Vinyl Floor - Funhouse Mirror
Danish-based Vinyl Floor not only channels the decorative vibe of your great aunt’s kitchen in 1969, but they play a mix of alternative-cum-melodic rock firmly entrenched in the sensibilities of that moment. Comprised of two brothers, Charlie and Daniel Pedersen – both of whom alternate vocal duties – the band count Funhouse Mirror as their fifth LP. Of note, the music pushes “experimental and symphonic expression,” thus harkening back to the warmer tones of the group’s earlier efforts. As a bonus, it also features support from known quantities like Bebe Risenfors (horns/percussion/organ), Rob Stoner (bass) and Christian Ellegaard (strings). Respectively, these musicians have loaned their talents to heavy hitters as varied as Tom Waits, Joni Mitchell, Bruce Springsteen and the Danish National Symphony Orchestra. Because even vinyl – like its cousins linoleum, Formica and shag – can surprise with touches of class.
Barreling headlong, the opening cut “Anything You Want” is a punch in the gut, courtesy of an excitable Elvis Costello-type riff. The immediacy of the piece shatters melodic expectation without reverting to the needless bombast of prog. Which is to say, the tune boasts uniqueness yet shuns exclusivity. “Between The Lines” slows the tempo. Toeing the line between Oasis and Ben Folds, the track floats like a piano-driven daydream. Not to mention, it drifts nicely into “Dear Apollon,” a message to the god of liberal arts curricula, via delicate keys and Queen dandification.
Much of the first two-thirds of the record maintains this sonic blueprint. For the visually inclined, it might bear a resemblance to parasol twirlers and big bloomers. For everyone else, it’s a jovial romp through bright phrasing, bubbly choruses and occasional harmonics. Case in point: “Ever, The Optimist” sounds like Ringo Starr covering XTC, before an extended horn jam conjures the spirit of Dave Matthews. And “Funhouse Mirror,” the title track, pays homage to Mott The Hoople, albeit with light fuzz on the guitar solo.
Of note, the final three tracks excel beyond mere competence, packing the light-in-the-fly sounds of yore with extra heft. In other words, the brothers have let out their inseams. And we, as listeners, are escorted behind the titular looking glass. It’s a just reward after lending our collective attention for 25 minutes, even if the decision to bury these gems behind seven earlier offerings of flip eccentricity is, well, unorthodox.
Namely, “Death of a Poet” meshes Beethoven’s long-out-of-copyright ‘Moonlight Sonata’ with an inspirationally rousing chorus that, at times, teeters nervously into Scott Stapp territory. “Stare, Scare” casts a menacing injection of electronic energy; a razor-sharp, layered chassis of synthetic drive that zig-zags with metallic undertones. When paired with a rich baritone – channeling post-punk revivalists White Lies – the song truly blossoms. Likewise, “Days” closes the LP with a gorgeous (yet interestingly syllabic) melody. It’s a textured lullaby at heart, imploding in a contoured, nearly looping outro. Alas, the only weakness to this final trio is the under-reliance of Daniel Pedersen’s grunge tipped vocals; welcomingly gruff yet delicate.
Still, it was an absolute treat to gaze through – and eventually step into – that mirror. Admission well spent, a perfect day, a fairground reverie in gin-clear glass.
I always like a good comeback story and that’s what you have with Creatures of Habit. A decade ago three high school students, Matt Santellanes, Will Maillet and Zakk Glass, started a metal band. As with most high school bands, after a few years of writing music and playing shows, they graduated, each went their own way, and ended the band. All three continued to master their crafts as musicians, songwriters and music producers. Ten years later they met back up to jam and decided to put their talents together once again and release Are You Chest In Or Chest Out?
The album felt like it was built on a foundation of pop-punk although they do a great job interjecting a number of different styles. They get going with “OG Dirt Flat Top” which starts with an electronic 808 like kit and synths. The song literally swells into a different genre. They sounded tight and I was impressed by their technical skills especially the drums and bass. The vocalist is expressive and to the point where I was struggling to make out a lot of the lyrics. That being said he shows some range here. At the lower octaves I had no problem making out the words.
“1v1 Recycling” is a solid song all around. The vocalist nails this song and I was able to make out a lot more of the lyrics here. I liked the mix of pop-punk and metal on this song. The dancing guitar work, thunderous drums and steady bass work was really well done. There’s also a couple of brief breakdowns. It’s a powerful song considering the energy alone.
“Aww Shucks” is next and possibly the most single worthy song on the album. This song had memorable melodies the first time I heard it. It felt like an anthem that people might sing along with. The band continue to display their range in terms of dynamics.
“Keep Me Closed (All The Ways)” starts with one of the best grooves on the album. It’s more in an alternative style associated with indie rock. The song blossoms and similar to other songs it’s a powerful song with intense energy that rarely lets up.
“That Seems Pretty Intrusive” is very different from the previous song but not out of place. This song revolves around acoustic guitars, atmosphere, emotive vocals and other subtle elements. They keep the energy low here which invites a sense of melancholy and pensive thought. “Lil Ghost Fingers” was interesting and sort of the mid level energy song and also one of the catchier songs that gets more intense and distorted as it progresses.
“The Second Ice Is Always Better Than The First” is a good one. I picked up on post-rock vibes which I always thought had a nice marriage with pop-punk. Last up is “Steve Sharpy” which is an exceptional close. The band seems to have an infinite amount of riffs and quickly change in a moment's notice.
The band sounds in tip top shape. Their technical skill is undeniable and when combined with their creativity and musicality everything comes together. The cross pollination of genres was also well done which I thought by the end of the album created a signature sound. Take a listen.
JnM - Weight of the World
JnM is the married couple of Jeff Falkenstein and Martha Anne Carr. The duo are based in Mandeville, LA. They have played various local gigs over the past twenty years under various names and recently released The Weight of the World. It’s a twelve-song album that is a compilation of various styles, including power pop, Americana, folk pop and a classic singer/songwriter feel.
They get going with “The Director” which is nice sounding rock that blends warm Americana vibes. The feeling I was getting right off the bat was an upbeat song that puts you in a good mood. It felt like a summer jam. The chorus is catchy and I thought the melodies were memorable. I also thought the harmonica sounded great.
“The Only One I Love” is where they display some of their talent blending vocal harmonies. This song has a similar aesthetic but perhaps has a little more of a ’90s flavor. The song drives and the chorus is infectious and it was quickly becoming apparent they have catchy songs.
One of the highlights was “Los Congos.” I loved the worldly vibe here. The groove sticks with you and there is just some great instrumentation overall. Between the lyrics and the melody, the song might make you feel like you’re in the jungle On the chorus they sing “Oh, can’t you hear them calling. / Crying out into the sun. / The precious forest around them is falling. / The howling monkeys on the run.”
“May 19th (of any given year)” is an intimate song at first that blossoms into quite the arrangement. I was getting Fleetwood Mac vibes and perhaps Cat Stevens as well in regards to the instrumentations. The guitar work was exceptional on this song.
“Flower (featuring Elise Falkenstein)” felt very cinematic and motivational to my ears while “The Weight of the World” contains some of the best overlapping vocal melodies. One of my favorite songs on the album was “Queen of Spite” which is just a lot of fun. It felt like a song you would want to hear on a Saturday night. The slight surf rock flavor was well done.
As the album progressed I thought there was a nice variety of genres while not going too far into left field. It all felt connected. “So Caught Up In Him” and the closer “Glory of the Lord” felt like standouts.
I thought this was a solid album from beginning to end. The songwriting and delivery was top notch. I think their biggest strength was their ability to harmonize together. There’s a lot to appreciate here. Take a listen.
Scott Hain aka Hands of Anne Boleyn is an artist from Seattle, Washington who recently released In Every Disaster. Hain is a self-taught solo artist who has been playing music since he was a kid and seems to be influenced by similar artists I have looked up to as well. He mentions “My first recording was a cover of the Pixies "Where Is My Mind" on an old reel to reel recorder that I got at a garage sale when I was 10 years old.”
The first song is entitled “Attraction of Pieces” and revolves around jangly guitar chords, 4/4 beats and a steady bass. The drums have a pulsating rhythm and I thought the guitar work was well done. I would say the ’90s aesthetic was fairly overt. There really isn’t much of a lead. You could make an argument for the guitars. I kept on thinking I was going to hear vocals come in.
“Translucent Myopi” has a more haunting quality but seamlessly transitions into something more epic and even motivational sounding. Hain explains “it is a song that I wrote in the late ‘90s and played live in bands.” The piano and guitar work coalesces well here and I thought the transitions were well done.
“The Healing Hurts” was a cool sounding song. Something about it reminded me of being by the seashore and relaxing your mind but with an undercurrent of pensive thought. The guitar work in particular was great. Hain hits a lot of the right notes with the lead guitar but the unique strumming patterns also added a lot.
“Lover Song” is a very different sounding song. This is led by synth, the drums are programmed to sound more electronic and it’s really atmospheric. The song also contains glistening piano notes. This song felt the most cinematic out of the songs I heard. “Atypical Depression” is the arguable highlight. This song felt more post-rock inspired and one of my favorite band's Mogwai came to mind. Last up is “Gift of God” which is a somber sounding song that seems to revolve around a single guitar.
As an engineer my only slight critique was the recording aesthetic. The mixing was solid but sometimes the drums in particular had a little too much of that in the box quality instead of making it feel like it was a band playing live in a room.
There’s a good amount of variety and also a lot to appreciate with this release. Hain is definitely an impressive songwriter.Take a listen.
Jeff Jakobs - The Milk Barn Sessions
Jeff Jakobs doesn’t need adequate plumbing to scratch at the deeper nooks of his soul. He doesn’t even need an up-to-code furnace or a cord of dry wood to operate it. And he certainly doesn’t require a high Airbnb rank when scoping out a recording site for The Milk Barn Sessions. In fact, all that Jakobs does seem to expect when hewing a debut EP is a hot kettle of borscht. Because fewer things in the modern world – or at least, in the pastoral nooks of this particular artist’s mind – stir the juices quite like a punchbowl of beetroot soup.
Titled after the upstate New York outbuilding (with questionable heat) that spawned these tracks, the collection parrots the mindset of ’60s-‘70s folk, further informed by a sprawling winter. Artists such as Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen and Joni Mitchell are cited as influences. And since Jakobs honed his credibility as a songwriting busker in Manhattan, the associations piece together nicely. Thematically, he covers pandemic-era issues dealing with fear and doubt; hoping to paint a more glass-half-full (or, more appropriately, borscht-half-full) reflection of a harrowing time.
The opening cut, “From All Angles,” leans toward Peter, Paul and Mary with the high vocal register of Passenger. It also features poignant harmonica, which is probably an oxymoron, yet marks the end of each verse to great effect. This is matched by the layering of harmonics toward the close, the latter of which raise the song's emotional IQ. “The Price You Pay For Love” continues in the same vein. A pretty composition, the tune is steeped in slyly humorous lyricism (“Took a walk around the block / Collapsed and traced myself in chalk”), clever metaphor and brilliant turns-of-phrase (“So when I close my eyes tonight / And listen to the neighbors fight / I'll pretend it’s you and me / Thats how I wish that it could be"). It might even qualify as an old school ‘jump rope rhyme,’ for those pining after 17th century sensibilities. Either way, Jakobs’ background as a stand-up comic surely propels the wit.
“Life On Hold” pairs guitar with (eventual) trombone. When coupled with a more traditional harmonica sound, the melody sticks like oatmeal; a freely woozy sing-song to status quo and venom, channeling The Magnetic Fields. “Bert’s Blues” is a logical extension to this style, wafting like the product of a drunken troubadour. It could almost be the closing tune at a burlesque show, waddling along as house lights rise to sear retinas.
The final two offerings, “Artificial Light” and “Nighttime Prayer,” trade melodic expanse for campfire comfort. Said differently, these are songs with which to cook beans under an open sky. And that’s completely fine, assuming one can use a flint, magnesium block or jerrycan of gasoline to spark the mood.
The Milk Barn Sessions taps rustic poetry that “celebrates the healing power of art and creation,” especially in reaction to a cruel virus. It’s an unpolished, occasionally pitchy, nugget; a complement to the damaged siding of the titular barn on the cover. Plus, it goes down familiar and easy. Just like a cauldron of borscht. Or, well, maybe chicken soup.
Black Cassady - Black Cassady
Black Cassady is taking no prisoners with their self-titled debut album Black Cassidy. This trio of garage rockers wants to be the next White Stripes or The Black Keys, and that’s no small aspiration in a genre dominated by talented bands. They come scorching onto the scene with the opening track, “shade of grey.” A plodding beat underpins a catchy, distorted guitar rhythm and vocals which insist that, “Sometimes the best color’s a shade of grey.” There was a magnificent solo towards the end of the song. Sizzling lead guitar blasts into view and makes it abundantly clear that Black Cassady is not a band that wants to fade into the background.
I loved the riff on “get lost.” The band continues onwards with their big, booming beats and delicious guitar hooks. And, of course, we’re treated to another electrifying guitar solo on this track. It might’ve been even more scorching than the solo on the opener. How can the band step things up from here? Well, “heads or tails” offers the most chaotic track yet. Smashing drum cymbals, a furiously-descending guitar rhythm and passionate vocals combine to create a manic rock anthem. I’d love to see this one live.
“middle of the night” sounds like a road-trip banger. The crunchy guitar rhythm and pounding drum beat are consistent with the first few tracks on the album, but the biggest surprise for me was the harmonizing on the chorus. The ‘ah’ refrains in the chorus, presumably from all three members of the band, wouldn’t have been out of place on many rock albums from the ‘60s. A pleasant, unexpected moment on a pumped-up track.
Then, Black Cassady offers something different again on “long time coming.” Stripped-back, quieter drumming in the verses gives room for the bass guitar rhythm to really shine. It also made the large electric guitar chords really stand out in the choruses. The loud-quiet dynamic always works a treat in the garage rock genre. This rock belter leads into the upbeat “the truth.” The blues influence in this track’s rhythm sounds almost ‘20s-influenced (played on an electric guitar rather than an acoustic guitar, of course).
“the moan” offers very raw and passionate lyrics about… well, you can probably imagine from the title. The slow, sensual guitar chord progression and the gentle beat perfectly complement the sexy atmosphere of this song. There is another utterly transfixing guitar solo towards the end of this track, and it blew my mind. Never content with sticking to one rock style, of course, Black Cassady offers a fast-paced rock banger on “two minus one.” Again, I’m a massive fan of the descending rhythm; it gives the chorus a dark and haunting vibe.
“here and now” is another bluesy hit. Black Cassady employs the loud-quiet dynamic again, allowing the verses to be dominated by a funky bass rhythm and emotive vocals, with occasional splashes of electric guitar chords. “Try to focus on the here and now” is the advice offered in the electrifying choruses. This leads into the six-minute “queen bee.” This lengthy track is driven by the catchiest blues rhythm on the album, played on a muted electric guitar. “I hope I give you what you need / ‘Cause you’re my queen bee.” Sounds like a cheesy love song, right? Somehow, it isn’t. It’s a gargantuan blues anthem with emotive vocals and, of course, face-melting guitar solos. It definitely brought Jack White to mind. “Ball and Biscuit” was an equally slow, yet gut-punching, rock banger on Elephant. And, in the same way, Black Cassady manages to make a six-minute song fun and dynamic (not a bloated prog-rock piece).
The tempo really ramps up on “monsters,” a frantic garage rock track which offers more tasty riffs. I liked the rapidly-strummed lead guitar hook in the chorus, too; it gave the track a monstrous darkness (which seemed fitting). Finally, we reach “all there is.” This final song closes the album nicely. A slow, chugging, heavily-distorted guitar rhythm drives this heavy outro. Black Cassady showcases all that makes them great, throwing one last sizzling guitar solo at the listener before calling it a day. It was just as consistently ferocious and head-bang-worthy as the opening track, and I think that speaks to the strengths of their entire album. There’s no filler on this high-octane rock album.
Lounn - When I'm Home
Lounna is the stage name for folk singer and songwriter Brenna L. Slate, who lives in a small town near Pittsburgh, PA. Self-taught on guitar and banjo, she first appeared on a 2020 home recorded project on Bandcamp titled Sundry Demos. Her debut full-length CD is called When I’m Home, which she calls “a story of a girl going off on her own, realizing she is lost, and then trying to find her way and finding herself. It is a journey of finding home.”
Musically Slate calls this “a modern indie folk album” and marks the first time she has worked with other artists, including Vera Sola (synth strings) and Ol Whitetail (banjo). “I was so used to working alone, (but they) really helped to bring out the best of the songs.” Slate has carried many of these songs for years, and the songs were chosen that worked best together to tell her story. Slate’s inspirations include indie folk bands such as Bear's Den, First Aid Kit, Towr's and Gregory Alan Isakov. However, she feels her sound is more unique: “A bit indie, a bit acoustic and a bit Americana all mixed together.”
Recording took place in Slate’s living room using Studio One, which was then mixed and mastered by Rich Mann in HIS living room. The recording quality is good overall, though sometimes boomy and slanted toward the lower end of the EQ scale.
“Pennies in the Fountain” establishes the Lounna sound with Slate playing what sounds like a nylon string acoustic guitar (with that nice low-end sound) which is then embellished with her own vocals and filled out with faux strings and simple beats. Slate has a lovely, strong singing voice that easily lends itself to doubling and harmonies. A certain “Ol Whitetail” plays banjo, as he does on several other tracks. Thematically this feels like a sad song about trying to love someone who can’t be tied down to a person or place. “Monarch to Mexico” is a more upbeat, folky track with the same instrumentation as before, though this one feels a bit more roomy and live-sounding. I love the lyrical device of comparing a bittersweet relationship with the migration of Monarch butterflies to Mexico.
“Lavender Wine” is the first track where Slate records all instruments including banjo, which she plays in a remarkably similar style to her collaborator Ol Whitetail. Here’s another song about love where this time the narrator yearns for a return of her partner, and Slate takes the opportunity to perform some amazing falsetto vocals with fewer overdubs, mostly standing on her own. The synth backings are creative and exciting as the song gains energy and momentum. Of the first three tracks this is my clear favorite.
“Valley (Of the Moon)” returns Whitetail to banjo duties and introduces Vera Sola on synth strings. The first time I heard this album through I was aware that some songs had guests and some were Slate solo, but I was amazed (then and now) how consistent the arrangements feel. This track features a slow, steady beat with perhaps more toms than before. Slate’s chorus vocals are carefully overdubbed and carry a lot of power and pain.
The next two tracks are Slate solo performances. “Mississippi” feels a bit more traditionally folky, perhaps just for the use of “Mississippi” as an avatar for homesteading while awaiting someone’s return. There’s even a hint of Irish traditional in the background synth strings. “Fields of Thistle” is a shorter track that uses a similar lyrical device, substituting thistle fields (sounds scratchy!) for the Mississippi River. Musically it’s built on a simple repeating pattern that acts as a refreshing “palette cleanser.”
“Cliffside Dreaming” brings back string arranger Vera Sola, who provides otherworldly cello samples that seem to be pitched somewhere below sea level. Having said this, I’ve just noticed that the lyrics do conjure visions of cliff ??sides, stormy oceans and trees rooted to the edge of mountains, so the music certainly reinforces those themes.
“From the Cradle to the Grave” was an interesting title for Slate to pick, as there are at least two other songs by that name: one by speed metal band Havok, but more pertinently by folk guitarist Leo Kottke. I was a little sad that this was not a cover of the Kottke tune, but like that song, this one is a cautionary tale about fully embracing life as it is lived, and not just “surviving.” The imagery Slate uses (silver dollars on the beach, a train trip, grass and flowers) has the feel of actual events from the narrator’s life. The music is nice though this track doesn’t rhythmically cohere quite as much as the others. “Sycamore” ends the album with a full solo performance by Slate, and it very literally completes the album’s theme of “the journey of finding home.” It’s simple and very folky, with especially sweet, restrained vocal harmonies and a beautiful string arrangement.
This is an amazing collection of tunes by an artist who’s been gestating for a long time, finding herself artistically at last. It’s a joyous expression of self-discovery that becomes a gift to her listeners, the numbers of which I’m sure will grow with this assured debut album.
American Push Saw - Variable Star
American Push Saw is comprised of two siblings-- a brother and a sister-- who are located half in Chicago, IL and half in Michigan’s upper peninsula. Their debut, Variable Star EP, was recorded using FL Studio. According to their explanation of where the EP was recorded, all of the production was done in their mom’s suburban Chicago home’s basement. It’s quite fitting for this release given that their sound is folk and Americana blended with the indie rock and Midwest emo sounds that were prominent around the turn of the millennium. Not only that, but since indie folk is generally spare in production, the basement setting works to Variable Star EP’s advantage.
As I could tell by the song titles, the EP’s lyrical themes are purely inspired by the beauty of nature, particularly the forest. In fact, both the six-minute-long opener “Pine Psalm” and the more succinct “Ballad of the Oak Sapling” are about trees. It’s unclear to me whether or not the lyrics are meant to be taken literally or figuratively, since there are no words posted on their Bandcamp page. Either way, the deft touches of acoustic guitar are enough to convey the wonders of the woods.
The EP begins with the aforementioned “Pine Psalm.” Blissful and meditative, the guitar strums along in the key of C#, dense enough for the song itself to become a droning soundscape backed by longing vocals (“I wonder where you are…”). This is the highlight of the EP for me, personally. Then, we get a smattering of more folk rock on “Adventus.” Its dreamy layering of vocals and unplugged instruments is to be commended.
“Taiga” opens up with slaps of percussion as well as a lilting guitar riff. Its solely instrumental composition is warm and inviting. “Taiga” leads into a cut named “21/Shore,” which is the one song on the EP that most closely resembles Midwest emo with its jumpy rhythm section.
Judging by the titles of the last two tracks, “Ballad of the Oak Sapling” and “Sand River Bridge,” the nature themes of Variable Star EP are in full swing. The former feels melancholy overall, but the latter is much brighter and more carefree. Like “Taiga,” “Sand River Bridge” is also purely instrumental and speaks volumes for a piece that doesn’t have any words in it.
To be honest, this was a project that kept me intrigued even after the first listen. There was much to unravel within every song here. Thus, I think that even people who shy away from indie folk would appreciate the natural beauty of Variable Star EP by Chicago duo, American Push Saw. Also, you can bet I’ll be coming back to it whenever I feel like chilling out to some relaxing music! Highly recommended.
Ten Day Voyage is the project of songwriter Jamie Gibson, based out of Guelph and Toronto, Ontario, Canada. The band's debut LP, To the Ides of August, Goodbye is a product of the collaboration between Gibson and producer Corben Grant, also known by Premium Chants. They mention “The album is primarily about Gibson's breakup, but is also about a religious awakening and the Mad Pride movement via the thoughts of R.D. Laing.” I really can’t define this album into a genre because there’s almost no consistency between the individual songs.
The album starts with “Overture” which is a stripped back song revolving around strummed major and minor chords and vocals. It’s a nice song all things considered and falls into a folk laced aesthetic that sounds like it’s from the late ’60s.
There’s a full band on “It is No Longer I Who Live” which is an eight-minute song. I liked a lot of the melodies on this song especially when he sings “I see myself falling / I see myself falling into the dark.” There are some subtle pads here which add to the emotional resonance. It's a great song but the eight-minute run time did feel a little too long.
“The Great Mystery” is a heavier song with distorted guitar, drums and bass. It sounds like a different artist when comparing it to the first song. I was reminded more of modern garage rock like Car Seat Headrest. ”Ouroboros” is another change in direction. This song is a lot more experimental. It’s also one of the highlights. There are some pretty unique sounds here. The drumming was also top notch on this song.
“At Eternity's Gate” is this low-key and lush melancholy song. Electronic drums juxtaposed against warm keys. The vocals are more spoken. I found the lyrics haunting. The vocalist sings “I held a knife / I didn’t want to hurt nobody / It’s just that the walls were closing in on me / I held a knife.”
As the album progresses each song felt like a separate island and there was no real signature sound for the artist. “Templar Coltrane” is a straightforward rock song while “Blanket Love” seemed to have influence from shoegaze. I liked the lush soundscape called “Between Spaces'' which was a highlight.
As a producer for the last twenty years I would say the next step for the artist is to think about creating a signature sound. It was hard to connect with the artist because of how random this album felt. On that note the more experimental soundscapes are the strength. I think doing a whole album in that style would be food for thought.
Overall, I thought this was a solid album. There are a lot of good ideas that I think the artist can expand on in his next release. I look forward to hearing more in the not too distant future.
Every week we mention a couple of artists that are worth your time to check out that were not featured in our weekly reviews.
Artist Album Rating
Joshua Rector Electro Sturgeon Pisces 4.0
Ruby Leftstep The Ground Up 3.7
Brian Naked Canyon 3.7
Percocet ENJOY 3.7
Game Set Match Game Set Match 3.8
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