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Couch, Tarpigh, Orbital, Pleasure Forever, Structure Factor 8, Lumen, Mount Florida, Bee and Flower, Greg Foster and Joel Futterman, Norfolk & Rider, Born With a Tail, Syrup & Gasoline, Vol. I, Mike Skinner, Uptown Sinclair, Raya Wrath of Fancan, The Larch, Black Dice, Songs: Ohia, The Icarus Line, The Still, Alpha, Nymb, Redefine the Rockstar, Vol. 4, PC Phobia, Fancy Hair Dragon, The Mobius Band, Metropolitan/Calibos, Lorraine Ferro

Couch / Profane / Matador (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "12 sin nur 4"
Most instrumental rock music just leaves me thinking "Gee, this could be kind of okay if someone were singing something interesting over the top." The tunes on Profane need no such embellishment; they get everything they need from the sleepy grooves and dreamy, repetitive melodies laid down by the band's traditional rock lineup. I can't really listen to this disc actively; it's the kind of thing that works best when its allowed to enter the scene subtly, like when you're having a great conversation in a bar somewhere and you suddenly realize that you're really enjoying the music that's playing but that you have no idea what you've been listening to for the last hour. You won't go home humming this stuff, but you will remember what a good time you had listening to it. -- ib

Tarpigh / Monsieur Monsoon / North East Indie (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "...The Other Thing"
According to the liner notes, Monsieur Monsoon "was recorded in Tim's shed". It is in the so-called "homb recording" tradition -- an inside reference to Tarpigh's past work with Cerberus Shoal, presumably -- but don't call it garage rock. It's not rock at all. Perhaps it's jazz or some sort of globally informed, DIY folk music, but it wouldn't be right to call it rock. The opening track, "Chance", sounds like some sort of garage version of Enigma. It has the reverb-drenched ethnic flutes, the gently pulsing beating of ethnic drums and it is underpinned by the deep bass chanting of Tibetan monks (probably a recording!). The next track, "Wayra", retains the folksy ethnic fluting and the drumming, but adds a charango, which sounds something like a banjo. Monsieur Monsoon's first five tracks work along these lines, and they're quite charming, in a dreamy, trance-inducing kind of way. Track six, "This That...", moves the disc in a more jazzy direction. By track nine, "...The Other Thing", I'm think I've stumbled across an undiscovered Ornette Coleman recording. Tracks 11-13 ("D5", "C2" and "13") are cut from similar cloth. A bit quirky (á la Residents) and a bit kitschy (á la Perrey & Kingsley) but heavy on the bedroom charm, they form a sort of "silly suite." I'll admit that I'm intrigued by Tarpigh and Monsieur Monsoon. It's proof that while some people should refrain from inflicting their boudoir musical moments on the world, others definitely should not! -- nw

Orbital / The Altogether / London (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Oi"
While it has a few rough patches, the Hartnoll brothers' latest effort proves that they're still at the top of the electronic music heap. They're still able to come up with intriguing sonic textures, as evidenced by "Tootled"'s intriguing integration of processed guitar. They're also a dab hand with samples; "Oi", for instance, draws much of its fun from cut and pasted bits of the weird, chuffling saxophone interlude from Ian Dury's "Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick" (and, just to show my age, I didn't have to look at the liner notes to recognize it). Techno purists will delight in the traditionalism of "Last Thing", and a lot of people will be delighted to finally have a permanent copy of "Doctor?", the brothers' extremely faithful take on the Doctor Who theme. I'd question the inclusion of "Illuminate", a mostly non-electronic pop song with vocals by David Gray, but it certainly startled me when I heard it. If the song was intended to shock listeners, it succeeded in my case, which is laudable in spirit if not particularly stunning in execution. -- gz

Pleasure Forever / Self-Titled / Sub Pop (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Meet Me In Eternity"
This band of wannabe libertines have changed their name -- they used to be the Slaves. Their lyrics and press materials are chock full of Georges Battaille references and talk of orgies. Fortunately, their music is slightly less pretentious. Pleasure Forever is a pretty good listen: muted, poetic, with interesting piano lines that place you in French cabarets. The album is almost all rhythm, executed by a three piece (piano, bass and drums) except when the piano switches roles. Ultimately, I think a little less post-modernist theory and a little more passion (of which they’re obviously capable, as in "Meet Me In Eternity") would have transformed this album from an intellectualized seduction into the darkly erotic menage the band was so clearly trying for. -- az

Structure Factor 8 / A Conveniently Placed Close-Minded Fellow / Ionik (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Hutch"
These memorable from-the-bedroom indie pop tunes are spearheaded by digital surf guitar, moody acoustic chords, space-age electronics and androgynous vocals with a warm feel and concrete substance. Structure Factor 8 places one foot in whirlwind '80s pop, another in '60s British rock and its mutated third appendage in the future of post-rock as we know it. Try dancing to that! Quick sonic odes home in on melody, giving your ears an abrupt burst of pop-tinged beauty that's freaky enough to catch your attention, yet durable enough to retain it. Hip-swaggerin' magnetism and obtuse, body-shakin' arrangements keep you on your toes throughout this six-song EP. By the last track, you've been dumped into an air-gapped vacuum, enabling you to drift happily off into airless space, realizing that the music world is indeed a better place now that you've experienced Structure Factor 8 in its full form. -- am

Lumen / The Man Felt an Iron Hand... / Temporary Residence Limited (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "VI"
I was under the impression that, much like Warp Records, The Temporary Residence Limited could do no wrong. After hearing The Man Felt an Iron Hand..., that impression has, unfortunately, been smashed to bits. I guess I naturally expected big things from a group that boasts members of the amazingly talented A Minor Forest and the vastly underrated Tarentel. On their debut album, Lumen slog through eight relatively low-key -- and, frankly, vacuous -- songs. Even after several airings, nothing here elevates itself beyond the level of background music, as (the creatively titled) "I" and "IV"'s repetitive structure and total lack of dynamics will certainly attest. Diehard fans of AMF or Tarentel might want to inquire further, but the rest of you would be well advised to steer clear. -- jj

Mount Florida/ Arrived Phoenix / Matador (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Celebration"
It seems as if nobody can stick to a single genre any more; these days, bands leap between styles and methodologies without a moment's thought. Some bands can pull it off effectively, while others leave a sea of confused listeners in their wake. Mount Florida avoids falling into the second unfortunate category only by linking their genre-hopping stylings with the ambient, techno sound for which their fans know them so well. While some listeners may be apt to dismiss Arrived Phoenix as unfocused or possibly even pompous in its attempt to incorporate varied musical styles, the album is held together by consistent songwriting and quality performance. And really, why can't there be driving, rocking out guitars on one track ("Postal") and an eerie, orchestral string section on another ("Out There")? Hmmm? That's what I thought. -- al

Bee and Flower / 5 Song Demo / Self-Released (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Something Good"
Bee and Flower is the new project from singer-songwriter Dana Schechter. She has surrounded herself with a remarkable band, most notably including violinist/viola maestro Jon Petrow and keyboardist Rod Miller. The sound of these fellows' instruments is most memorable, helping to swing the group's material more toward the territory inhabited by Cranes and Telegraph Melts. The music by itself is pleasant and distinct, but it is nonetheless at odds with Schecter's songwriting abilities. Schecter clearly has her heart in this material, but her lyrics are strictly pop; when singing "Save me something good" in a slow, drawn-out manner to match the instrumentation, you damn near think she has nerve to ask for more than leftover chub. I am sure her voice, along the lines of a Throwing Muse or Pretender's pipes, could add pep to a power pop setting, but it isn't yet adept at making her words fit these less traditional settings. -- td

Greg Foster and Joel Futterman / Alabama / Drimala (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Bags"
If you've ever felt left out because you didn't exist during the Beat era, by all means check out this disc, on which Foster's poetry is accompanied by Futterman's free jazz piano and sax work. With their liberal twisting of rhyme and meter, the pair gets pretty far out on pieces like the twenty minute "Alabama Exequy". Unfortunately, they have difficulty sustaining the intensity that I find appealing in this style. This may be due to Foster eschewing political diatribe in favor of personal introspection, or to Futterman's occasionally overly chaotic runs. Despite this, the album is a curious listen -- just not one I'd play repeatedly. -- rd

Norfolk & Rider / The 13th Century b/w Hegira / Dutch Courage (7")

Sample 30 seconds of "The 13th Century"
Norfolk & Rider is something of a musical admiration society, teaming members of Portland's Norfolk & Western with Brooklynites Shoes & Rider. See how that works? The result of a cross-country tape exchange, these two dreamy tunes divide the bands' forces, with Mark Wyman taking vocal duties on the ornamental "13th Century" -- a slow and complex whirr of optigan, mandolin, piano, xylophone, guitar and other instruments -- while Adam Selzer brings his own lyrics to life on the shimmering, cello-spiked "Hegira". As if this wasn't groovy enough, the record is pressed on Hostess-Cupcake-Orange vinyl. Doesn't that make you want it even more? -- gz

Born With a Tail / Self-Titled / Bargain Basement (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Empire State"
Justin and Jared Brown have a guitar, a drum and a basement. What else do you need to record your own DIY manifesto? This collection of surf and rock instrumentals would be evocative of Some Velvet Sidewalk if Al Larsen was proficient on the guitar. Employing a fun array of instruments, from bunchy guitars to slinky keyboards, the Virginia brothers craft catchy soundtracks to kickball games and clay-mation films yet to be made, such as "Ray Harryhausen", an ass-kicking ode to the master of stop-motion animation. This is the kind of music that Frank Black vacuums the house to. Get the picture? -- rg

Various Artists / Syrup & Gasoline Vol. 1 / Grenadine (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "La Course"
This debut anthology from Montréal-based Grenadine spotlights twenty bands from the Canadian rock underground. The two former college-radio DJs who founded the label have admirably discerning taste within the bounds of alternative rock and pop music, and Syrup & Gasoline benefits more than most compilations from such focus. The sound of '60s garage bands finds heavy favor among these acts, with Steaming Toolie, The Girlbombs, Les Macchabees and others incorporating organ and surf guitars into their engaging tracks. A number of the disc's high points bypass mid-'60s sounds, instead taking their inpsiration from late-'70s punk, with The Spitfires' "Piece of Me" standing out as perhaps the comp's best song. None of the tracks are instant classics, and some veer too close to generic alternative rock, but there are no absolute stinkers, either. For a twenty track sampler that covers this wide a range of bands, that's saying something. The second volume, heralding nineteen new Canadian rockers, should be out soon. -- rt

Mike Skinner / Staring Into Spaces / Self-Released (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Track #6"
Staring Into Spaces opens with a fast but steady, heavy beat, like the sound made by an internal combustion engine. The drum sounds like it's being struck by bare hands or heavily muffled sticks -- it's probably not a drum machine, as all the instruments are supposed to have been played by Skinner, with the exception of a few used as accompaniment. A listener could be excused for expecting an odd variety of drum-n-bass or a percussion version of Sonic Youth, but what you'll find is voice-overs, rain sticks, bells, finger cymbals and a lot of the percussion associated with Middle Eastern and South American styles of music. Percussion is the dominating force here, and Skinner is a master of it. He combines a variety of influences to make a cohesive whole; it's definitely his ideas at work rather than a hodge-podge melange along the lines of the world-music-electronic-pop groups that were really popular on the radio a few years ago. The nameless sixth track, in particular, is laden with emotion and power. Skinner finds the spaces between the drumbeats and transforms them, allowing the listener to pour his thoughts into them, creating music that's intellectual but in no way soulless. -- js

Uptown Sinclair / Self-Titled / Self Released (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Face Down"
Uptown Sinclair is a straight-up pop-rock band in the "this band sounds like the part in the Third Eye Blind song where the guy starts singing really fast" way. Add a touch of Cheap Trick and you have their self-titled album. Like most well done but not quite groundbreaking pop albums, this is pretty hard to dislike; no matter how many times you hear something like "Face Down" or "Whatever U Want", the melody persists in kindling some interest. I could see most of these songs fitting nicely into mainstream rock radio in an edgier Matchbox 20 mold. The band is talented enough to draw interest and perhaps mass appeal, but they might fall short on the indie rock acceptance front. -- jw

Raya Wrath of Fancan / Self-Titled / Dark Piglet (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Tar Patterns"
With erratic and wild orchestrations, Raya Wrath of Fancan comes off like a party-band gone utterly deranged. This masked Austinite does a superb job of producing a healthy, lo-fi DIY release with the familiarity of an early Pavement/GBV release and the spazzed out, unpredictable quality of a very far removed underground artist who loves what he does. Favorites include the distorted recording of "Tar Patterns", which has a guitar hook that just won't quit, and "Gonzalo Talk", with its rumbling drums and spontaneous musical buildups that keep your ears alert for the next persuasive blitz. Screw conventionality -- Raya Wrath of Fancan throws out any sort of predictability and sends you on a journey into another world, where guitars, bass and wild drums make do with their lo-fi surroundings, producing experimental-pop gems that will blister your ears. Hooray for home recordings! -- am

The Larch / Monday Down / Self-Released (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Prospect Park"
The members of The Larch live in the world of clever and witty song-writing (Which is apparently right down the road from the world of Take Your Band Name From Monty Python -- Ed.). Often, this kind of wordplay leaves me more nauseated than satisfied, but in the case of Monday Down the phrase twisting stays securely on the side of intelligence and away from the land of cuteness. In other words, you can feel free to take The Larch seriously. Among the five songs (one of which is a remix), "Sicker Than I Thought" stands out, both lyrically and musically. The harmonies here are lovely, and the addition of a cello makes an excellent textural counterpoint. I'd definitely be interested in hearing what these guys could come up with on a full-length release. -- al

Black Dice / Cold Hands / Troubleman Unlimited (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Birthstone"
Have you ever noticed that like 99.9% of musicians in noise bands are boys? Why is that? Digressions aside, I listened to this as many times as I could stand to. I tried, I mean I really tried, to understand it. Cacophonous in the extreme, screamy and dissonant, Black Dice just sounds like noise to me. "Birthstone", the fourth track on the EP, is a blatant Merzbow rip-off -- not that I understand his stuff either. -- az

Songs: Ohia / Howler / Absalom Recordings (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Howler"
Jason Molina's contribution to Absalom Recordings' intriguing 3" series -- a batch of limited edition 3" CDs (obviously) featuring exclusive tracks from hand-picked artists -- is a single thirteen-minute song, "Howler". It's neither a hurried nor a detailed affair. You'll be well accustomed to the music, a sparse line plucked on reverbed guitar and a stabbing, single-note keyboard accent, by the time Molina's strained vocals come in. While it's as mournful as anything Songs: Ohia has ever done, "Howler"'s pace renders it a little more first. Ultimately, only fans are likely to endure the full thirteen minutes more than once. Luckily, the 3" format makes Howler cool and collectible, pretty much regardless of its actual content. -- gz

The Icarus Line / Mono / Crank (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Love is Happiness"
Here, you get twelve songs that clock in at a loud fifty minutes, with song titles written in English and printed on the promo cover-sleeve in an easy-to-read font. This makes the titles one of the few readily decipherable things about Mono. The guitar playing is at once rudimentary and wayward. The band likes simple hard metal riffs, but only for twenty seconds at a time; like the White Octave, the most typical Icarus Line songs bear an uneasy musical blend of Celtic Frost, GBH and the angular DC guitar rock sound, which ends up creating a lot of tension while at the same time providing very little in the way of cathartic release. It is, in short, music to get angrier to. For a cat lover like me, their sense of humor finds a far-from-ideal audience in "Feed a Cat to Your Cobra" (or in its companion video), but it is here at the halfway point that the CD begins to come to life. It's not that the songs change considerably -- they remain deafening -- but your mind has become sufficiently attuned enough to the band's style to listen more acutely, and to realize how much the band themselves enjoy the ruckus they're making. It's amazing how that's all you need to get from music to begin liking a band. -- td

The Still / Self-Titled / Darla (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Sunshine"
Three Ropers alumni have congregated to form The Still. Their late-'70s Big Star style of power pop is ear-friendly enough to warrant a listen. "Sunshine" is a bright, splashy ode to happier times, with bubbly basslines, tambourines and sparse-but-strategic string falls helping to set the mood. "Today" is not as flashy as the opener, but is no less exuberant, reminding me a bit of The Orange Peels in its tenor and mood. A brisk tempo and generally jangly approach to music does the song credit. "Nectar" is more riff-driven than its predecessors, and benefits from the addition of an organ to the instrumental mixture. Lines like "Oh Goddess, liberate me!" serve to enforce a general sort of hippy feel to this whole affair. The next eight songs don't stray too much from the formula; clocking in at less than three minutes apiece, they are short but carefully crafted pop-rock ditties. Production wise, the disc sounds a bit distant and lacks sparkle, but otherwise The Still is a credible debut release from a promising new band. -- nw

Alpha / The Impossible Thrill / Astralwerks (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Wishes"
Across the land, owners of smoky cafés are rejoicing: Alpha has returned with another mellifluous slab of percolating beats and swelling strings, the perfect accompaniment to late-night coffee and existential pondering. Three years after their first album, Come From Heaven, secured Andy Jenks and Corin Dingley a (second-tier) spot in the company of fellow-Bristolites Massive Attack and Portishead, The Impossible Thrill strives vainly to live up to its over-achieving title. Thrills in the normal sense of the word are few, as Alpha dole out their few surprises with miserly reluctance; live instrumentation has mainly replaced sampling, but the sound is polished and exact to a fault. The low points are easier to spot than the highs, which tend to peak at a low elevation. "Clear Sky" proves especially somnolent, while the presence of Massive Attack's Daddy G doesn't add much of a spark to "Wishes". The music throughout remains moody, evocative, expertly produced and largely unremarkable. -- rt

Nymb / So, This Is How It Is / Suburban Sprawl (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "If Only Rock and Roll Would Date Me"
Over the last four years or so, Chicago has seen the bulk of its talented young bands disintegrate for one stupid reason or another. Casualties include, but certainly are not limited to, The Smoking Popes, Triple Fast Action, Fig Dish and The Pulsars. But as we mourn our fallen heroes, a new crop of Chicago bands has emerged to bring the rock back to the Windy City. Foremost amongst this new batch of rockers are Nymb, an extremely talented quartet that, upon first listen, conjures up images of Louise Post fronting Hum. So, This Is How It Is begins with the urgent crush of "Breathing Out Vapors", then turns on its afterburners and never looks back. "If Only Rock and Roll Would Date Me" worms its way into your temporal lobes with a fuzzed out wall of guitars and thick-as-molasses melodies, while the strafing guitar lines and terse militaristic drumming of "20 Mobiles for Gazing" take the more direct route, boring their way directly through your skull. Should another signing frenzy hit Chicago, expect Nymb to be one of the first bands picked up by (insert major label here). But in the meantime, consider yourself one of the fortunate few who know about this talented troupe. -- jj

Various Artists / Redefine the Rockstar, Vol. 4 / 3:16 (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of ""Branded" by Scrape"
This collection presents an odd assortment of bands whose main link seems to be that they make use of guitars. Ranging from the Cookie Monster-on-meth growl of Scrape to the histrionics of Todd Shea to the hardcore punch of Restricted ID, this schizophrenic sound never congeals into a whole. To make matters worse, several of the tracks here do not even make the acceptable mark. Providing the Sickness's track sounds like it was recorded from a mile away through several layers of fabric, and the cut by the Strap-Ons is far more flaccid than their name suggests. The combination of these factors results in an hour of so-so rock, with any promising material brutally beaten down by the status quo. -- rd

PC Phobia / EP / Promenade Fanzine (7")

Sample 30 seconds of "Colours You See"
Good stuff here. Lodged between the angular aggro of post-punk and the gloomy early goth that evolved from it, PC Phobia achieve a surprisingly big sound on what I assume was a fairly modest budget. The vocals, tellingly accented (the band is from Sweden), mix Ozzy-style theatricality with the yearning earnestness of Clan of Xymox. The sound, meanwhile, is a little rougher; if there are keyboards here, they aren't obvious. The songs are driven by trebly, feedback-laden riffs, achieving the sort of charged, airy drone that begat the whole shoegazer era. Lyrically...well, the less said, the better. Lines like "Colours you see isn't what you like" and "My mysterious ways scares (sic) you, don't be afraid" give the band a handy excuse: blame everything on the language barrier. The music, however, is spiffy. -- gz

Fancy Hair Dragon / On Golden Sand / Scary (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Countdown"
No one will ever replace Joey Ramone, but that won't stop countless garage musicians from strapping on a guitar, learning their three chords and cranking out goofy songs about girls, drugs and aliens. Fancy Hair Dragon's Dave Miller makes music with a particularly good-natured form of that equation; this is The Ramones channeled through a sweet 1950s rock band. While this disc is a fun listen, there's not much here that sticks with me after it's over. As rock records go, it's pleasantly poppy, but not terribly distinctive. -- ib

The Mobius Band / One / Self-Released (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Book of Love"
The Mobius Band's peculiar blend of funk, circus sounds, pop and drum 'n' bass is a difficult experience to describe. It's a little Stereolabby and a little Super Furry Animalesque, with a veil of d-n-b and some Maceo Parker thrown in for spice. My editor will kill me for that melange-sentence (No, I'll just fix it so it reads better - Ed.), but melange is what you hear; nothing blends. All the influences are distinct, and the super-muscular drumming is the best thing the band has going. The percussionist finds one beat and one tempo and then explores them to the last note. The vocals sound like the singers have been snorting whiskey: they're nasal but scratchy and strangely attractive. The country twang of the guitars in "3 or 4 seasons" seems out of place, but the rest of the album's elements match better. Ultimately, One is nice to listen to at night; you'll never get bored, but you have to be lying down to take it all in -- you'll miss references if you're doing something more involved. -- js

Metropolitan/Calibos / Incidental/Apache Shift / Crank Automotive (7")

Sample 30 seconds of Calibos' "Apache Shift"
Ah, the infamous split 7" single -- your chance to discover two bands without fully investing your hard-earned cash in just one. Rhythmic deconstructionists Metropolitan thrust a swaggering bit of overdriven glory onto the vinyl as the vocals are cranked over the instruments, relegating each to a specific role. The overall mood is chic, but the mix would be more tolerable if guitar, drums and bass were evened out instead of battling Masters' overpowering vocals. Nonetheless, the band sets forth a slightly different feel than its typical noisy outings. Side B shows us that slightly out-of-key notes can sometimes ring the truest. Calibos drives its calculated rhythms with discordant guitar lines as vocalist Andy Fogle sings about Austin and motherfuckers. That's my kinda man. It's a catchy, Sebadoh-inspired tune that beefs up the ante with an attitude that makes Lou Barlow look like a big pussy. -- am

Lorraine Ferro / Languishing in Turbulence / EMI/Mushmuzak/Firethorn (CD)

Sample 30 seconds of "Languishing in Turbulence"
Lorraine Ferro sure belts out a good tune! She has an impressive rock voice, reminiscent of Sheryl Crow -- or in her best moments, Janis Joplin. She's not a bad songwriter either, though not ground breaking. Ferro's songs are of the deeply personal, utterly genuine variety; they show an artist with a great deal of both pain and joy from which to draw. Languishing in Turbulence is best represented by its title track, a mid-tempo rock ballad that relies heavily on Ferro's expressive instrument as well as the gentle poetry of the lyrics. It's all about romantic complication and was clearly written by someone with an experienced view toward relationships. "Crave" is the most intense track here. It shrewdly pairs Ferro's voice with Jonathan Spottiswoode's rich, expressive baritone, and their occasional chanting, quasi-tonal vocal delivery is quite effective. I wish Ms. Ferro and her associates well. They have created a competent, mature record. All they need now is a video for VH1. -- nw

gz - george zahora | nw - noah wane | am - andrew magilow | ib - irving bellemead | jj - jason jackowiak | td - theodore defosse | rd - ron davies
js - jenn sikes | rg - rodney gibbs | rt - ryan tranquilla | al - amy leach | jw - john wolfe | az - alex zorn

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