Sunday, October 31, 2010

Bette Midler - "I Put a Spell On You" (Song for the Day)

Ah, Halloween. To some, the final day of October is a day of costumes and confections, while for others it means a lot of small callers at the front door that won't leave unless bribed with sweets; for still others, it's but a low key night for horror films or other such appropriate entertainment.

For me, All Hallow's Eve is when I invariably look out the window and declare, "Look! Another glorious morning. Makes me SICK!" and proceed to emulate Bette Midler at numerous points throughout the day (in other words, a normal day). The Divine Miss M has bestowed a number of fantastic gems upon the world of fabulosity over the years - "I'm Beautiful," the Rose, Beaches - but none of them brings me (and, I suspect, a good number of my contemporaries in age) nearly the amount of sheer cult classic glee as Hocus Pocus. Yes, in 1993 (!), the fire-haired diva teamed up with Disney, comedian Kathy Najimy, hot off Sister Act, and Sarah Jessica Parker, who in those pre-Sex and the City times was mainly known for turns in L.A. Story, the short-lived sitcom Square Pegs, and a handful of stints on the Great White Way to make a Halloween comedy for kids.

The Vertigo Shtick Halloween Playlist (Part One)

Since I'm not doing much this Halloween, Vertigo Shtick contributor Matt Burstyn and I decided to safari through our respective music libraries and dig up a few fun and chilling songs in honor of the lively holiday and those out celebrating and in need of a soundtrack. This is the first of two, for all you night owls enjoying your tricks and treats a little early this year: check back on Sunday for the second, scarier set!

1. "Spiderwebs" No Doubt (Tragic Kingdom, Interscope, 1995)

Play any 20-something the first few seconds of "Spiderwebs" and he almost certainly will manage to identify it before the first trilling cadence of Adrian Young's drums gives way to the guitar and brass theme that opens Orange County ska-punk-alt-rock-new wave-dance-pop band No Doubt's blockbuster album Tragic Kingdom, so ingrained was this album (along with Nirvana's Nevermind and Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill) in the musical psyche of an entire generation. So what if the titular Halloween staple really just serves as an unnervingly prescient songwriting metaphor about the downsides to an increasingly connected digital/cellular world? It's No Doubt: any opportunity to include them is more than welcome.DS

2. "Murder on the Dancefloor" Sophie Ellis-Bextor (Read My Lips, Universal, 2001)

Though it was the most played song in all of Europe back in 2002 and blazed the often impossible trail across the Atlantic to the U.S. dance waves, "Murder on the Dancefloor" was always runner-up for my favor to the single that followed, "Get Over You." Perhaps I was less interested in dance floors than in skillfully crafted zingers about relationships gone sour (still am); perhaps I gravitated more to the pop musicality of the latter rather than the billowing disco groove of the former; or perhaps I appreciate an element of the figurative in music videos, as in the eerie/clever mannequin shtick of "Get Over You," rather than the almost comical literalism of the lead single's video (she wins a dance competition by playing dirty. REALLY dirty). But while mannequins are scary and all (I still shudder whenever I see Kim Cattrall), it's hard to beat a little disco homicide on a Halloween playlist! DS

3. "Scream" Michael Jackson featuring Janet Jackson (HIStory: Past, Present and Future, Book I, Epic, 1995)

Whether it's the title, the allegations of sexual abuse and countless other bizarre eccentricities involving the late King of Pop to which the song responds, or the sheer amount of talent collaborating on one mere track (not even its own single!) that scares you, it's hard to find a more hair-raising duet that's more fit for the season of thrills and chills. After Michael's first attempt to sing and dance the omnipresent paparazzi off his back, 1989's "Leave Me Alone," proved insufficient, and following the first round of child sexual abuse accusations in 1993 (yes, young'uns, how history doth repeat), the two most famous Jackson sibs joined forces for the first time since Janet sang backup on "P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing)" in 1982 and unleashed a ferocious and deliriously exciting second round. Although the track was recorded to support the hits collection HIStory, "Scream" was a bonafide collaboration that drew influence from both singers, particularly in its production by Jimmy Jam and Tim Lewis, who helmed Janet's Rhythm Nation 1814 and more. (Fun Fact: "Scream" was Michael's first song to include profanity!) DS

4. "Veridis Quo" Daft Punk (Discovery, Virgin, 2001)

The french masters of house music used “Veridis Quo” in their animated movie "Intersetlla 55"5 which doubles as the long-form music video for their 2001 album Discovery. "Veridos Quo" plays as the heroes of the film enter a creepy night-shrouded mansion, but it doesn’t take an hour long music video to hear the “haunted mansion” feel - we've fast tracked it for you. MB

5. "Feed Me" Levi Stubbs & Rick Moranis (Little Shop of Horrors: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack, Geffen, 1990)

Sure, homicidal maniacs with origins and motivations beyond reason or fault aren't the type you'd necessarily want to run into at an abandoned summer camp or Indian burial ground. But what's REALLY terrifying is the homicidal maniac of one's own creation (e.g. Frankenstein, Jurassic Park, Sarah Palin). Although the film adaptation of Alan Menken and Howard Ashman's irreverent musical about a murderous houseplant severely wussified the ending after test audiences objected to the original, Hamlet-esque finale, wherein the flesh-hungry vegetable ultimately devours its very keeper and his put-upon sweetheart, don't let the movie's feel-good resolution fool you: it is never a good idea to feed mutilated human flesh to your talking venus fly-trap. DS

6. "Supermassive Black Hole" Muse (Black Holes and Revelations, A&E, 2006)

Muse’s uptempo yet chilling sounds are dark and devoid alongside heavy distortion for some more alternative dancing for Hallow’s Eve. The U.K. band's track also peaked at #6 on Billboards Hot Modern Rock in 2007. MB

7. "Help, I'm Alive" Metric (Fantasies, Last Gang Records, 2008)

This indie rock band from Canada gained some popularity in the US with this track, which charted at #30 on U.S. Billboard Rock Songs and #21 on Billboard’s Canadian Hot 100. Thematically in the wake of the living dead and vampires (not, we assume, the lethargic ones that look like Robert Pattinson), Metric here offers a shaky pulse and seasonally apropos lyrics like “I tremble” and “they’re gonna eat me alive." Yum. MB

8. "Aliens Invading" Ke$ha (Animal (UK), RCA, 2010)

Ke$ha has boasted that anything can be a pop song, and this one is out of this world. It really captures the creepy fun that was omitted from her debut album Animal (although it appears on the UK release, along with similarly delicious "V.I.P."). Say what you will, but Ke$ha's got an imagination (and by the way, Katy Perry,  "E.T." makes two rather blatant Ke$ha ripoffs (after "California Gurls"). We're on to you); her website’s homepage blares “I AM CANNIBAL, I WARNED YOU,” referring less to a penchant for human flesh as to her upcoming EP/LP hybrid of the same name, which will accompany Animal's re-release. The party at a rich dude’s house just got eerie. Have your fingers crossed that you don’t wake up in the morning feel like an alien abductee. Maybe you shouldn’t kiss N’ tell, but remember: “Don’t be afraid!" (Okay, we'll stop now.) DS/MB

9. "Ghost Town" Shiny Toy Guns (Season of Poison, Universal Motown, 2009)

Here's a haunted electric roller coaster song - or at least that’s how I feel when I listen to it. The track features a lead vocal by the band's singer Sisley Treasure, who (Fun Fact!) was a contestant on the first season of Robin Antin’s Quest For The Next Doll, the CW Top Model remake wherein the choreographer and creator of the brilliant burlesque genre-busting girl group the Pussycat Dolls set out to select a sixth member for the group (it didn't pan out). She was eliminated early on, but was briefly a member of The Paradiso Girls (also created by Robin Antin) before finding her true niche with this indie rock band. Although she’s apparently not up to doll standards, Sisley definitely fits her niche with Shiny Toy Guns (plus, she gets to actually sing instead of serving as window dressing for the great PCD songstress Nicole Scherzinger). DS/MB

10. "Tear You Apart" She Wants Revenge (She Wants Revenge, Geffen/Perfect Kiss, 2006)

The duo’s most successful single peaked at #6 on Billboard’s Hot Modern Rock in 2006. She Wants Revenge creates a blend of music that Justin Warfield, lead vocalist of the group, calls “dark dance.” Forget the monster mash...he wants to fucking tear you apart. SCARY. (For the squeamish: don't worry, it's not really about assault - it's about sex.) MB

11. "Not Alone" Sara Bareilles (Kaleidoscope Heart, Epic, 2010)

Easily the grooviest track from Sara Bareilles' recent sophomore set Kaleidoscope Heart, which debuted at the top of the Billboard 200, "Not Alone" is a refreshing approach to the "don't wanna be alone" song. Bareilles gives the well-worn subject matter a clever new setting: think the Cardigans' "Lovefool" meets Friday the 13th, complete with metaphorical monsters and other sinister things that go bump in the night. To top it off, this tale of terror and artistic license is told as a slinky, almost sexy mid-tempo jazz riff, accented with a few creepy synth screeches, a couple of ghostly "woo-woos," and an ominous Hitchcock audio sample tossed in for atmosphere. As with "Lovefool," the result is an entertaining success that doesn't just revitalize an oft-used subject matter, it also manages to come across as something other than pathetic - a true feat for the typically whiny genre. DS

12. "Freakshow" Britney Spears (Blackout, Jive, 2007)

When Blackout dropped in late 2007, the melodrama of the self-destructing pop icon entirely overshadowed what actually was one of the better albums of the 2000s, and arguably the best of Britney Spears' lengthy career. Those with no sympathy for the spiraling Spears could easily dismiss it without resistance, while even the strongest of the star's many fans found Blackout enveloped with layers of guilt or sadness - even for a diehard Spears apologist like me it was difficult to justify enjoying the new Britney Spears album while the real Britney Spears was so clearly and publicly falling apart. But now that Brit-Brit is fine and dandy and medicated and has returned to working, touring, and making more money than you'll ever dream of, I highly recommend a fresh listen to Blackout for any pop or dance music fans - I think you'll discover that, nearly a year before one Lady Gaga steamrollered her way onto the scene and danced away with the credit for changing the pop music landscape, the change had already arrived via Britney Spears. Now THAT'S scary. DS

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Ke$ha Unveils "Cannibal" Artwork

Ke$ha unveiled the cover art for her upcoming bonus album Cannibal, which drops November 22 along with a re-release of the singer's debut album Animal, which famously unseated Susan Boyle's own debut from the top of the Billboard 200 early this year.

Cannibal, following in the footsteps of Lady Gaga's The Fame Monster, will feature nine new tracks, including the recent release "We R Who We R," Cannibal's lead single. The set is being executive produced by pop icon Dr. Luke and will include a collaboration with hip-hop beatmaker Bangladesh. The fully packaged release will be fronted by a clever-yet-not-so mashup of the two covers, which I think looks better than either one on its own.

I'll be keeping an ear out for more information about the release, and you can bet that on November 22 there'll be a lot of rocking and rolling to the new conglomeration releases from Ke$ha and Robyn,
whose final Body Talk album hits stores the same day.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

First Listen: Ke$ha "We R Who We R"

First of all, it's totally great that in this time of crisis in the minority world, from Arizona's bafflingly unconstitutional call for eviction of the brown-skinned to the recent spate of bullying-induced suicides among gay teens to M. Night Shyamalan's Asian denial, that at least our major pop stars are hopping on the "Underdog Power" wagon (the female ones, that is). Perhaps it's just another standard of a post-Gaga pop music scene, or maybe it's in some way a genuine, and timely, call to arms that coincides with release dates for some of the biggest ladies of pop music working right now. Or could it be yet another result of a worrisome narrowing of influence among a shrinking group of producers and songwriters who seem to keep getting away with more recycling than Greenpeace headquarters?

That this year's breakout pop star's upcoming EP and accompanying lead single feature major influence and executive production credits of the infamous Dr. Luke unfortunately does little to disprove that last theory, but that doesn't necessarily mean all is yet lost. After all, the star in question is that controversial genius in disguise who goes by the stylized moniker Ke$ha, and she's not exactly in poor company either (Pink's single "Raise Your Glass," the most notable recent entry into the "freaks unite" canon, is a remarkably inspired collaboration between the great pop artist and the even greater pop producer Max Martin, of whom Dr. Luke is a protege).

Since Cannibal is but a Fame Monster style add-on to the upcoming re-release of Ke$ha's surprise smash debut album Animal, it makes sense that (as with Gaga and Fame Monster) the singer's meticulously scripted plot-line - you know, the trashy girl who parties a lot, uses whiskey as oral hygiene tool and doesn't wash her hair - isn't exactly going to be tossed out the window just yet. But, at least on lead single "We R Who We R," neither is it dominant, or even particularly evident at all (although final judgment shall be reserved for the music video), and that suits Ke$ha just fine. She's not working with filet mignon material with the musically and lyrically facile Dr. Luke-produced track, which is likely destined to be the most forgettable of her five singles thus far, although like any Dr. Luke production the mediocrity is impeccably done, and I've learned from experience that the producer has created as many slow-burning hits as he has instant and unforgettable smashes, so I may well end up eating my words down the line.

If anything, "We R Who We R" should serve as a nice placeholder on the Billboard Hot 100 while we impatiently wait to hear what glorious head-exploding madness the Nashville-raised pop ingenue makes with hardcore hip-hop producer Bangladesh in their reported collaboration(s?) on Cannibal. And, anyway, it's a nice track to play behind those "It Gets Better" videos, and goodness knows that's a far more important issue than RCA's last wringing of dollar signs from its surprise breakout star before she takes over her career and unleashes her genius on the world in a manner not seen since a certain Swedish teenage tool of Max Martin who went on to become Robyn, the killingest pop star on the planet.

Far-fetched? The Ke$ha Project is here to find out.

First Listen: Robyn "Indestructible" and Body Talk Pt. 3 Release Date

If there's one thing 2010 has taught us, it's Don't Underestimate Robyn. Some scoffed when the Swedish songstress announced her plans to release not one but three albums by the end of the year, but lo and behold: she's actually going to do it! Body Talk Pt. 3 has been given a November 30 US release date, and will reportedly include five tracks each from parts one and two as well as five all new tracks (it's being billed as the "complete Body Talk album").

It should not surprise anyone who's been paying attention that the lead single for Body Talk Pt. 3 is a fully produced dance edit of "Indestructible," an acoustic version of which closed Part 2. It's not quite the epic dance masterpiece I'd been hoping for, but neither does it sound like "Dancing on My Own" or "Hang With Me," the two lead singles from Parts 1 and 2, respectively, so color me pleasantly surprised.


Wednesday, October 13, 2010

First Look: Rihanna "Only Girl (In the World)"

Looks like Rihanna took a trip down the Yellow Brick Road and asked the wizard for a personality! Her new video for lead single "Only Girl (In the World)," off upcoming LP Loud, offers an unusual glance at the Barbadian pop princess' playful side, with the newly fire-haired singer frolicking along a remote, bland-looking hillside, surrounded by balloons, dry brush, and purty, purty flowers. Not a huge addition to Rihanna's video library, but the single is pretty fun, so it's worth a look-see.

Loud drops November 12.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Ke$ha Announces "Cannibal," Re-Release of "Animal" + New Tracks

Well it looks like my prediction may have been closer than even I might have thought. This past Thursday brought the announcement that Ke$ha's four upcoming concert dates in Mexico were to be canceled, which a press release distributed by the singer's Mexican label attributed to a delay involving the re-release of her debut album Animal.

But wait - there's more! Said re-release, the label announced, is currently scheduled for mid-November and will include anywhere from five to eight new songs in addition to the fourteen tracks on the original album, which dropped in January of this year at number one on the Billboard 200 and has to date sold over two million copies worldwide. The re-release is (as we assumed in the previous post) being overseen by the same production team as the original: Dr. Luke (executive producer), Ammo, and Benny Blanco, with the additional talents of Bangladesh, the hip-hop producer of such hits as Ludacris' "What's Your Fantasy," Kelis' "Bossy," Beyonce's "Diva" and "Video Phone (Extended Remix)," Gucci Mane's "Lemonade," and Lil' Wayne's Grammy-winning "A Milli." Let's just pause there to soak this in for a moment before I get to the last bit of hot info.

Also revealed in the Mexican press release is the new title under which this steroid-injected re-release will go, and it's a doozy: Cannibal. The relatively small portion of the US blogosphere that has picked up this item (so far no official announcement has been made in the States or elsewhere, and I needn't note that the press release is in Spanish) seems to agree on the epic quality of the new title. I'm actually probably more intrigued to see what comes from the Ke$ha/Bangladesh collaboration, which is rather out of left field for both artists (although several of her unreleased tracks demonstrate Ke$ha's legacy of hip-hop dabblings) and those sorts of combinations often strike gold. Or platinum.


Saturday, October 9, 2010

Ke$ha Does "Take It Off" Again (And Better)

When Animal was first released I found “Take It Off” to be an instant favorite on the album, and not surprisingly a potential single. Lo and behold, it not only became the album's fourth single, it became the fourth single from Ke$ha's debut album to hit the top ten on the Billboard Hot 100, peaking at number 8. Considering that when an artist actually gets to release four songs from one album as singles, the final one typically serves at most as a placeholder while the artist puts the finishing touches on his/her/its/their next project, keeping the artist fresh in the public's mind but with just enough down time to ride the novelty wave upon their imminent return. It's not uncommon for the music video accompanying a fourth single to be pointedly low-key (if there is one at all), the kind an artist can shoot in one morning and be back in the studio by afternoon (the typical music video shoot lasts two to three days): Britney Spears' "Radar," the fourth single off comeback album Circus released as the singer began what became a massively successful world tour, is a perfect example.

So, it initially seemed, it would be with "Take It Off." The track production uses voice modulation at its finest for a gritty, glitter-infested pop song with great electro beats. The original video for the single, which takes a suddenly glammed-up Ke$ha (and crew) into a dystopian run-down motel setting which seems to have some continuity from the psychedelic desert location in “Your Love Is My Drug,” the previous single. The climax of the video shows off Ke$ha’s image of primal instinct and neon colors with a hood-rat body-smashing explosion of glitter (what else?) inside an empty pool. If the video didn’t leave you aroused slightly with dilated eyes, then something could be wrong with your whatever type of TV or computer screen you’re viewing Ke$ha...or it could be that the clip was, all told, pretty lackluster. Obviously this didn't preclude the track from making its improbable climb to the single digits anyway, so there was no harm done; and after all, Ke$ha (being primarily an electro-pop singer and producer rather than a live performer or music video visionary) hasn't exactly made waves with her videos, which like with Taylor Swift or John Mayer seem almost to exist out of necessity rather than on their own whims.

However, with a little help from her friends, Ke$ha has unexpectedly outdone herself with an alternate video for "Take It Off." This one, which exceeds the official version in production values, features a glow in the dark alleyway party that more literally exemplifies "where they go hardcore, and there’s glitter on the floor." The video is “channeling some 80s hard,” according to the animal herself in the description on YouTube. Perhaps (most of her audience, us included, weren't around for much more of the '80s than she was, if at all), but of course, no party of any post-Stonewall decade would be complete without a good battle of the queens. A battle of queens at most dance clubs is usually easy to gloss over, but this FX-infused "battle" between Animal Queen (get it?) Ke$ha and "Queen Of The Internet" Jeffree Star is too fabulous. Star, a fuschia-haired gender-bending entertainer, eventually maneuvers a chainsaw to shoot a laser (we're not sure either), Ke$ha deflects with her bracelet, counterattacks with a double-fisted laser blast of her own, and the foe is vanquished (it seems). Ke$ha n’ friends then proceed to "go hardcore" while their faces endure increasingly thorough (and in some cases unsettling) animal transformations as they dance until the very end.

It wasn't until, at the conclusion, when Ke$ha imbibes (her first one! Anyway, she's "not the designated driver") the contents of what looks like a prop from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and with a flash morphs into the same cheetah that appears at the beginning of the clip that I figured out what had been going on with the animal thing; but if one has seen the original video one could hardly blame a guy for assuming it was all just more bizarre purposeless sensory stimulation. This new video is, surprisingly, a breath of a fresh air with Ke$ha's music videos, for the first time actually capturing and alluding to all the elements and themes of Ke$ha's album. Which is why methinks this ostensibly casual remake (see, it's brilliant, because her "me n my friends were bored and... we made this new video" is totally believable if one hasn't or doesn't actually check out the video, and fits in perfectly with the role she's played throughout Animal's release) may well turn out to have something to do with the upcoming but as yet unannounced re-release of Animal as an extended package with up to eight new tracks, a la Lady Gaga's The Fame Monster.

See? Even at the MTV Video Music Awards she was getting started with something!

The video shows her creativity as an artist who suddenly does seem to be somewhat in charge (rather than a deer in the headlights like her previous efforts, not unlike many breakout stars who become far more successful far more quickly than they could ever be prepared for), which also puts me at ease since she is still working with Animal exec producer and hit-recycler of late Dr. Luke, which is a great partnership as long as the artist is involved and aware enough to avoid a Kelly Clarkson-esque blindside. For now we wait, but if it does turn out that there's more to this than meets the eye ("me n my friends were bored..." Yeah, and Robyn and Kelis decided to go on tour one morning over Twitter.) you heard it here first. Remember, Ke$ha is very likely a genius, sez we (hence The Ke$ha Project). A genius who really needs to get rid of that dollar sign for the sake of the few and the proud who actually know/believe that and feel ourselves die just a bit more each time we have to type that awful moniker. Just a thought.

Additional reporting and writing by Vertigo Shtick Contributor Matt Burstyn

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

First Listen: Pink - "Raise Your Glass"

There are few artists currently working in the music industry that I admire more than Pink, as I've mentioned before along with the curious fact that despite my high opinion of her as a musician I don't especially care for a good percentage of the actual songs she's done, even while appreciating and enjoying the way she's done them. And since Pink is one of the few veteran acts whose healthy career has been marked or even defined by continuous adaptation and exploration of musical style, I am particularly looking forward to her first hits collection, Greatest Hits...So Far!!!, which she announced yesterday (the set lands November 16).

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Song (As Old As Rhyme) For the Day: "Beauty and the Beast" Céline Dion & Peabo Bryson

Want to know why the crop of American young adults now between the ages of about 23 and 29 (i.e. those of us born when Reagan was President) are going to rule the world, especially in entertainment? For one, we come from tail-end Baby Boomer/early Gen X parents - the ones after the hippies and racists of the '60s but before the uptight post-Vietnam Gen X-ers of the '80s - who generally struck just the right balance between apathy and helicopter parenting, plus they had fantastic taste in music. We also were the main beneficiaries of the Disney Renaissance, the period between 1989 and 1997-ish when entertainment for children was perhaps the best and most influential it has ever been, led of course by the revitalized Disney animation studios and the string of masterpieces from The Little Mermaid ('89) to (depending who you ask) The Lion King ('95) or Hercules ('97). If you need to ask how that has anything to do with global domination potential, then obviously you weren't there for it (as a kid or a parent) and probably wouldn't get or accept an explanation; if you were, you know what I'm talking about (*high five!*).

The greatest of those films, and in my opinion the greatest of all Disney films, is Beauty and the Beast ('91) which long had the distinction of being the only animated film ever to be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture (Pixar's Up made the newly expanded list of ten nominees last year). The second release in Disney's new golden era was exquisitely drawn, elegantly scripted and performed, and features one of the best scores in film history, composed by Alan Menken with songs by Menken and Howard Ashman, the great lyricist who died of AIDS not long before the film premiered. The score and three of the songs were nominated for Oscars, and while glorious opening number "Belle" and showstopper "Be Our Guest" were both fully deserving, no jaws dropped when statues went to the score and the elegant title ballad.

"Beauty and the Beast" was sung by Angela Lansbury in the film, but a re-imagined pop version ran over the credits and was released as a single, starting what would become a lengthy tradition. The adult contemporary cover featured a duet by established R&B star Peabo Bryson and then-little known French Canadian singer Céline Dion. It reached the top ten in the U.S. and many other countries, becoming Dion's international breakthrough and winning a Grammy for the two singers.

Coming from a family of music snobs, I rarely got to hear the duet version before someone got to the VCR eject or the car stereo track skip button, and even as an adult I've had to be rather surreptitious about my occasional re-visitations with the syrupy, overproduced ballad. But since today Disney is bringing Beauty and the Beast out of the so-called "vault," I can't think of a more defensible and appropriate time to indulge my little guilty pleasure. (A new cover by American Idol champ Jordin Sparks has been prepared to support the DVD re-release.)

"Beauty and the Beast"
Céline Dion and Peabo Bryson
(Walt Disney, 1991)

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