.

The set whipped by, and even though it was pretty much the same as before (I didn’t catch any new songs), it still sounded fresh, intelligent and passionate. I remember last time being particularly mesmerised by the encore performance of “Be Soft”, which if anything he actually managed to emulate this time, bringing his two violinists off the stage and deep into the audience. All un-miked and somehow even more intimate and overwhelming than even before.

Here are recordings of the two encore songs (the second is a little muddy, thick with feeling a romantic soul might say…)


Be Soft

This wind that blows, blows me nay guid…

james-printYou’ll have noticed a certain amount of Krautrock freebasing going on over these pages of recent, but I’m over all that for the moment. You’ll be glad to know I’ve weaned myself off the German experimental stuff, with the help of a strict Fall-only diet over the last week; and started off on something diametrically (almost macrobiotically) different.

Alasdair Roberts

Great news! The miserable old curmudgeon is headed this way next month, with a date in Stroud and another in Cheltenham. I shall certainly be there at one or both of those soirees. And now I’m back on to thinking about him, I find out belatedly he’s released another superb record to general muted flourish and the excitement and acclaim  of virtually no one.

And God knows why, Plaint of the Lapwing is another beautiful, nuggety affair, released with the support of Sheffield keyboard-player James Green. I’d be disappointed if a Roberts album wasn’t set firmly in the soil and cripplingly steeped in natural imagery. And Plaint certainly is that – winged  and crawling things feature heavily; seas, rocks, famines and sundry meteorological terms too. We’re also treated to a humble parade of blacksmiths, vine-pruners and cordwainers (I had to look this one up – cobblers, as you’re asking). There are other miscellaneous hapless characters who inexorably descend to the clay (if they’re lucky – the Left Hand Man ends up swinging from a tree, “free as air”). All, much as you’d expect, the stuff we know and love about Alasdair Roberts.

What makes this record a little more than just another standard AR disk is, I think, the contribution of Mr Green ar(hitherto unfamiliar to this punter), who manages to colour Roberts’ obdurate monochrome landscapes with all sorts of warm hues and sensitive and sensible contributions. Piano and organ parts appear and even, I think – incredible though it sounds – the odd reedy-sounding synth too – all to great effect. Even Roberts’ wilfully archaic language doesn’t sound quite so out of-time with the aid of a gentle sprucing from Green.

Claypipemusic has an interesting piece about the record, including an account from Roberts of how he and Green started collaborating. It’s here and it’s a good read.

I’d love to include a video of the pair of them playing from the video, preferably with Green on his outlandishly fabulous harmoniflute, but alas, there seems to be absolutely nothing around.

Do have a listen to this, though, the organ line on it is gorgeous…




cluster-moebius-and-roedelius-seventiesI think I may have passed some sort of rock-ist milestone this evening. I’m now about 2 minutes away from listening to Cluster ’71 all the way through. If this means nothing to you at all then, you’re alright…

No problem, you can move on, nothing to see here…

But if you are aware of Cluster’s first record since the departure of Conrad Schnitzler and the exchange of the “K” for a “C”, you’ll possibly be raising an eyebrow quizzically (most cases), snorting dismissively into your Friday evening glass of red (probably quite a few), or possibly wandering trance-like over to your CD / vinyl collection, scratching your chin and chuckling to yourself.


Cluster ’71 is made up of 3 tracks, all of which you’d have to say are pretty “investigational” – long shapeless feedback and reverb-drenched explorations that occasionally use conventional tools like rhythm and tunefulness, but are generally only on the briefest of nodding terms with such orthodoxies. There are no vocals, no instruments you can identify and nothing you’d call a “song”. There aren’t even any song titles as such – the two tracks that made up side one of the record are called “7:42”, “15:43” and I’m currently listening to “21:32” which made up the second side and is … well, you’re smart, you get the idea…

My younger self would of course be turning in his grave at this news and would no doubt be lobbying for some sort of sci-fi divorce from his later self. I remember gleefully chuckling away to myself when a friend admitted he often dozed off listening to Tangerine Dream and Eno. This was not what I felt music was for – dancing and leaping, yeah; arguing and studying, for sure; impressing girls with, given a chance; but sleeping? An admission of boredom, surely. Music needs rhythm, words, chords and above all guitars, as loud and as demented as possible.

Cluster ’71 has no actual guitars that I can recognise, almost no drumming that fits my definition, certainly no chords. It is shapeless and has no structure. It would stretch the patience of many listener. And yet, it really is compelling, you’re drawn in surprisingly easily to what on the face of it is just a racket.

I guess the only grudging concession my former self would give it is that it is certainly loud and definitely abrasive –r-766860-1156671425-jpegpretty much impossible to sleep to. Jarring shafts of metallic synth parade up and down stage, awkward loops of futuristic sound bounce from one speaker to the next, great fuzzy waves of electronic noise throb across and behind the synthesisers creating a sort of rhythm (the best we’re going to get). You’re really a long way from home here…

If we’re looking for touchstones to compare this strange, uncompromising record to, you could probably think about Florian Fricke and the early drone-driven Popol Vuh stuff, only a fair bit harsher and not at all “ambient”. And without any native percussion. Or you could perhaps compare it to the echo-y relentlessness of Neu!’s “Negativeland”, in the sense that waves of unforgiving sound stagger back and forth through your headphones. But again, without the drums. Or the bass.

There’s certainly no “motorik” elements here – you wouldn’t play it in the car, or when you’re jogging. You’d definitely not play it with friends round (maybe friends you’d really fallen out with) and I’d not be expecting to see it on the jukebox of any of the pubs I go to. I’m currently struggling with a dizzying head-cold at the moment, which may well be significant. Maybe this is a record you listen to with a mug of honey and lemon, your senses already cack-handed and askew. Maybe when you are kind of OK hearing the world bounce and twitch in what would normally be an alarming fashion, the opening murmurs of “15:43” slinking into your unsuspecting headphones.

Cluster were Dieter Moebius and Hans-Joachim Roedelius, (and for the purposes of this record only, Conny Plank) who went on to make a whole bunch of other records, some of which are far less challenging (although Cluster II, which I’m yet to hear, is by all accounts more of the same). Other records include Zuckerzeit, a gentler, more melodic affair which appears on various “Greatest of the Seventies” lists and is generally considered their best. They also worked intermittently with Michael Rother as Harmonia, and went on to record with Eno, releasing the much-delayed Tracks and Traces which I wrote about a couple of years ago.

As far as YouTube or anything else is concerned, there’s predictably nothing out there at all, apart from whole album posts (hard to see Moebius and Roedelius doing a cheery KEXP session, although the between songs banter would’ve been an awkward joy…). But how about a tap dripping onto a spoon and cereal bowl in the sink (to the strains of “Caramel” from the Zuckerzeit album)? That oughta do it…


(As long as you realise, I’m not giving you the real shit here, I love and respect you all too much…)

If you don’t like it, it’s your problem. Get busy liking!

screen-shot-2016-04-13-at-10-28-50-amI’m right now downloading “71 Minutes of Faust” and I can feel myself in danger of going on something of a Faustian feeding frenzy… On top of that, I’ve somehow, in my eMusic wanderings, come across this strange piece…

Outside the Dream Syndicate

Tony Conrad was a proper avant-garde situationist artist with a career in experimental film and abstract art, and a bit of a name in the New York underground scene of the mid-sixties. He rubbed shoulders with (and was a little snooty about) Andy Warhol; took drugs with La Monte Young and John Cale, and was instrumental in the forming and naming of the Velvet Underground. All well and (presumably) good, but way beyond my ken.

So let’s catch up together with this trailer about his life:


As well as being an artist and film-maker, Conrad was incorporating his highly individual violin playing into his art. However, although he was playing a miked up violin and making experimental music with John Cale and the Theatre of Eternal Music in throughout the sixties, his first venture onto vinyl wasn’t until 1972 when he was introduced to Uwe Nettelbeck, the man managing and producing my new favourite band. He flew out to the old school house where Faust lived, rehearsed and recorded, and together they spent three days making a very curious record indeed. As his most recent work in New York had been done under the stage name of the Dream Syndicate, the recordings that were made with Faust were christened Outside the Dream Syndicate.

If you’re thinking that such a project would sound a bit like Cale and Klaus Dinger going on a gigantic weekender bender, you’d be pretty much right. Listen to the track that plays underneath the YouTube trailer and you’ll hear part of “The Sound of Man and Womankind” which makes up the first side of the record.

As far as I can see, the main difference between Cale and Conrad’s playing is that the Welshman in spite of his love of experimentation and all sorts of abnormality, still had an ear for a song and was not averse to having a crack at the odd three-minute ditty. You get the feeling that Conrad, however, had little time for such constraints. He was in his element playing (and playing) and would probably have carried on until the lights went out. He speaks in an interview of the private pleasure of playing single notes and chords repeatedly or in elongated sequences – effectively the originator of electronic drone music.

Here’s an interview with the man:


The record is pretty, er…,  unusual – two 27 minute slices of grinding, whining repetition, which on the face of it might sound like a pretty hard listen but is actually much more fun than that. Conrad often spoke of enjoying letting the tone and depth of a single note unfurl itself (and if this all sounds rather self-indulgent, he was under no illusions that that was exactly what it was – he considered it the listener’s responsibility to make something of it, if he or she didn’t like what they were hearing)

What rescues the whole venture from being an obscure art happening and gives it shape and structure is the gallant efforts on drums and bass of Zappi Diermaier and Jean-Hervé Peron. Considering the recordings were done not long before Faust IV was recorded and presumably in the midst of the rehearsals for it, a new project, although recorded relatively quickly, must’ve been something of a challenge in itself.

The real trial, though, was the heroic levels of self-denial the pair had to display in the monotone roles that they were given. Conrad’s Smithy-style instructions were: “one note, one beat, one hour”. (It’s not repetition…) This must have been a bitter pill for members of a ferociously ill-disciplined musical collective, well-known for their fanatical levels of self-expression, to swallow. Peron said afterwards:

“We were used to extraordinary music but had never come across anything like this. It was more of a trip inside. I went through all kinds of mental states: boredom, anger, ecstasy, doubt about myself and what I was doing.”

It’s actually a surprisingly compelling listen, with Conrad’s eerie wail floating heedlessly above Diermaier and Peron’s surly compliance. Hard to say much more about the two tracks (and I have no idea about the titles) other than that they are wordless statements of do-what-you-like-with-me that you don’t really want to leave unfinished.

There’s a well-written Pitchfork review of the album which sheds more light on it, here and a really good March ’16 interview with Conrad in the Guardian (“People thought we were on drugs, and we were!”) here. I’d recommend them both.

I’ll leave you with this track from YouTube which was recorded during the same sessions but somehow never made it on to the record (maybe it was too short, maybe it was Conrad’s stab at making a 3-minute “hit”?)


I’m not really one to have the patience or commitment to take modern drone music very seriously, but maybe I need to rethink this…

The cement mixer – I like it, so I will play it and try to go a bit deeper

faust-newOnce you’ve missed a self-imposed deadline, it becomes a little tricky to pick it all up again, no?

My actual Christmas, however, was pretty darn good, thank you. Christmas as a blogger was pretty poor, even by my own ragged standards. In the Bloggers contract that you sign at the outset, you’re supposed to do a series of lists for the year, and at the very least a best records of the year post. And I kind of started this with the last post about Commontime, but, well, other stuff got in the way, and I never quite got around to putting together the posts about the other two albums I really enjoyed from 2016 (Ryley Walker and Meilyr Jones, as you’re asking).

But… as I did do posts on both these artists earlier on in the year, let’s just imagine that the “2016 – Phew! What a year that was!” ship has sailed and wave a rueful hankie at it, as it disappears.

Time to move on, methinks…

As a miserable old lag of uncountable years, Christmas and birthday presents these days are mainly comprised of books, DVDs and whiskey (who’s complaining?). And of course a fair smattering of music (although most people are a little wary of my snooty tastes). Nonetheless, I’ve acquired some cracking music over December – West African highlife; Czech funk; Spanish garage punk; a great Move CD and a whole collection of Jimmy Webb records. I’m truly a lucky feller…

I’m also very much enjoying this, at the moment.

Faust IV

Maybe it’s me, but the music world seems over the past few years to be awash with Krautrock. It’s everywhere: in the bands you hear about, the reviews you read, the liner notes you pore mi0002187528over. To avoid cliché, new (to me) words – “motoric” and “kosmische” for instance – have appeared. Loads of today’s new things have nailed the black, red and gold to their masthead and it’s become a pretty routine part of our 21st century melting pot. I’m not really complaining, it’s a genuinely interesting genre, as experimental and edgy as any other movement and one that was obviously massively influential on the coming bands of my own youth. It’s impossible to imagine, PiL and the rest of the fresh-faced Post-Punk crowd, straying from their limited palate without their European uncle-pioneers.

The first time I remember reading the term was in an interview with a fresh-faced Julian Cope (one of my first pop heroes), way back in the days when he was still a Teardrop and before his book started changing hands for eye-watering sums. In an interview with Pete Frame, he referenced “Can, Neu!, Faust, you know, those sorts of bands”.

I most certainly didn’t know. In fact, the first three words seemed entirely random collections of letters which in those pre-Internet days it was hard to check up on. In the head of an impressionable, not to say feverish, punter, they became the stuff of myth and allegory. Not to mention that bloody exclamation mark…

It’s all much easier, these days, of course; I own quite a few Can and Neu! records, but Faust I’d somehow not really got on board with. Until this year, when my sister bought me a birthday copy of Faust IV, and I really, really love it.

The well-informed folk who come here will, of course, know all about Faust, so I’m not going to run through the obvious (or, indeed, pretend that I’ve known it all for ages); but if you do need a little pick-me-up…


(And if you want more, this is quite good.)

The most well-known track on Faust IV is the monstrous opener, “Krautrock” itself (named presumably in defiance of the offhand British label which many of their compatriots found offensive).  I’d like to think they went out of their way to write the definitive Krautrock track, here, and, well, if they didn’t…

It’s a fuzzy, magnetic beast and for a track which does without drums for the first seven minutes, it’s conspicuously driven by the sturdiest of rhythms. In and out of the distortion, modified sounds appear (squawking guitars, metallic segments and backward loops). They mooch around a while and grudgingly slope off after a while. Perhaps I’m making it all sound a bit psychedelic but, really, it’s so damn harsh, so unforgiving that nothing could be further away from the innocent larks of the sixties. (And, by the way, the outtake of the same track, included on disk 2 of my version, is if anything muddier, nastier and more obdurate.)

faust_02I’ve frequently bought albums with one standout, famous track before and been disappointed by the rest of the record, but although “Krautrock” is still my favourite track, there’s really no rubbish on the rest of the record. There are moments which come close to the craziness of the opener, but many other strange, intriguing segments throughout. “Jennifer”, for example, starts off as a slightly curious song with actual lyrics that wouldn’t sound out of place on other people’s records. After its four-minute pop single phase, however, it moves characteristically into a howling, rasping segment of feedback, that eventually yields to some sort of irregular barrelhouse piano outro, all of which would most definitely have been out of place anywhere else.

From “Jennifer”, the record moves into “Just a Second (It starts like that)” which to my mind sounds a lot like Can, and makes me realise that for all the talk at the time of moving away from American R’nB and creating a uniquely European sound, a lot of the German bands spent a lot of time jamming, Dead-style. Within about a minute, however, the song sheds its skin again and is taken over by experimental synth sounds, again, with distorted cameos from different fragments of the band. I read somewhere that this second, third and fourth phase of a song is something the band delighted in, preferring, in fact, to think of these being bone-fide, distinct songs concealed within others.

The second disk actually has a ten-minute version of the first half of “Just a Second” which is all uninterrupted guitar freak-out. I’d say the fact that they didn’t use very much of this version in the original release is significant, preferring instead, to rough up the freak-out version, giving it a right old shoeing. There are other notable tracks too (“It’s a bit of a Pain”, for example, which would again look like a straight (-ish) seventies folk song, where it not for the shrieks of dissonant, digital nonsense that poke their noses in, periodically) but I’ve gone on enough.

There’s not a lot of seventies Faust on YouTube, which is a massive shame. Perhaps predictably, however, they’ve reformed and there’s footage of the new version (less predictably, they still sound way, way out there). Here’s a clip of the regrouped Faust, playing to a live backdrop of the 2012 Presidential Debates. Regrettably, there’s no Trump (now that’s a fist-fight, I’d pay to see), the cement mixer, however, is definitely out of retirement.

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