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The Top 10 Albums of 2008

Dec. 21st, 2008 | 01:09 am
location: The Brain Room
mood: accomplished
music: The Hold Steady (still)

10. Mountain Goats – “Heretic Pride” – The latest from the Mountain Goats may not be their best work ever (see “The Sunset Tree” or “Tallahassee” for that), but John Darnielle is still a brilliant writer, and even a very good Mountain Goats song trumps 99.9% of modern indie rock. That said this album contains a lot of very good tracks, including the fantastic title track, the great opener that is “Sax Rohmer #1,” and my personal favorite song title ever, “How to Embrace a Swamp Creature.”

9. The Sword – “Gods of the Earth” – Powerful Sabbath-style metal full of more classic rock riffs than you can probably handle. This is the very best metal album of the year, between the blazing guitar solos, driving bass and drums, and ever-present (and ever-welcome) mythological and Nordic references in every song, with the exception of the ever-building instrumental opener “The Sundering,” which leads into the ripping and fierce “Frost-Giant’s Daughter…” this is the album that made me love METAL this year!

8. Death Cab For Cutie – “Narrow Stairs” – I’ve been into this record since the first time I heard “I Will Possess Your Heart,” a single that intrigued me with its sprawling five minute instrumental opening, and decidedly creepy, stalker-like lyrics, which all seemed remarkably unlike Ben Gibbard’s previous offerings. The single wound up being the perfect introduction to this complex album, a dark and moving meditation on unrequited love and obsession that really surpasses all Death Cab’s previous albums. “Your new twin size bed” may be the saddest song I’ve heard all year.

7. Girl Talk – “Feed the Animals” – Blenderphonic beat poet, or audio terrorist? Whatever you want to call him, Girl Talk’s new album “Feed the Animals” is every bit a worthy follow up to 2006’s “Night Ripper.” The new album has even better production value and the sources of the new tracks get even more eclectic (Twisted Sister! Nirvana!! Tag Team!!!), and the mixes are more fluid. I love listening to this album just to try to catch all the references and pieces assembled here… but be warned: the mixes this time are even more ADD-inspired than GT’s previous music, so take your time with it.

6. Akimbo – “Jersey Shores” – Akimbo is one of those bands that’s been around, but I never really got into them, until I heard the first half of this album played live. When I checked out the whole album later, it was just as amazing as what I had seen at the live show. “Jersey Shores” is a concept album about the New Jersey shark attacks of 1916, the series of incidents that inspired Jaws, and have now inspired another great work of art. Sprawling, heavy, and aggressive, the stoner/ metal chords that drive this album actually feel like the rhythm of a shark in motion, stalking it’s prey, ever-building until the fierce release of sound that represents the next attack. Brilliant in its concept and execution!

5. TV On The Radio – “Dear Science” – The new album from TVOTR is probably their best, most cohesive album yet. Taking their influence from everything from The Ramones (check out the opening of the first track “Halfway Home”) and The Buzzcocks (“Dancing Choose”) to David Bowie and David Byrne (“Golden Age”), this is one of the most energetic albums I’ve ever heard recorded. Driving, dancey, and packed to the gills with insane falsettos, what’s not to love? If you only hear one album featuring Tunde Adebimpe this year, make it this one!*

4. She and Him – “Volume One” – Since I saw “Elf,” I knew Zooey Deschanel pretty fantastic voice, but I’ll admit, when I heard she had cut an album with M. Ward, it reeked of celebrity vanity project (see: Scarlett Johansson’s “Anywhere I Lay My Head”*). That’s why I was so blown away by how damn good She and Him really are. Not only can Zooey belt out a tune, she can write some great pop songs. From start to finish, the album has this old-school, 60’s southern pop style, with the standouts being the great “This is Not a Test,” and “Why Do You Let Me Stay Here?,” which I consider the coolest/ sexiest/ catchiest pop song of the year. 2009 will be looking bright if “Volume Two” is anywhere on the horizon.

3. Dillinger Four – “C I V I L W A R” – Six years, two false start release dates, a fake break-up, a rumored death, and a million side projects have stood between Dillinger Four’s last album and this one, which finally dropped in October. C I V I L W A R (“Civil War” for short) was well worth the wait. D4 has been called “the only punk band that matters,” and albeit those who shout this are typically not sober, they are very, very right. This album is fast, loud and as lyrically strong as anything else D4 has recorded, while also featuring a new production quality that I’m still not sure fits these Twin Cities punks. In light of the polish, when the album gets down to business it doesn’t fuck around: the dueling buzzsaw guitars on the opening “A Jingle for the Product” are killer, and virtually every (disappointingly few) song Paddy sings are among D4’s best (especially awesome is “ParisHiltonIsAMetaphor”). Musical tips of the hat to Radon and Toys That Kill balance out the album, leading to the excellent closing track “Clown Cars On Cinder Blocks.” In any other year, this would be album of the year hands down, but 2008 was just too damn good to handle.

2. The Hold Steady – “Stay Positive” – Definitely their most ambitious album yet, The Hold Steady returned with a surprisingly sober, introspective album that brings up themes of finding a dignity and grace in getting older. Craig Finn’s lyrics remain as brilliant as always, including some of the greatest lines I’ve ever heard (my personal favorite- “Raise a toast to St. Joe Strummer, I think he might have been our only decent teacher”). Unlike 2006’s riff-packed “Boys and Girls in America,” this album sees the Hold Steady get more experimental with their music, with some tracks that harken back to the old Lifter Puller days (the synths in “Navy Sheets” make it sound like a b-side straight from “Fiestas and Fiascos”), but they can still switch gears back to the classic big-riffing bar-rock that made them one of the biggest indie rock bands going today, especially “Sequestered in Memphis,” which sounds more like the E-Street Band than E-Street has in 20 years. Every song is a winner, building up to the heavy rocking closer “Slapped Actress,” easily the best closing track of the year. After an album that contemplates on their entire history up to present, I’m very curious where The Hold Steady will go next. Wherever that is, I’m there.

1. Vampire Weekend – “Vampire Weekend” - I still can’t believe the best album of the year came out in January. All year long, I compared everything to the self-titled debut album from NYC’s Vampire Weekend, and this one beat them all. From the first time I heard this album to the (probably) 80th, I can never get tired of how infectiously catchy and entertaining it is. The band’s strong 80’s-style Brit-pop influence combines with a heavy reference to classic reggae and ska, and the end result is something between a dancier Talking Heads, an indie rock English Beat, or Wes Anderson: The Band. If you try to comprehend Vampire Weekend’s lyrics, your head will implode, just know two things and you’ll be fine: 1.) Their dumb name is based on a student film they made in college, and 2.) If you can listen to this album and not find yourself toe-tapping, nodding along or at least smiling, you probably aren’t alive.

(*Yes, Scarlett Johansson’s album really was that disappointing that I had to bring it up twice in this top ten list… but it wasn’t half as bad as Weezer’s Red Album.** )

(**but then you probably knew that already.)

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Here comes summer

May. 14th, 2008 | 12:14 pm
location: Zombie Casablanca
mood: artistic
music: She and Him "Why Do You Let Me Stay Here?"

Once again, it's been far too long since I wrote anything in this journal, and I'd kinda be lying if I said it's just because I've been too busy. In a way I have, since I've been job-hunting nonstop for the last 8 months, and am sadly not much closer to finding a better place to work than a crappy bank in hard-hittin' New Britain. Oh well..
But I decided this morning today would be a day to get back to doing some more creative things, so I have a couple things to talk about, in glorious UPDATE-O-SCOPE!

"DOWNHILL FROM HERE" my old web-comic has a new home! You can visit www.myspace.com/dhfh [or click this super-convenient link] to check out the new home for Suzie Finn and her crew. I've posted the first six comics from DHFH version 2 [that's the one most of you remember, the good one where I knew how to write and the art's not awful]. I'll be adding more comics every few days til the whole thing's posted on the site for your easy reading perusal. And if you have a myspace page, Suzie is in desperate need of friends, so help a sister out and add her to your friends list!

Speaking of DHFH, I'll let you in on the skinny that I alluded to months earlier, and you've most likely forgotten about by now. My original plan was to have the entire DHFH collection published and released as a trade paperback this Spring, but in true Downhill fashion, I actually lost the image files to two of the older seasons. So, rather than publish most of the story, I'm holding off until I can either a.) find the missing pages, or b.) have enough time to redraw and recreate the missing pages. I'm not sure which will happen faster, but it'll be published one day. In the meantime, I've at least got the myspace page.

"VERY EMERGENCY" has really come together. The script is ready to go, and I'll be starting layouts for the first issue this month. The book itself won't be released until the summer of 2009, but there's plenty of cool stuff coming beforehand to hype this thing. I just finished the first draft of "Issue Zero," a little preview story that will be released digitally in late 2008, along with [if I can get it together] a few live action promo spots, which will debut on the forthcoming ZOMBIE CASABLANCA website.

Next time I'll post some sketches from the VE sketchbook, just to give you a taste of the cool to come. And you're welcome to read a copy of the latest draft if you haven't already.. just drop me a line and i'll send it over. I can't get enough feedback about this project!

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Touring in the Fall

Sep. 19th, 2007 | 09:29 pm
location: the apt.
mood: exanimate
music: petra haden - "don't stop believing"

Wow, it's been a long time since i posted anything here...
what's been up with me?
well, that's certainly a thoughtful thing to ask, me.
i do try my best to be thoughtful and ask such considerate questions, me.
i know, i just wanted to tell you that i appreciate it... me.
anyhoo, this has been a crazy busy summer, not necessarily the most showstopping awesome-est summer ever, but it had its moments. like, working on the production crew for the new Indinan Jones movie. and moving in to a new apartment with Becca. and working my new soul-sucking job. a LOT.
not much happened on the creative front, though, so i've really been dying to get back to doing that artsy-creative kinda stuff. just figured i'd update y'all to what i've got going...
first off, the Downhill From Here website is going away. the series ended a while ago, and there's been little to no activity from the site in a long, long time now. that being said, there's still some life to be had out of Downhill; i'll post more on that when i get all my eggs in the same basket, but let's just say i've been doing a lot of... compiling.
speaking of compiling, my project for this week is mixtapes, since it's been far, far too long since i put one together. and i finally have some motivation, what with Lisa Ton needing road music for her move to San Diego and Zoe's birthday this weekend. and of course, there's a special someone else who may just score a super sweet new mix out of me sooner than later, too.
my new comic project is plugging along, albeit slowly. i finished the 6th and final draft of the script, and it's exactly where i want it. i've been doing more and more concept and design sketches, so the next step is going back to check out some more source material... which means watching John Cusack and James Bond movies [the good ones, the Connery ones... wow, it'd be damn cool if Connery and Cusack were in a movie together... too bad Connery had to go and retire from acting], and reading lots of Nick Fury comics. i'm still shooting for a May 2008 release date for the first issue, but that deadline is encroaching ever closer. either way, i'll be making some big headway starting up the promotions front of this project in the next few weeks, doing a few small stories to give myself a feel for the rhythym and pacing of this story. it's cool, i'm really excited to get back to comic work, since i haven't done anything substantial comic-wise since Downhill wrapped last year.
lastly, for those of you out there addicted to my sassy, in-your-face writing skills, i'm writing reviews for my friend Adam's e-zine Surviving the Golden Age. it's a cool website if you're into indie, punk or hip hop, and i'm telling myself i'll be chiming in at least once a week with some nuggets of wisdom. so check it out if you're interested.
that's all for now, but i'll keep you all posted when new stuff comes together.
stay alive.

ps- i'm more than a little disappointed to admit that i'm pretentious enough to officially be more excited for Oscar-baiting fall movies than summer blockbusters nowadays, but can you really blame me when this fall will see new flicks from Wes Anderson, David Cronenberg, Paul Thomas Anderson, and the glorious return of the Coen Brothers?!?

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chapter 2

May. 18th, 2007 | 01:14 pm
location: dubyaeffceeess
mood: excited
music: ian's metal stuff

so the semester's over. even a year after graduating, that still has some resonnance for me.
this is the last time that's really gonna have an affect on me [i swear!], but my internship wrapped up the same time as school for everybody else, so i'll share in your collective sigh of relief.
i'm sitting at the wfcs office waiting for Becca, going over everything in my head..
this spring has been so crazy madly hectic that it just sunk in last night that, as of today, Becca and i are officially living together. we moved her out of the dorm this morning, and from here, we're headed to my apartment... our apartment, i should say.
it's crazy just how much can change in the span of a year.
a year ago, i was alone, finished with school, having no idea what comes next... and madly in love with a very special girl that i dreamed of being with someday...
actually, the more i think about it, not that much has changed. i'm still not sure of exactly what i'm gonna do now that i'm officially a part of the real world, but i'm not lonely anymore... and i'm still just as in love as ever with the same girl, and now we're starting something new, together.
i'm nervous, but i'm incredibly excited that Becca and i are gonna live together..
so i guess all there is to say is welcome home, love.

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production update

May. 12th, 2007 | 05:18 pm
location: house
mood: exanimate
music: petra haden sings: the who sell out

i haven't chimed in in quite a while with a production update on the comic book, so i thought i would.
for those who didn't know, last year i wrote a screenplay about breaking up that i ultimately decided would work much better as a comic book than a movie. it's been about 10 months since i finished the first draft of "very emergency," and since that time i've done five more drafts and done TONS of character/ environment/ style designs. so basically, the project is pretty much right where i want it to be to start the actual art chores. that's the name of the game for me this summer... drawing as much as i can of the six issues of this bad boy.
so we'll see how drawing goes... i haven't worked on a project of this size in a long, long time, and i really hope i'm not too rusty.
no matter what, i hope to have the first issue camera ready by the end of the year, for an early-2008 release date.
i'll be doing some fun promo stuff in the meantime to hype the series a bit, which i'll be sure to post here.
and, if any of you that haven't read the script yet and would like to, let me know and i'll send you a copy of the latest draft [that i just finished today, actually]. your feedback is always welcome.

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daily dose of don't kill yourself

Apr. 3rd, 2007 | 07:35 pm
location: heaven
mood: enthralled
music: that hip song on the Kung Fu Grip site

lest that last post was too negative for you to take, here's some great news-- GI Joe with the Kung-Fu Grip is back!!!!! don't believe me? check this out and be enthralled for hours!!

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The Pessimist’s Guide to 2006 - or - Ten Justifications for Arts and Culture Suicide

Apr. 3rd, 2007 | 07:05 pm
location: wayback machine
mood: recumbent
music: Elvis Costello - Watch Yr Step

**i wrote this piece for the wfcs program guide/ zine project that was supposed to launch back in february. it never really got off the ground, but this was a pretty solid piece, so i thought i'd share.. so.. enjoy.**

come each new year, it’s not uncommon for one to take a look back at the previous twelve months and reflect on them. To look at landmark events that helped shape our lives. To think of the best and most exciting things that happened. I was planning a list of just such events when it dawned on me– it’s the end of fucking February. The new year’s like a sixth over already. So I said fuck it and compiled a list of reasons why 2006 sucked and why I don’t miss it even a little bit.
1.- Arrested Development got cancelled.
The greatest TV show you never heard of finally left the airwaves when Fox pulled the plug in March 2006. At least the crew and brilliant cast [including David Cross, Will Arnett, “Teen Wolf 2"s own Jason Bateman] knew the end was coming, and went out on an amazing high note with a two hour final episode of brilliantly elitist injokes that tied up all the requisite loose ends.
2.- Gnarls Barkley kinda sucked.
Last January, the entire pop music world was ablaze with rumors of just how big an impact Gnarls Barkley would have when their full length album finally dropped. In theory, the r&b-inspired hip-pop duo of Cee-Lo and DangerMouse who performed dressed as pop culture icons like Alex and his droogies from “A Clockwork Orange” sounded cool enough to warrant the “second coming of Christ” level of hype before their album hit. Which just made it more disappointing when the album finally dropped, and it was... not bad. I wanted to love it. When I couldn’t, I wanted to hate it. But “St. Elsewhere” wouldn’t even let me do that; it’s too damn mediocre to remember any given song before the next one comes on and also fails to impress. Except “Crazy,” memorable only as the second-most-overused and irritating single of the year.
3.- Justin Timberlake brought sexy back.
With flaccid lyrics that sound more like dialogue from a “Pirates of the Carribean” movie than anything erotic, I’m still wondering where sexy went that Justin’s bringing it back from. Maybe it’s a sign of maturing as a pervert when what passes as kinky in the teenybopper mallrat set comes off as just annoying. And speaking of annoying...
4.- Jamiroquai released a “Best Of” album.
...and it wasn’t a blank disc.
5.- Dreamgirls bogarts the Oscars’ best song award.
Granted, I’ve only heard Beyonce’s number, but c’mon– three song nods for one movie?!? I refuse to believe any soundtrack is good enough to warrant that. Just give them the goddamn Oscar and call it a night.
6.- The great cinematic race for the bottom.
Bad movies are nothing new. I’m sure even when film was still a brand new medium, Murnau and Wiene were met with producers who thought it’d be better to cast Martin Lawrence as Nosferatu and have him fart on his victims. But 2006 really pulled out all the stops when it comes to bad movies. Don’t believe me? Just head to your local video store [or Netflix-friendly mailbox] and watch X Men 3, RV and 3 Fast 3 Furious: Tokyo Drift. After you stop your eyes from bleeding, just remember that those three movies were all released within a span of three weeks. That’s three weeks of 2006... then just think about what horrors the other 49 weeks must hold...
7.- No new retarded fashion statements.
On the subject of trends, 2006 was the first year in quite some time to not feature some ludicrous new fashion statement for America’s youth to embrace and subsequently spend too much money on. Which is a true shame, since the last few years have been phenomenal in their absurdity, from 04's fauxhawk to 05's collar poppers. While I’m on the subject of clowns...
8.- George Bush is still president.
This fact was aggravated in 2006 by the fact that Borat is not president. But on the topic of futile and meaningless acts of aggression..
9.- Playstation 3 used up the year’s supply of gamer-on-gamer violence.
The beatings, robberies and shootings came and went within the first 12 hours of the PS3's release. Disappointing since I was so hoping to hear a week later that someone got shot over a Wii, cos there’s no statement in the world that’d be funnier than “I got shot over a Wii.”
10.- Burrito Max closed down.
The long-standing last good reason to go to Boston closed its doors this past summer, and with it went the finest and classiest dining experience you can ever dream of. There really isn’t much point to eating once you realize this.. everything just tastes like cardboard.

but I don’t want to leave you thinking 2006 was really that terrible... and to help illustrate my point, here’s five reasons why 2007's already doomed to be worse:
1.- Atreyu has a best of album.
2.- “Wild Hogs” hits theaters in March. Why would you do this movie, Bill Macy? Why?!?
3.- Crappy Superbowl ads. How many times must we insist, old saggy man-boobs don’t sell cars!!
4.- The Pre-Primary Presidential hype machine. Please don’t pre-empt my 24 for your real-life political intrigue.
5.- The last Harry Potter book comes out this summer... and after that I’m left with one less thing to feign interest in people telling me about.

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Breaking News... and Hell May Freeze Over

Mar. 28th, 2007 | 08:20 pm
location: next door to damnation?
mood: exanimate
music: the Arrivals - Hell Can Wait

ok, i may not be the easiest person to shake up. under most circumstances, i've got a good knack for keeping my cool, but once in a while something comes along that just makes me freak the fuck out. what i'm referring to in this particular circumstance, dear readers, is this announcement by Pope Benedict XVI yesterday morning, confirmation that the stuff of our most terrible nightmares is, indeed, as real as can be.
that's right folks, hell is a real place. somewhere below us, but totally there. with fire and brimstone and a little red guy with a pitchfork. for real.
now i'm sure i've terrified some of you already with the thought that maybe one day you'll find yourself in this wretched locale [others, particularly those from new jersey may be looking forward to an upgrade to better living conditions], but that's not our immediate concern. i know you all very well and most of you are decent [and baptised] enough to evade this fiery fate, and the rest of you can recant on your deathbeds. what we really have to think about are the ramifications of hell being a physical geographic location. this adds so much previously-ignored gravitas to the consequences of a wrong turn off the interstate or a Lost-esque oceanic plane crash.
and if hell exists, then it's most assuredly going to fall victim to the global warming Al Gore claims is already affecting our planet. what would the result of global warming be on a place that consists only of endless fire and anguish? would the greenhouse effect make the flames of hell burn even hotter than the misery and hate that have fueled them since the beginning of biblical time [referred heretofore as "the only time that matters"]?
or could we be looking at some weird paradigm shift where the rising ocean levels from the melting polar icecaps would trickle down to extinguish the agonizing fires and actually make hell cooler? and if this is the case, what would happen to the steam created by the suddenly-stamped flames? would it reach us on the surface, causing a sudden and cataclysmic outbreak of geyser eruptions? or would the steam rise all the way above the clouds to heaven, ironically raising the living temperature of paradise while damnation cools?...
there are so many troubling unanswered questions now, especially in our post-9/11 environment; the only time i've been able to stop thinking about this today was to hyperventilate into a paper bag and grasp my rosary beads all the tighter for a hot second. how any of us can be expected to continue to function in our daily lives now, knowing that hell could literally be a stone's throw away, is completely beyond me.

thanks a lot for ruining my day, Pope Benedict XVI, you fucking dick.

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Can't Stop Lovin You

Mar. 23rd, 2007 | 01:50 am
location: HQ
mood: exanimate
music: modest mouse - dashboard

my top-five all-time favorite movies list is an ever-changing, ever-evolving creature. one film stays on it nearly 100% of the time, and Anchor Bay has just released a new 2-disc edition of it, pictured here:

Stuart Gordon's Re-Animator is, for me, the ultimate b-horror movie. you can keep your Evil Dead, Re-Animator is way cooler. it's [very loosely] inspired by Lovecraft's short story, for one. and if you're into shock schlock like the tree raping scene in Evil Dead 1, you haven't seen anything until you see a headless man perform cunnilingus on a captive woman by holding his own severed head between her legs. and for all his coolness, Ash lacks the looney zeal of Jeffery Combs' Herbert West-- i get a twisted joy every time i watch this flick just seeing the hellbent scientist's gears turning every second of the film, thinking "huh, wonder what would happen if i re-animated that?..."
and with this latest edition, you also get a new 70-minute documentary on the making of the film, and a way-cool highlighter shaped like a syringe needle... flourescent green, of course.

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RIP: Captain America [1941-2007]

Mar. 9th, 2007 | 01:49 pm

if you haven't heard yet, Steve Rogers, Captain America, is dead. Marvel Comics made the questionable executive decision to kill off one of their longest-standing and most iconic characters in "Captain America" #25, released this wednesday. the true shocker of this plot twist is how well they kept this under wraps ahead of time. when DC killed Superman back in the mid-90's, there was major press coverage, both in comics and major mass media attention. everyone knew Superman was going to die months before the issue was actually released. Marvel decided to do something different with Cap.. instead of flooding the media with news of the event, they made sure no one knew about it until the issue was released this week. this is the part that i find interesting and truly bold in their plan; everyone found out about this death at the same time, a comic-based shot heard round the world.. it somehow adds more gravity and more realism to the death. and news coverage of the event is playing right along, with everyone from CNN to Variety to Fox News breaking it as if any living person in the political world had been assassinated. it's a deft and fascinating exercise in the fusion of art and reality, cohering to deliver more depth and personality to what is typically a shameless exercise in quick buzz generation.
How is the issue itself? pretty damn good, i must say. writer Ed Brubaker's run on the book has been phenomenal over the past two years, melding classic Cap characters [Bucky, the Red Skull, even Armin Zola(!?!)] into a more realistic setting of espionage and secret politics.. a sort of "24" for the spandex set, and this style fit the shocking death scene-- which only slightly smells of idiotic "let's shake things up for no reason" corporate fuckery wherein the hands of a lesser writer it would absolutely reek-- with a tragic perfection. it's abrupt, it's jarring, and it really takes a few pages to sink in; Captain America is dead.
mission accomplished-- i really need to know what happens next.

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