Electronica Album Reviews

Duma: Duma review – extreme Kenyan metalheads bring doom to the dancefloor

(Nyege Nyege Tapes)
From Nairobi’s metal scene, Martin Kanja and Sam Karugu add techno to doom-laden guitars and distorted vocals on this exciting album

Alongside the burgeoning experimental electronic scene in east Africa is a small but committed underground of metal bands, based in Nairobi. These groups are breathing life into a field hampered by a continued lack of diversity and the preponderance of racist imagery.

Duma is released on Nyege Nyege Tapes on 7 August.

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Arca: Kick I review – dissonance meets overground ambitions

The Venezuelan electronic innovator adds guests and party tunes to her trademark glitchy sounds

The Venezuela-born, Barcelona-based electronic innovator Arca has long made a feature of colliding sound-worlds and destabilising identities. Across three albums (four, if you’re counting the 62-minute track @@@@@) of mercurial productions, chaos and beauty have intertwined. Hand in hand with Arca’s fluid, writhing music have come inquiries into post-gender and non-binary selves.

KiCk I offers up an even broader palette than previously, while keeping up a steady diet of trademark dissonance alongside those slightly more overground ambitions. Stark album opener Nonbinary comes out fighting on behalf of “self-states”, while a handful of tracks plumb Arca’s Latinx heritage even more assiduously than previously: Mequetrefe is as close to pop as this artist has come; Riquiqui features a plethora of rhythmic Spanish voices over intricate clatter.

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Arca: KiCk i review – joyful sonic vision of what pop could be

Alejandra Ghersi’s new set is a subversive and mischievous fusion of aural fireworks and psychedelic lyricism aided by Björk, Shygirl, Rosalía and Sophie

Time, from Arca’s fourth album KiCk i, reduces a booming, bass-heavy 4/4 kick drum to a whisper that oscillates around Alejandra Ghersi’s blurry, anaesthetised words. “It’s time to let it out / And show the world,” she coos from a condemned space that evokes the atmosphere of a toilet stall at Berlin super-club Berghain. In the three years since her acclaimed 2017 album Arca, Ghersi has fallen in love and simultaneously found confidence from affirming her non-binary identity. If her previous album evoked a melancholy sci-fi opera set on a drifting space station, KiCk i is a live-streamed party, finding Ghersi at her most unrestrained, mischievous and joyful.

When something doesn’t work, the failure acts as a reminder of the complexity of existence. Perfection is not revolutionary, but change is

Related: How cruising, graveyards and swan songs inspired Arca’s new album

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Kevin Figes Quartet: Changing Times review – constantly fascinating

(Pig Records)
The multi-instrumentalist’s latest quartet recording is a mind-expanding feast for the ears

I didn’t think I was going to like this album at first, when greeted by the strains of an electronic sequencer. But this faded into a beautifully played flute solo. Then came some wordless chanting by two mysterious voices, leading to a horror-movie climax. As one piece followed another, the flute returned, this time apparently in an underground cavern. There were saxophones – baritone, alto and soprano, all impressively well played, and atmospheres, rhythms and textures that were constantly changing. It was fascinating. Even the bits that I couldn’t make head nor tail of were clearly the work of superb musicians.

Kevin Figes, who played all the saxophones, the flute and was one of the singing voices, composed all eight pieces. His first teacher was Elton Dea, saxophonist with the Soft Machine, who no doubt influenced his open attitude to music in general. The band is completed by Jim Blomfield on keyboards, bassist Thad Kelly, drummer Mark Whitlam and singer Emily Wright. I’m still intrigued by this music, even though parts continue to pass me by. Anyway, it does you good to stretch the ears from time to time.

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Nídia: Não Fales Nela Que a Mentes review – intimate introspection from Lisbon producer

Nídia shines in her new, more meditative album, showcasing a breadth of dance genres with a keen eye for emotion and turmoil

Conceived almost a decade ago, the Príncipe label burst out of Lisbon’s poorer outskirts and onto an international scene enriched by burgeoning global sounds. While the song Danza Kuduro and acts such as Buraka Som Sistema took kuduro to car sound-systems and festival tents worldwide, Príncipe were keen to expand on the genre’s potential and break down racist, sexist and classist barriers holding it back locally. There are hints of house, techno and hip-hop in their music but the African-diaspora sound of Príncipe primarily incorporates Angolan kizomba’s intoxicating rhythms, melodic tarraxinha and the more skeletal, hard-hitting tarraxo. Few on the roster capture the sheer breadth of these styles as well as Lisbon-via-Bordeaux producer Nídia, whose repertoire shines across party-starters and darker tracks. Following a joyous debut EP, her first album for the label landed in 2017, pulling no punches with its heady, high-octane batida.

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Jazz & Blues Album Reviews

William Purvis and the Seventh Sons – That Woman’s Something (The Soul Album) & Blue Memories…I Recall | Album Review

William Purvis and the Seventh Sons – That Woman’s Something (The Soul Album)

Blue Memories…I Recall

Self-produced CDs

24 songs – 93 minutes


With his feet planted securely in both the blues and soul community of Chicago, veteran vocalist and multi-instrumentalist William Purvis serves up a heaping helping of both on his latest project: Two parallel CD releases that individually target fans of both worlds.

A native of Charlottesville, Va., who grew up listening to Muddy Waters and Otis Redding, he’s been a fixture in the Windy City since 1990. He cut his teeth on the South and West Sides of the city, polishing his chops at the feet of guitar master Buddy Scott, frequently sitting in with his Rib Tips, and harp player Grady Freeman, a vocalist who worked with both Little Walter as well as The Aces (the legendary Louis and Dave Myers and Fred Below).

Doubling on six-string and harp himself, Purvis founded the Seventh Sons in 1992, delivering a mix of blues and R&B and releasing four albums before disbanding in 2005. After an eight-year break, William reformed the unit in 2013. The current lineup includes guitarist Mark Wydra — who’s worked with Z.Z. Hill, Liz Mandeville and was a longtime member of the Eddy Clearwater Band, upright and electric bassist Tony Wisniewski and percussionist Joel Baer.

Purvis penned eight of the 12 tunes on That Woman’s Something, a set of ‘60s-style soul that also includes two tunes penned by Mick Scott and one each from Garret Lane and Val Leventhal, while Blue Memories, like the title suggests, delivers a collection of azure-tinted covers from multiple mediums, including rock, folk and country.

Three artists make guest appearances on both discs — Brian OHern and Todd Phipps (keyboards) and Alpha Stewart (percussion) – with Joe Shive (guitar) and Thom Fishe (drums) sitting in on the blues set and Melvin “Meleo” Robinson (guitar), Peterson Ross (sax) and Mike Bowman (trumpet) on hand for the other.

A medium-tempo, percussive shuffle opens the soul set as Purvis delivers the original title cut, “That Woman’s Something,” in a pleasant, slightly weathered voice with limited range. Despite its R&B theme, Wydra rips and runs with some terrific blues runs before the tune bleeds into the horn-fueled ballad, “In Time.”

Love themes run strong and deep in “Nothing Like a Woman” and Scott’s “I Thought You’d Understand” before William continues the refrains in a run of four more of his own making: the bittersweet “If You Love Him More Than Me,” the pleasing “You Ain’t Much (But You’re Still Mine),” the haunting “Be Aware” and the powerful “Reasons to Ramble,” a classic soul-blues in which the horns shine while Purvis tries to justify his need to leave a woman he still loves.

The bright sounds that open Scott’s “Really Got the Blues Tonight” belie the message of the lyrics. But the Leventhal ballad, “Hittin’ the Wall” brings the feelings home. Two more originals – the tender “Imagine That Feeling” and medium-fast “Steal My Thunder” – bring the soul segment – which hangs together well — to a close.

The blues disc, meanwhile, is far more inconsistent, opening with a cover of the Rolling Stones’ “Factory Girl,” which is delivered with slightly strained vocal and slide guitar accompaniment. William’s on harp for Lowell Fulson’s familiar “Room with a View,” which drags as a ballad, before a pleasant, uptempo take on Sonny Boy Williamson’s “Better Cut That Out.” Up next, Willie Clayton’s “Three People (Sleeping in My Bed)” fails in an arrangement that strips it of its soulful delivery in favor of a speedy treatment that robs of most of its feel.

Purvis successfully reworks folkie Fred Neil’s “Blues on the Ceiling” and country star Mel McDaniel’s “Roll Your Own” before a solid, true-blue take on Chuck Berry’s “I Need You Baby.” An acoustic reinvention of Isaac Hayes’ “I Take What I Want” – a huge hit for Sam and Dave in 1965 – lacks the substance of the original before an interesting version complete with Spanish-style guitar of “Lord You Made the Night Too Long,” a song recorded by both Bing Crosby and Dean Martin.

The action concludes with equally inconsistent takes of St. Louis Jimmy Oden’s “The Dog House Blues,” Tampa Red’s “The Witching Hour Blues” and the John Lennon-Paul McCartney rocker, “Can’t Buy Me Love.”

Available from Amazon and Apple Music, That Woman’s Something is a pleaser recommended for fans of traditional Chicago soul-blues. Blue Memories, meanwhile, is easy to forget.

Chris Canas – Would You Mind? | Album Review

Chris Canas – Would You Mind?

Self-Release – 2020

15 tracks; 79 minutes


Born in 1984, Michigan’s Chris Canas started young, producing his first album at 15 years of age and Would You Mind? is his seventh effort. Entirely original and filling the available space on a CD, Chris wrote every song here, apart from one where his mother Angela Cottingham wrote the lyrics. Angela adds vocals and percussion to the band in which Chris sings lead and plays guitar (plus occasional bass), Chris Nordham is on keys, Derek ‘DC’ Washington bass and Michael Scott drums; everyone except Derek adds backing vocals when required.

The title track opens proceedings, a chugging rocker that makes a great start as Chris name-checks Detroit and Chicago as places where he plays the blues. The following track “Hey Y’All” is also autobiographical but would probably work better in a live context, especially when Chris uses the old “join in and sing along with us” strategy which really does not work on a studio recording. After two uptempo numbers “Cloud 9” is a slower tune which gives Chris an opportunity to demonstrate his considerable vocal range and “Thick And Thin” moves into relaxed, late-night, jazz lounge style, even a little scat singing; both numbers have fine keyboard work and Chris plays some nice acoustic stuff on the latter number.

A funky guitar riff underpins “Feel So Good”, in which Chris explains how he feels with a guitar in his hands. The lilting “Paradise” is a fine, overtly romantic song with acoustic rhythms and piano -“please forgive the man who loves you, all the hurtful things I say. You’re my heart, you’re my soul, you’re my life, now, baby, let’s grow old so we can live out our lives in a paradise”. The busy “Get Outta My Life” is a soulful piece that rattles along with some ‘shoop, shoop’ backing vocals and another excellent keyboard solo, this time on electric piano, before Chris comes in with a fleet-fingered solo.

“Have A Nice Day” is a sarcastic remark as Chris is obviously having a tough time with this particular person: “the evil things that you did to me, like when you marinated my heart in the mud.” “Walk A Mile” talks of the struggle to keep afloat in the ghetto, the serious theme belied by a catchy, funky rhythm that includes a short bass feature before Chris takes over with a fuzz-laden solo

“Lover Set Me Free” is the longest track here, the opening piano section seeming to quote from “Funny How Time Slips Away” before the song develops into a lush ballad with fine singing by Angela of her own lyrics. Keyboard man Chris N shines on the Hammond and Chris C gets in on the act with a nicely retrained solo too. A familiar title, “Cheaper To Keep Her”, is not the Johnnie Taylor song but a bright, uptempo soul tune while “Mardi Gras Mama” brings some Louisiana rhythms to the party as the rhythm section has some fun with the jagged rhythms of the tune.

“Dirty Blues Man” does what the title suggests and “Havin’ A Good Time” returns us to the soulful side of the street, the album closing with “Brighter Days” which blends some gospel influences into the band’s music, especially in Chris’ vocal here.

On this generously filled album Chris Canas shows a sure touch in a number of styles. Although there is a lot of music here Chris’s playing is generally restrained and thankfully free of shredding while his band, notably the keyboard player, have plenty to say also.

Ilya Portnov – Three | Album Review

Ilya Portnov – Three

Self-produced CD

9 songs – 37 minutes


The only artist ever to graduate from the prestigious New England Conservatory of Music while specializing in diatonic harmonica, Ilya Portnov is one of the classiest, most polished and inventive instrumentalists in the blues world today, something that’s instantaneously apparent when you give this stellar all-instrumental album a spin.

Now in his early 30s, Portnov grew up in Russia and started playing piano at age four, studying classical and folk music. He acquired his love for the blues through his father’s love for British rock and through his first harmonica instructor who turned him on to Howard Levy, Jason Ricci and Canadian Carlos Del Junco – all of whom are masters of the overblow technique, which turns a simple, 10-hole harp into the equivalent of a chromatic.

Since graduating from college in Boston, Ilya’s been based out of Los Angeles for the better part of the decade. He mixes straight-ahead blues with diverse influences, including jazz, classical, funk and Balkan folk, delivering highly technical arrangements effortlessly in a style that’s been compared favorably with sax wizard Johnny Hodges. Like the title suggests, this is his third CD, following Choro Bastardo, a band project that mixed Brazilian and world music, and Strong Brew, which earned him a 2018 Blues Blast Music Awards nomination for best new artist debut album.

Like Strong Brew, this disc was recorded by Kid Andersen at Greaseland Studios in San Jose, Calif., and features a lineup that includes Chris Burns on keys, June Core on drums and Endre Tarczy on bass. Andersen sits in on guitar and bass for two cuts, and Ben Andrews appears on guitar and violin for one.

Ilya opens the action on the low end of a chromatic harp for “Sly Dog,” a sweeping blues with jazzy overtones and a sweet, minor-key instrumental on keys from Burns that slides from mirroring six-string to Hammond B3 organ. Portnov’s attach is light, quick and delicate as he glides across the reeds, alternating single-note runs with chords before returning to the repetitive bass root.

The only cover in the set — Francisca Gonzaga’s “Corta Jaca” – translated “cut the jackfruit” – follows. It’s a sprightly samba with blues overtones than features Andrews and Andersen as Ilya delivers some of the fattest, sugary notes you’ll hear this year. The sound moves to New Orleans for “Crawfish Stomp,” a jazzy number with a ‘30s feel, before it explodes with “Tilt-a-Whirl,” an uptempo, rapid-fire, stop-time pleaser with a strong Chicago feel.

“Slippers and Boots,” an unhurried, minor-key waltz, delivers a strong textural change before the blues shuffle, “Big Breaths,” kicks things into overdrive once more. Ilya takes his foot off the pedal for the slow blues ballad, “81˚ F,” before launching into a little ‘60s European pop with “Up in the Sky” and the interesting “Sphere Dance,” a folksy, minor-key pleaser with regimented drumbeat that starts slowly before blazing to a close.

Available through most major online retailers and strongly recommended. If you like instrumental blues and are looking for something completely different, this disc is definitely for you!

Mindi Abair and the Boneshakers – No Good Deed | Album Review

Mindi Abair and the Boneshakers – No Good Deed

Pretty Good for a Girl Records


CD: 10 Songs, 46 Minutes

Styles: Contemporary Electric Blues Rock, Horn Blues, All Original Songs

Mindi Abair is the Carrie Underwood of contemporary electric blues rock. Not only could they almost be twins in terms of looks, but both are American Idol alumnae. A third similarity is in their vivacious musical style. One could sit down for a post-show cocktail with either one of these winsome women and never feel intimidated. They’re the girls-next-door-turned-superstars you read about and see on TV, but never dream you’ll meet face-to-face. Thankfully, on her new album No Good Deed, Mindi brings her presence right to you – no backstage pass required. This scintillating series of ten original tracks will keep you fresh and energized for several hours, like caffeinated soap. Enjoy the rush while it lasts, then reapply!

Mindi has been electrifying audiences with her live performances and sax prowess since her debut album in 1999. In 2014, Mindi received her first Grammy nomination in the Best Pop Instrumental Album category, followed by a 2015 nomination for Best Contemporary Instrumental Album for her solo LP Wild Heart. Not only that, but Abair has climbed the Billboard several times, earning two #1 spots on the Contemporary Jazz Album Chart and two #3 spots on the Blues Album Chart. In 2018, Mindi Abair and The Boneshakers won 8 Independent Blues Awards including Artist of the Year and Best Blues Song fan award for the Independent Music Awards for “Pretty Good For A Girl” featuring Joe Bonamassa.  In 2019, she was nominated by the Blues Music Awards as Best Instrumentalist: Horn and won the LA Critics Award for Best Holiday Album for All I Got For Christmas Is The Blues.

Performing alongside Abair (lead vox, soprano, alto and tenor saxophones) are the boisterous Boneshakers: Randy Jacobs on guitars; Rodney Lee on B3 organ, piano, and synthesizers; Third Richardson on drums, percussion, and wine glass, and Ben White on electric and ukulele bass. All of these gentlemen also provide background vocals. Additional musicians include Lee Thornberg on trumpet and trombone; Paulie Cerra on tenor sax, and Nick Lane on trombone.

Beginning things with an irresistible bounce is “Seven Day Fool,” proving that even the worst household drudgery is worth the payoff come the weekend. Let me tell you: you’ve never heard a catchier recitation of the days of the week. Only Mindi could pull it off, and her sax solo is absolutely scrumptious. The title track, a shuffle worthy of dance floors worldwide, proves the old adage in a new way: “I’m working hard every Saturday night, and I know that my music makes the world all right. You know I bring it all home to you. Every bit of my heart is for a love so true. I’ve got blisters on my fingers, but I’ll sleep when I’m dead. So what’s this other woman doing in my bed?!” “Sweetest Lies” slows things down and heats things up all at once, featuring fabulous guitar from Randy Jacobs. “Good Day for the Blues” brings a Bo Diddley beat to the forefront, so peppy that your blues will fly right out the window. “Bad News” adds the sting of a razor blade to the proceedings, its grinding bassline cutting deep. Last but not least comes “Baby, Get It On,” perfect for one’s latest indoor jaunt or outdoor drag race. Lee Thornberg and Paulie Cerra let it rip on sax, their chemistry as powerful as the vocalists’.

No Good Deed: ten swings and no misses!

Evelyn Rubio – Crossing Borders | Album Review

Evelyn Rubio – Crossing Borders



CD: 15 Songs, 65 Minutes

Styles: Soul-Influenced Blues, Latin Blues Rock, Torch Singer Blues

I fell in love with the Spanish language and culture in high school. Not only was the class a hoot, but I couldn’t get enough of the rhythm, the poetry, the words themselves. When my sister gave me Selena’s 1995 album Dreaming of You for Christmas, I was instantly transported to el cielo (heaven). Fast forward fourteen years. Mexico City’s Evelyn Rubio crowns the stage like a queen, Crossing Borders among Latin rock, soul, torch-singer tunes, even a touch of pre-war blues greatness in her cover of “Besame Mucho.” She’s a triple threat, possessing beauty, talent and wit in equal measure. Her voice is vibrant and versatile, navigating the worlds of lust (explosive opener “One More Last Time”), love (“What A Way to Go”) and utter heartbreak (“I Don’t Understand”). The album contains fifteen total tracks – eleven in English and four in Spanish. Even if you’re unfamiliar with the latter tongue, the last three songs are Spanish versions of “Cruel,” “Border Town,” and Al Staehely’s “He Did Me Wrong, But He Did It Right.” With over an hour of marvelous music, this CD is sure to keep one wholly entertained. For a full and extensive list of co-performers, check the liner notes.

Evelyn also boasts superior saxophone skills and a resume that can’t be beat. Not only has she performed as a lead on children’s television shows, but also toured as Mary Magdalene in a Canadian production of Jesus Christ Superstar. After that, Rubio would leave the stage and tour with a rock band in Mexico, honing her skills on the sax and building those famous musical chops that everyone in the business raves about. She would also divide her time with a ten-piece orchestra in Mexico City so that she could take care of her mother and family. When Evelyn came to America to foster her musical growth, she would meet and record an album with Mr. James “Boogaloo” Bolden: B.B. King’s band leader and lead trumpet for thirty years. She performed with Mr. Bolden, and the two remain close friends. She went on to record the album Hombres in two separate versions: one in English, one in Spanish. It went on to debut on the Billboard charts at #1 Latin Pop, #3 Top Latin and #6 Blues.

Ever been hooked, whether on food, drink, or something that satisfies a different appetite? Evelyn can SO relate: “I’m addicted to the kicks. I’ve been trying to quit, but I’m still in a fix. I can taste you, baby, all alone in my room. I shake and I sweat, and I howl at the moon.” She claims she’s “walking away,” but still wants “One More Last Time.” Uh-huh. Por supuesto (of course). The awesomeness of this song cannot be overstated, whether on vocals, lyrics or instrumentation. All of them would blow Carlos Santana’s mind. So would the next track, “Still On Your Side,” and “Just Like a Drug.” That’s the trifecta, but “He Did Me Wrong” might pass them all up by several lengths. “I Don’t Understand” comes next – a beautiful ballad, but a downer stronger than Valium and alcohol. To get the party started again, “Mistake” and “Cruel” fit the bill. So does the dynamite cover of Latin rock hit “Besame Mucho,” with a classic sound hearkening to the early days of the blues. When these two genres mix, magic happens.

“The Blues has no Borders,” says Evelyn Rubio’s website, and she’s fantastic at crossing them!

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Pop Album Reviews

Brandy: B7 review – back on her own terms

(Brand Nu, Inc)

The familiar acrobatic vocals and sublime harmonies are there, but the R&B star’s first album in eight years is not all about nostalgia…

It’s been eight years since Brandy’s last album – forgivable for someone who’s “been an original since 1994”, as she boasts on I Am More on this new one. The R&B singer is such an icon that when you google the phrase “the vocal bible” her picture comes up, all thanks to the supremacy and range of her voice.

B7 isn’t exclusively a trip down memory lane, but it does cruise past a few old haunts. Brandy’s trademark raspy vocals and sublime harmonies on Rather Be and Lucid Dreams are nostalgia-inducing for anyone who grew up listening to her acrobatic riffs and runs. Baby Mama featuring Chance the Rapper is a rhapsody to her 18-year old daughter and an anthem for single mothers. “I’m every woman,” she sings, evoking Chaka Khan and Whitney Houston.

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Alanis Morissette: Such Pretty Forks in the Road review – back to the confessional

The Canadian singer-songwriter’s first album in eight years returns to her strengths

Not many artists live in the shadow of an earlier album to the extent that Alanis Morissette does with 1995’s 33m-selling Jagged Little Pill. It’s certainly telling that the coronavirus-scuppered live dates that had been booked for this year were being touted as that record’s 25th anniversary tour, her first album in eight years seemingly not worthy of promotion. And yet Such Pretty Forks in the Road doesn’t deserve to have been so completely glossed over.

Yes, musically, these songs – all co-written with former Morrissey sideman Michael Farrell –are for the most part her stock-in-trade windswept power ballads and unremarkable soft rock. But while there’s nothing as thrillingly angry as You Oughta Know, it’s a far more palatable set than 2012’s insipid Havoc and Bright Lights. That’s in part because while that album was so full of psychobabbling, spiritual guff it could have made Gwyneth Paltrow choke on her vagina-scented candles, this time around Morissette has returned to the confessional writing style that defined her earlier work. The dramatic Reasons I Drink is as direct as its title, fearlessly tackling alcohol problems and eating disorders. It’s just unfortunate that it has little regard for scansion, syntax or sense. Indeed, her lyrics have long been an achilles heel, and when she sings: “I can’t remember where the sentence started when I’m trying to finish it,” you wonder whether she’s poking fun at herself. On reflection, probably not.

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Dominic Fike: What Could Possibly Go Wrong review – Gen Z star surfs genres

Fike’s star is in the ascendant, thanks to a guileless, summery blend of rap, rock and pop

Few young artists can boast of sparking a label bidding war after releasing their debut EP through Soundcloud, or list the likes of Brockhampton, Billie Eilish and DJ Khaled as fans. Yet Dominic Fike’s beachy, lo-fi blend of rap and soft rock made him an instant star, with his debut single, 3 Nights, going platinum in the US and the UK.

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