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Top 20 Albums of 2017 (so far)

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In the past, I’ve posted this mid-year list at the beginning of June, but I decided that to truly be a mid-year list, I needed to post it in July. This is list is comprised of some of my favorite albums released between January 1st and June 15th (there is a two week window in June because I didn’t want to put anything on the list that didn’t have time to marinate). 2017 started slowly in terms of great releases, but the past three months have been chock full of great work by both up-and-coming artists and veterans who have returned with outstanding offerings.

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The Top 40 Albums of 2014 (20-1)

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A few days ago I posted the first 20 in my “Top 40 Albums of 2014” list (check it out here). Below you will find this year’s edition of what I consider the top 20 albums of the year. You’ll find albums from varying genres and possibly a few albums that are new to you. I think it’s important to note what I define as a top caliber album. Great songs are always a plus, but more important to me is the ability of an artist to create a series of songs that tell a story, that convey an overall theme, that complement each other, and that make the listener think differently about the human experience. We are moving into an age where most consumers are more concerned with hit songs, which is why I feel compelled to highlight those musicians that have stayed honest to the age-old art of The Album and created something that’s about the whole and not a couple catchy songs.

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Perfume Genius “Too Bright”

Perfume Genius

Too Bright

[Matador; 2014]

RATING: 8.5

In the past, Perfume Genius’s album covers have featured variations on images that convey fear, secrecy, and the forbidden. On 2010’s Learning, Mike Hadreas could be seen looking away while a hand is reaching in from off-screen to cover his mouth. On 2012’s Put Your Back N 2 It, Hadreas is joined by what resembles a polo team, and once again, his face is obscured, this time by a bloodied piece of cloth that also covers the boy sitting next to him. The images matched the common theme of silence and shame found on those first two albums.

So when I first saw the boisterous, in your face presentation on the cover of 2014’s Too Bright, I knew I was in for a drastic change from the established, introspective piano therapy of the past. Hadreas can be seen sitting upright, wearing a shimmery shirt covered in gold sequence. His face is no longer covered, and his expression is not one of fear, rather one of defiant intensity. Below his knitted brow, any icy cold stare off into the distance is revealed. This is no longer a man hiding from his past; instead, he’s ready to take it head-on.

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Top 40 Albums of 2012 (40-21)

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It’s that time again – time to look back on all the great albums released this past year. 2012 has been filled with fantastic albums, and as a result, I’ve come up with a doozy of a list.  You’ll find a variety of genres here ranging from rap to folk to metal to punk.  No matter what type of music you enjoy (minus country) you’ll find something on here that you’ve either already been enjoying or music you should be enjoying. Whatever the case, enjoy!

Honorable Mention:

The Amazing “Gentle Stream”

Bison B.C. “Lovelessness”

Crystal Castles “(III)”

The Evens “The Odds”

Lambchop “Mr. M”

Metz “S/T”

Mind Spiders “Meltdown”

Pilgrim “Misery Wizard”

Lee Renaldo “Between the Times & the Tides”

Twin Shadow “Confess”

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Top Albums of 2012 (So Far…)

This year in music reminds me of the 2011 NBA Draft.  There hasn’t been any stand out stars in the releases thus far, but there are a lot of quality albums on the cusp of greatness. Last year, I had no doubt about what albums would make my top five for the mid-year list, but this time around, I moved albums up and down the list indecisively for days, finally settling on the order below.  My point: there could be a lot of shuffling when the real list comes out in December.  Before getting into 20 albums that you shouldn’t miss out on, here are six honorable mentions that could easily end up being this year’s Jeremy Lin.

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Top 40 Albums of 2010 (40-26)

It would be an understatement to say 2010 was a great year for music.  Throughout the year I found myself listening to new album after new album and thinking, “This will definitely make my Top 20 Albums list.”  Which of course explains why I’ve doubled the list this year from 20 to 40.  While 2009 left me disappointed with many of my favorite artists releasing less than stellar albums, everyone showed up to play in 2010. Let the games begin.

Honorable Mention:

Blitzen Trapper “Destroyers of the Void”

Erykah Badu “New Amerykah Part Two (Return of the Ankh)”

Meursault “All Creatures Will Make Merry”

Sam Amidon “I See the Sign”

Shearwater “Golden Archipelago”

40. S. Carey

“All We Grow”

[Jagjaguwar; 2010]

While Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon was off exploring the world of hip-hop with his Kanye West affiliation, his band mate and disciple Sean Carey carried the Bon Iver flame in 2010 with his solo album “All We Grow”.  But while Vernon’s music is often barren and cold, Carey’s exudes the warmth of a winter’s fire.  The cover art of an aged childhood photo builds off this intimacy and helps stir the embers of memory within the listener.  Manned with simply a guitar, drums, and a piano, Carey build’s compositions that crescendo with emotional swells and soften for moments of contemplation.

39. Shining

“Black Jazz”

[Indie Recordings; 2010]

Back in July, I wrote of Shining’s “Black Jazz”: “On their latest release, “Blackjazz”, the doom-heads decided to try combining the two most devilish music forms from the past 100 years (jazz and black metal), resulting in an album of hellacious proportions.  Upon first listen, “Blackjazz” seems to be simply a polished black metal album, but beyond the familiar machine gun drums and crunching guitar riffs, this is more than simply black metal.  Shining rely heavily on synth, but instead of providing simply an ominous cloak, the keyboard is twinkled sporadically like a possessed Duke Ellington, venturing through scales and chord progressions more familiar to jazz night clubs than church burnings.  At times the album doesn’t even resemble music, rather a Jackson Pollock of sound, splattering up and down the malicious jazz scale in search of melody. The jazz meanderings are more obvious when Jørgen Munkeb picks up the saxophone and honks out notes like a line of tumbling dominos, notes rising and falling at will as the horn meshes with the chaos surrounding it.  These Norwegians have exorcised the true, dark spirit of jazz and unleashed it back into the world to wreak havoc.”

38. Perfume Genius

“Learning”

[Matador; 2010]

Perfume Genius’sMike Hadreas is a master storyteller, using his lo-fi, piano-motivated songs to reveal one heartbreaking tale after another.  With so many emotional stories of suicide, molestation, and drug abuse, you would think that Hadreas moonlights as a psychiatrist.  And maybe he should because beyond his captivating narratives, he also whispers one memorable melody after another, counteracting the depressing nature of the album.  His soothing melodies lift up the down-trodden characters, giving them a voice and in a strange way, giving them hope.

37. Grinderman

“Grinderman 2”

[Anti-; 2010]

On “Grinderman 2”, Nick Cave unleashes the sexual deviant within, throwing all of his 50 year old caution out the window and letting the women know that him and his “loch ness monster” have arrived with its “two great humps”.  Yes, this is 9-straight songs about Nick Cave’s penis (what I’m saying is this album pretty much dominates).  On “Grinderman 2” the band took a loose approach to their songwriting, taking a improvisational stance, and the songs thrive because of it.  Without restrictions, the album is free to be as dirty and untamed as it wants to be.

36. Caribou

“Swim”

[Merge; 2010]

Caribou’s Dan Snaith is such a show off.  On each album he’s produced a completely new sound, showing that there really is nothing he can’t do. We get it; you’re talented! On “Swim” Snaith takes the opportunity to show us all that he can make a great dance album.  Think of all those struggling other bands in the genre that have been trying to hone there sound, and then along comes Caribou and blows any progress they’ve made out of the water.  Not only does Snaith create some groovy dance beats, but he also provides a poppier sensibility to the world of club music.  And I guess that’s his secret – these aren’t dance songs at all, rather pop songs disguised in a dance beat garb. Where’s a glow stick when you need one?

35. Big Boi

“Sir Lucious Left Foot the Son of Chico Dusty”

[Def Jam; 2010]

“Sir Lucious Left Foot the Son of Chico Dusty” has the potential to be the best album of 2010, but a handful of less than stellar tracks hold it back (Jamie Fox…really?!).  Still, when this album is on, “it is on!”  The story of this album has become one of legends with the label not knowing what to do with it when Big Boi first presented it to them.  They asked, “but where’s the hit?”  Morons. The only explanation I can come up with is that with so many great songs they couldn’t tell which was the best.  The problem probably arose because what Big Boi brought to them sounded like nothing they’d ever heard before in the hip-hop world with it’s funky bass, 70s style chorus chants, and lyrics that require more than an urban dictionary to understand.  You dig home skillet?

34.Les Savy Fav

“Appetites”

[Frenchkiss; 2010]

Everyone loves a come back story, so when Les Savy Fav returned in 2007 with their album “Let’s Stay Friends”, their first album in six years, it was cause for rejoice. But now, three years later, “Appetites” didn’t receive nearly as much love, which is a damn shame because the band is still as potent as ever with track after track of raucous art rock.  “Let’s Stay Friends” gave hints toward a more melodic approach and “Appetites” continues this tradition, expanding more upon this friendlier stance. I can’t lie, I will always prefer the earlier Les Savy Fav stuff that is completely reckless and insane, but I still can’t deny myself of a great song, especially with Tim Harrington’s lyrics as biting as ever.   The band is far from finished as shown when Tim shouts in the opener, “WE STILL GOT OUR APPETITE! WE STILL GOT OUR APPETITE! WE STILL GOT OUR APPETITE!” Let the feeding frenzy continue.

33. Four Tet

“There is Love in You”

[Domino; 2010]

I hate the term “background music” because it implies that the music isn’t worthy of your attention, yet I almost just typed that “There is Love in You” is a background album. This would be misleading.  Yes, it works perfectly as the soundtrack to your day, to your work, to your play, but to suggest it’s easy to ignore? Unwise. In fact, if the music of Four Tet’s 2010 release does anything, it intrudes your mind with a wide range of thoughts and ideas, and through its hypnotic beats you are capable of organizing your thought process.  The title “There is Love in You” implies that we all have love, but if you don’t (ahem…me) this album will nourish your heart with it’s upbeat rhythms and give you a great big hug.

32. The National

“High Violet”

[4AD; 2010]

In the latest issue of SPIN, comedian Patton Oswald was asked to listen to some of the top albums of the year, and I felt his take on The National needed to be repeated. “Is this guy lying on a couch about to fall asleep? ‘Dude, do you want to have a half-hour nap before we record? Because we have time. We don’t need to do this right now, you look really jet-lagged.” While this would seem like an insult, the lethargic, overly dramatic presentation is what makes The National’s music so spellbinding.  It would be easy to say that Matt Berninger’s voice is the source of all the syrupy sentimentality that makes “High Violet” such an absorbing listen, and I think that’s the band’s goal. But back behind Berninger’s vocals hides the Dessner brothers with their astute songwriting that lifts the emotions to a higher shade of violet.

31. Frog Eyes

“Paul’s Tomb: A Triumph”

[Dead Oceans; 2010]

I’ve seen Frog Eyes perform live a handful of times, and I’ve always enjoyed their wild live shows with singer Carey Mercer spastically shaking through each song. But for some reason, I pigeon holed the band as simply a great live band not thinking much about their music beyond the stage. Not only is “Paul’s Tomb: A Triumph” a (ahem) triumph, it’s one of the most ambitious albums to come out in 2010. The record is broken into four parts, all adding depth to the overall story of an escape from the constraints of life, the perils of war, and the mourning that comes with death. The guitars fight for space, battling for supremacy as General Mercer transfers his manic energy into a war cry that will chill you to the bone.  So much love is paid to Mercer’s friend Spencer Krug, but with “Paul’s Tomb: A Triumph”, it might be time to give Frog Eyes the respect that is due.

30. Tobacco

“Maniac Meat”

[Anti-Con; 2010]

I’ve never really gotten into Black Moth Super Rainbow, and prior to this year, I’d never heard of front man Tom Ferc and his side project Tobacco.  Then of course after a chance run-in with his remix of HEALTH’s “Die Slow”, I gave into the temptation and bought Tobacco on vinyl.  Now my addiction to its grimy sound is in full force: the affected vocals, the crunchy synth that seems to be run through a twisty straw, the basic drum tracks that call back to the age of old school hip-hop. When my friend Justin heard me listening to Tobacco he asked, “Is that an 80s band?”  While the lo-fi, 80s feel is in full effect, nothing like “Maniac Meat” ever existed in the age of Reagan.  A lot of artists take sounds from the 80s and recreate it for nostalgic purposes. Not Tobacco.  Ferc has taken the 808 drum beats of Run DMC and the synth sounds of the Eurhythmics and created something completely original.  This is what “Walk this Way” would have sounded like if Annie Lenox moved in next door to Run DMC (oh, and if Annie Lennox had throat cancer, God forbid).

29. How to Dress Well

“Love Remains”

[Lefse; 2010]

Imagine all of your childhood R&B tapes getting water damaged in your parent’s basement. Instead of throwing away all your PM Dawn, Bobby Brown, and Billy Ocean away, you decide to give them one more listen.  You locate your dusty Walkman and begin relistening to your old favorites, quickly realizing that the damage has altered these once crystal clear, overly produced 90s standards. Yet, instead of just stopping the tape, you continue to listen.  The mold and mildew have created a cacophonous atmosphere, muffled the once pristine beats, created a ghostly R&B world where love songs have turned sour with sorrow. Then you realize that you aren’t listening to your old tapes, that you aren’t in your parent’s basement, and that you don’t even own a Walkman anymore. You’re just listening to How to Dress Well’s “Love Remains” (no flood damage required).

28. Ty Segall

“Melted”

[Goner; 2010]

My friends who have kids try convincing me of the joy associated with fatherhood.  And despite what they may think, I get it.  As an obsessive music fan, I’ve watched someone like Ty Segall grow up.  On his first self-titled release the songs are ornery and fun, yet not fully developed with his barebone tambourine drums set-up (he started as a one-man band on the street corners of San Francisco).  On “Lemons” his songs grew up with a full piece band backing him, yet his songwriting seemed to be going through an awkward stage, not quite as self-assured and free as seen on his first release. But now, with “Melted”, Ty Segall is all grown up.  The songs are still youthful in spirit but more mature and confident in form.  For me, listening to “Melted” is like watching my son get his diploma (and I didn’t even have to change a diaper).

27. Kylesa

“Season of Mist”

[Spiral Shadow; 2010]

The double lead guitar has been a mainstay in metal for years, but what of the double drum lead?  Kylesa beg to answer this question with a double drum set assault that beefs up their psych metal assault. The two drummers Carl McGinley and Tyler Newberry create intricate rhythms that bounce off each other like atoms on the verge of explosion.  These pummeling beats back up a band that has created some striking metal riffs and melodic anthems for 2010.  The Devil went down to Georgia, not to find a soul to steal, but to keep metal alive within the likes of Kylesa, Baroness, and Mastodon. And based off the out-put of these bands in the last few years, the Devil did his job quite well.

26. Liars

“Sisterworld”

[Mute; 2010]

The scariest album of 2010 is not by a black metal band; it’s by a little band that was labeled as “disco-punk” early in their career.  Since that label, the band has explored a wide range of sounds, venturing off into other territories musically.  On “Sisterworld”, Liars have taken a major journey away from their roots towards what I would describe as the auditory equivalent of the “Twilight Zone”.  The music is not of this world, rather an eerie environ where danger lurks around every corner.  Or maybe it’s not another land at all, rather similar to a trip to the Overlook Hotel where the mind takes its own jaunt to the dark side.  Whatever the case, this is Liars most complete album.  They are able to transport the listener to a nightmarish soundscape and keep them planted within the horror for the entire 42 minutes.   While past releases have shown the band’s versatility, on “Sisterworld” they remain locked in the “Sisterworld” where dissonance and death reign supreme. Disco is officially dead.

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Top 100 Tracks of 2010 (75-51)

 

75. “Doubt”

The Corin Tucker Band

I always thought Carrie Brownstein was the more punk rock of the ladies in Sleater Kinney. I always thought she had the fire, the anger, and the edge that counteracted Corrin Tucker’s more feminine approach. I was wrong. So wrong.

 

74. “Stranded”

The Walkmen

I’m a sucker for trumpets, especially when they sound this damn dreamy.

73. “Theme From ‘Cheers””

Titus Andronicus

Looking back on my year, one memory that stands out the most is when me and BDWPS contributer PtheStudP visited Cheers in downtown Boston.  After a two-hour marathon at a beer festival, our tour guide Steph led us to Cheers where her friend Justin was bartending.  What I thought was going to a quick tourist visit turned into hours of drunken splendor. Soon the variety of beers and shots somehow turned into a night of boisterous chanting of  “U-S-A!”, “Lord-By-ron!”, and “Tom Arn-old!”  This song brings me back to that night, not necessarily because of the reference to Cheers in the title, but the chorus that could have easily been one of our chants that night: “So let’s get fucked up, and let’s pretend we’re all okay, and if you’ve got something you can’t live with, save it for another day. Save it for another day.”

72. “Bloodbuzz Ohio”

The National

After carrying The National’s Matt Berninger to Ohio, I’d like that same swarm of bees to visit Jim Tressel’s house.

71. “Tame On the Prowl”

The Medications

In most cases, my adoration of The Medications stems from trying to untangle the vine of intertwined guitar licks in each song.  “Tame On the Prowl” continues this tradition, but also features a melody that will quickly wrap around your Hippocampus.

70. “Whores; The Movie”

El-P

Not only is “Whores; The Movie” a stellar song, but it would also make a great movie (preferably in 3-D).

69. “Leave You Forever”

Cloud Nothings

I could never leave this song forever.

68. “Apartment Wrestling”

Maximum Balloon (featuring David Byrne)

If you’ve ever wondered what TV On the Radio would sound like if they joined forces with The Talking Heads, it’s as amazing as you expected.

67. “Grief Point”

Destroyer

This is not really a song, rather an audio-short-film, or an audio-psycho analysis, or maybe just the ramblings of a confused artist. Whatever the case, this eight minute insight into the mind of Dan Bejar and his view of music at this point in his career is fascinating.  Earlier this year, Bejar discussed ending his recording career altogether (fortunately he didn’t with a new album coming out soon), and this B-side to his “Archer on the Beach” EP captures him in the midst of this confusion of what role his music plays in both his life and his listeners.  Plus, I just like the imagery of “picnic baskets filled with blood”.  Call me a hopeless romantic!

66. “Fresh Hex”

Tobacco (featuring Beck)

“Maniac Meat” is such a fun fucking album and on “Fresh Hex” Beck joins the party, giving the album his own fresh take on their energetic sound.

65. “Pop Culture (revisited)”

The Ponys

The Ponys originally formed in Chicago back in 2001, and one of their earliest songs was “Pop Culture”.  For whatever reason, this song never made it onto a major record, only being heard during live performance.  I can still remember them playing this song when I first saw them live four years ago.  But in 2010, with the release of their song EP “Deathbed Plus 4”, “Pop Culture (revisited)” was finally released from captivity, and it sounds as lively as ever.

64. “Swim Until You Can’t See Land”

Frightened Rabbit

Water has always represented rebirth, and on “Swim Until You Can’t See Land” singer Scott Hutchison swims not only for a renewal, but also to feel alive again.

 

63. “You Must Be Out of Your Mind”

The Magnetic Fields

This past year I’ve had to learn how to forgive others, and also tried to gain forgiveness for those I’ve hurt.  In both cases this isn’t the easiest of tasks.  As the person who was wronged, there is some agitation with the idea that by simply saying “I’m sorry” that everything goes back to the way they were. They don’t and they never will. But as the person asking for forgiveness, you can’t “simply press rewind” and things will be they way they once were no matter how bad you would like them to.  Stephin Merritt’s snarky lyrics take on the persona of the one burned, and his stance can be either an anthem for moving on or a eulogy for a relationship (depending one what side of the forgiveness fault-line you stand).

 

62. “Waterfall”

Fresh & Onlys

The Fresh & Onlys are time travelers, but instead of going to the past, they’ve come to us from the 60s, bringing with them a sound that has been long forgotten. Amazingly, a song like “Waterfall” grows out of the oldies, yet sounds like nothing else on the radio.  This is the type of song that would lead Marty McFly to say, “I guess you guys aren’t ready for that yet, but your grandparents loved it.”

 

61. “Below the Hurricane”

Blitzen Trapper

At first this seems like a beautiful little folk song, but halfway through the band kicks it up a notch with Doobie Brother’s persona that is sweetened with a couple drops of harmonica.

60. “I Learned the Hard Way”

Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings

The only thing I don’t like about this song is the fact that she never defines exactly what this guy did to turn her into such a bitter old maid.

 

59. “Mr. Peterson”

Perfume Genius

This eerie song tells the story of a teacher, Mr. Peterson, leaving a note on a student’s paper telling them to meet him at a certain time and place. For some reason, the narrator meets up with the teacher, smokes weed with him, and possibly has sex with him (although this event is only inferred).  When the teacher goes on to kill himself, the narrator doesn’t necessarily hold a grudge toward him. Instead, the speaker hopes that Mr. Peterson can find a place where he’s wanted, even if that place be hell.

So yeah, this songs kinda depressing.

 

58. “Moves”

The New Pornographers

After their lackluster 2007 release “Challengers”, I’d kinda written The New Pornographers off.  It just seemed like their sound had run its course and had no where else to go.  But on their latest release, “Together”, the band has found new ways to eek a little more life out of their collective, especially on a song like “Moves” that amps up their classic sound with a driving orchestral addition.

57.  “Suffering Season”

Woods

I made the mistake this summer of defining Woods as the next Neil Young. The falsetto vocals do conjure up images of Sir Neil, but a song like “Suffering Season” shows the band is influenced by many other voices of the past (possibly the Mamas and the Papas?).

56. “Girlfriend”

Ty Segall

In just two minutes, Ty Segall will have you singing along.  That has to be some type of record.

55. “Favourite Food”

Tokyo Police Club

Getting old stinks, a point this song pounds into the ground.  Not only have I had to face the facts that I’m no longer young, but my parent’s aging has become apparent, a notion that scares me.  When the lyrics say “cause it’s sweet getting old” followed by “Let the hospital be your home”, I can’t help but feel that Tokyo Police Club are being morbidly ironic. I would like to believe that there is some hope hidden within the metaphors of this riveting song, but I can’t seem to find them.

54. “Written in Reverse”

Spoon

With all that screaming and punching of piano keys, something must have really pissed Britt Daniels off. But unlike the Incredible Hulk, you’ll like Britt when he’s angry.

53. “Relief”

Sam Amidon

I really should start listening to some R Kelly.  A couple of years ago I couldn’t quit listening to Bonnie “Prince” Billy’s cover of R. Kelly’s “The Word’s Greatest”.   This year Sam Amidon, who is known for his modern interpretations of classic folk songs, switched his routine by taking R. Kelly’s “Relief” and giving it a more classic ambience. On second thought, I’ll just stick to people covering R. Kelly.

52. “POWER”

Kanye West

Even though it’s the third track on “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy”, “POWER” is the introduction to the Shakespearan tale found on this album.  In it, Kanye portrays a man dealing with the struggles of being in power. At times he seems arrogant and aloof, but near the end of the song the listener begins hearing a man realizing that the one thing he doesn’t have power over is himself.  By the time the outro arrives, the speaker is standing on a ledge envisioning himself jumping, saying, “This would be a beautiful death”.

Oh, and did I mention it samples King Crimson’s “21st Century Schizoid Man”?

51. “He Would Have Laughed”

Deerhunter

A lot of great musicians died in 2010 (Captain Beefheart, Ronnie James Dio, Mark Linkous), but the most devastating loss in my view was the death of Jay Reatard simply because Jay had so much left to create, so must potential.  Being friends with Jay, Deerhunter’s Bradford Cox wrote “He Would Have Laughed” in dedication to the lost genius.  I’m not sure if the song is necessarily about Jay with its abstract lyrics, although there is something there within the lyrics “Where do all my friends go?” and “What did you want to be?”.  I think the connection to Jay’s life is found within the music its self, with the slow progression that eventually goes into a euphoric swell, but then, just like Jay’s life, the song just suddenly stops. Fuck.

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