RECORD STORE TALES & REVIEWS: Complete Table of Contents

February 1, 2012 7 comments

#322: Highway to Hell (RSTs Mk II: Getting More Tale)

October 2, 2014 8 comments

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RECORD STORE TALES Mk II:  Getting More Tale

#322:  Highway to Hell

The big peave that I have today in my current work is my daily commute. It’s not far at all (I can do it in 10 minutes if there’s no traffic) but it can be hairy. To understand this, you would have to see the poor planning that went into the roads in Kitchener-Waterloo-Cambridge, otherwise known as the tri-cities area.

To get from work (in Cambridge) to home (in Kitchener), there are only a handful of good routes. The trick is getting across the Grand River, and there are only three nearby bridges to access. One of them is Highway 8 into town (two lanes each way but expanding), which is always in a state of construction. Another is the King St. bridge (one lane each way) and another is Fairway Road (a bit too far out of my way). Any accidents can cause jams on any of these routes, but the worst location is what I call the “sweet spot”:

The Tri-Cities "Sweet Spot"

The Tri-cities “Sweet Spot”

The “sweet spot” is on Highway 401, between Hespeler Road and Highway 8 into Kitchener. An accident there at the right time of day (3-4 o’clock) will tie up traffic going into town on any of my routes. Prior to the opening of the Fairway Road bridge, accidents there have delayed me by almost two hours (on a normally 10-15 minute drive). Add in winter weather conditions for part of the year and you’re in for a real good time.

There are accidents on my 10-15 minute drive home nearly every day. Once a month there will be an accident in the dreaded “sweet spot” causing major delays. Last week there were two in a row!  On those days, all I can do is study the traffic map, select a route and hope for the best!

When I first started this commute, all I had was a single disc CD player in my car. Each day I’d pick an album to listen to.  I only had room for one or two CDs in the car at a time.  Length didn’t matter; a Van Halen album would be perfectly fine for my commute on a good day. On a bad day however, you can count on running out of music and having to start over! Fortunately I have since switched to a couple 8 gig flash drives, avoiding traffic tie-up repeats.

On the bright side, a “sweet spot” traffic tie-up informed my review of Sloan’s The Double Cross (which I got to hear twice in one drive), during my drive home.

Other commuting misadventures that I witness on my way home, on a daily basis:

1. Motorcycle idiots passing between two cars. On the highway. Last seen on Friday last week.
2. People passing on the shoulder of the 401.
3. Being cut off in traffic, daily.
4. Idiots on cell phones.
5. Somebody in a Dodge Ram weaving in and out of traffic, trying to make it further along than anyone else, only to get stuck behind a transport truck.

These stories are not so unique. If you live in a major metropolitan area, you witness these same things too. As I progress into the RST Mk II’s, I intend to vent about traffic again in the future. (In fact, I’d like to buy a dash-cam. The video gold I could produce every day would provide endless blog fodder.)

Fortunately, music does soothe the savage beast. Rather, technology does.  Back in Record Store Part 16: Travelling Man, I stated “when you’re stuck in traffic on the 403, in a torrential downpour, listening to Winger, it still sucks pretty much as bad as it would if you weren’t listening to Winger.”  What has changed since then?   Well, I’m not driving that far for one.  GPS and Bluetooth have reduced the stress greatly.  Having 16 gig of albums in the car is also better than five cassette tapes.

What’s your favourite album for being stuck in traffic? Take it from me: Sloan’s Double Cross works really well!

REVIEW: Rush – Snakes & Arrows (2007 MVI 5.1 version)

October 1, 2014 25 comments

You’ve heard of Epic Meal Time?  They should call me Epic Review Time.  Here’s a couple hours of music, text and video distilled down and covered in detail.  This is a double-sized review for the price of one.  Dive in and engorge!

RUSH – Snakes & Arrows (2007 Warner Music Interactive DVD album)

Rush’s Snakes & Arrows album was considered a progression from the previous record, Vapor Trails. The pummeling of Vapor Trails has been tempered with light and shade, bringing a more balanced Rush.  It was also mixed in 5.1 for a special “Music Video Interactive” DVD by Richard Chycki and Alex Lifeson, who oversee most of Rush’s 5.1 mixes.  I haven’t listened to any version of Snakes & Arrows for many moons, so this is a review from fresh ears.

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First though, there is a 40+ minute documentary video called “The Game of Snakes & Arrows” so we can learn a bit about how the album came to be.  Geddy Lee says that their priority for choosing a recording studio was that they wanted the best drum sound imaginable.  They chose an old mansion out in the Adironacks.  47 individual microphones were used to record the entire drum kit.  Neil Peart says that the isolation of the studio led to the three guys reconnecting as musicians and friends like the old days at Le Studio.   According to Alex Lifeson, the plan for writing this time was to take it easy, working on the writing part only part time.  Later on, more time was spent on just rehearsing and playing the new songs, which transformed them along them way.  The documentary contains snippets of some intricate Lifeson acoustic 12-string, in the studio, where Alex makes it look easy.

Producer Nick Raskulinecz was not a passive participant; indeed there was give and take with the band in order to make the best out of each song. It was a process that worked well according to Alex.  I enjoyed hearing Alex explain the suspended F chord in “Far Cry” — there’s a story behind it. There is some great footage of Geddy playing Mellotron on “Good News First” too.  I also love a fly on the wall scene of Geddy jamming a bass lick on his brand-new-out-of-the-box Jaco Pastorius bass.  The lick sounded good and Geddy says, “We’ll jam to it later.  We’ll get the Big Guy on drums.”  Chills up my spine.   Raskulinecz  asks, “Would it be bad if we had two instrumentals on the record?”  Geddy immediately responds, “No, it’ll be a first.”  Peart shows up and they start to jam, and when Alex arrives it only takes him a day to come up with his guitar part to the Grammy-nominated Rush bass-drum jam called “Malignant Narcissism”.  Wham, bam, thank you ma’am.  This is how the big boys play.

Although this doc is only 40 minutes in length it’s well worth having.  This is great stuff.   Neil Peart crafting drum parts in front of our very eyes is a treat that few other DVDs deliver.  Seeing Geddy applauding his bandmate shouting, “He’s killing it, woo!” is glorious.

As if all this isn’t enough, there is a many-paged (I lost count) essay by Peart called “The Game of Snakes & Arrows: Prize Every Time”.  My favourite detail is what producer Nick Raskulinecz was nicknamed:  “Boujze”, based on the sound he’d make when trying to convey to Peart a drum fill suggestion.  “Bappitty-bap-bap-booooujze!”

The DVD photo gallery is a total joke:  FIVE pictures.  At least the package comes with an expanded booklet with lots of Hugh Syme’s surreal artwork.  Since the photo gallery on the DVD was just shite photies, I’ll give you some shots from the documentary that are loads better.

So, let’s get on with the album then.  Pushing play

Delicacy and aggression describe album opener (and first single) “Far Cry”.  The acoustics of Lifeson are easily overwhelmed by the pummeling band.  “Far Cry” boasts one of those powerful 90’s-style Rush riffs that groove rather than exercise the brain.  Immediately I am overwhelmed by a dense 5.1 riff.  I do not know how many guitars I am hearing, but Alex has unique parts coming in from all sides, including an acoustic on the left that I never noticed before.  I have loved “Far Cry” since its triumphant release in 2007; it is just as powerful and engaging today.  New appreciation for Lifeson will be had on this mix.

“Armor & Sword” was a standout then and now, just as “Far Cry” before.  The song has always shimmered, but more so in 5.1.  This track has much more of Alex’s acoustic guitars, and more texture.  It has a regal 80’s Rush-like quality without the keyboards.  In fact there are no keyboards on Snakes & Arrows, only the Mellotron.  The 5.1 mix becomes a little dense at times, and the layers of guitars oppressive, but it is indeed a massive song.  Then, you can audibly hear the Mellotron on “Workin’ Them Angels”, a phrase taken from one of Peart’s books.  It is a brighter song than either of the first two, and I like the reference to the “moving picture”.  “Workin’ Them Angels” is an album highlight, particularly the mandolin near the end.

SNAKES AND ARROWS_0007Somber moods inhabit “The Larger Bowl”, with Alex’s acoustics again giving it mood and texture.  The hippy-ish chorus sounds like the 1960’s to me, and with the acoustics it paints a picture in my mind.  This is a very good song, but Alex’s well composed guitar solo is the focal point for me.  His tone is very different on the solo, very warm.  It’s an excellent song.  “Spindrift” is less overwhelming to me.  There is nothing wrong with it; it is simply less enchanting than its predecessors since they set the bar quite high.  The song was, however, performed on the Snakes & Arrows tour and kicks of CD 2 of the album Snakes & Arrows Live and there is no denying it is powerful.

“The Main Monkey Business” is the first instrumental, again featuring Geddy on Mellotron.  The main melodic element to this song feels familiar to me — it reminds me of one of Ace Frehley’s “Fractured” instrumentals in terms of melody.  In terms of playing and structure, it is nothing like Frehley.  The 5.1 mix here is nicely balanced.  I’m getting plenty of distinct acoustic parts, with Geddy and Neil front and center.  The chiming guitars behind me envelope the listener in warmth.  Then, suddenly during a solo guitar section, the mix retreats almost all way to stereo before returning again on all 5.1.  Things bounce back and forth between intensely heavy and intensely heady.  This is a masterpiece of instrumental craft.

SNAKES AND ARROWS_0005“We can only go the way the wind blows,” claims Peart on the next song.  “The Way the Wind Blows” has two distinct sections:one heavy and one with layered acoustics. I prefer the acoustic section and I’m not too much into the heavy parts which sounds a bit same-y to 90’s Rush stuff.  Then, “Hope” is a short Lifeson acoustic showcase.  This might be the point at which some Rush fans started to doze a bit.  Admittedly Snakes & Arrows is the most acoustic-based Rush album I can think of. I just don’t think that’s a bad thing.  Not when you have Alex Lifeson in your band.  “Hope” leads into “Faithless”, a strong Rush composition.  There seems to be some sort continuity of theme here, or perhaps it is all in my head?  First Neil says we can only go the way the wind blows.  Then we go from “Hope”, to a discussion of faith.  On “Faithless”, Neil says that like the willow, he will quietly resist.  Seems like a total 180 from going where the wind blows to me, and I don’t care if it’s not intentional because I think it’s cool.  On the guitar end, Alex plays a cool bluesy solo, once again classing up the song several notches.  What a player.

The song that doesn’t work for me is “Bravest Face”.  I find the verses annoying.  “Good News First” is better, returning us to the regal Rush territory I prefer.  Alex’s magnificent chords are enhanced by the Mellotron.  Weak verses are compensated for here by other elements.  It sounds like an incomplete song to me, but better than “Bravest Face”.  The aforementioned “Malignant Narcissism” is a mind-tornado as opposed to a mind-blow.  But it’s actually a distraction; you’re about to be blown away by the sheer power of closer “We Hold On”.  Rush closers usually just bowl me over, and “We Hold On” is one of those.  Fucking awesome.  This time, Alex concentrates on the electric guitar and comes up with numerous unique and enhancing licks.  This is a complete Rush triumph.  Neil is absolutely relentless.  It leaves the album on an exhausted, satisfied note.

And a good thing, too — I was starting to worry as the song quality was dipping towards the end there.  I’m happy Rush redeemed it with a stunner like “We Hold On”.

4/5 stars

NEWS: AC/DC’s Malcolm Young IS suffering from dementia

September 30, 2014 17 comments

BREAKING NEWS
Exclusive World Premiere Of AC/DC "Live At River Plate" Presented By DeLeon Tequila

I didn’t want to post ANYTHING about this subject until confirmed by the band.  Now AC/DC have confirmed that Malcolm Young (61) is suffering from dementia.  Dementia is a horrible illness, without a cure, and all we can really do is pray (if you so choose) and support the Young family.

AC/DC is continuing on with Uncle Mal and Ang’s nephew Stevie Young, who previously filled in for Mal on the 1988 Blow Up Your Video tour.  The new album, Rock or Bust, is out December 1.

 

 

REVIEW: Avril Lavigne – Under My Skin (2004 w/ bonus track)

September 30, 2014 19 comments

Yesterday, you read all about why I own this (and many others).  Will I still like it today?  Let’s find out.

AVRIL LAVIGNE – Under My Skin (2004 Arista)

Let’s get on with it.  The version of Under My Skin that I have comprises 13 songs, so let’s put the headphones on.   “Take Me Away” opens strongly with sparse, polished guitars and keyboards.  It sounds like Evanescence, actually.  It was written by Avril and her guitarist Evan Taubenfeld.  At this point, Avril wasn’t singing with any annoying contrivances in her voice.  She was just blasting away (most likely in autotune).  Given that this song is very produced and plasticized, it’s still a good song.  So far we’re 1/1.

AVRIL_0004“Together” is a bit too melodramatic for Mike 2014, but damn, I still love that fucking chorus. I’m singing along with my fist in the air.  Shit!  2/2.

One of several hit singles was the ballady “Don’t Tell Me”.  This one makes me want to vomit in my mouth a little bit.  I’m uncomfortable with this kind of teenybop rock now.  But that fucking chorus hits and…ahh fuck!  Still, the chorus can’t save the song, it’s shite.  2/3.

Avril returns to her so-called punk roots with “He Wasn’t”.  Phil X on guitar here, but he doesn’t get to solo (a damn shame).  As much as I want to hate the song, I can’t.  It seems pretty sincere, and it ain’t bad.  It’s snarky but not annoyingly so.  3/4 now.  “How Does It Feel” is a ballad, not a bad one either.  The instrumental production on this one (by Raine Maida) is excellent, although the vocals still sound autotuned.  Phil X again on guitar.  The score is now 4/5.

I’m a total sucker for the single “My Happy Ending”.  Butch Walker wrote a pretty cool song, and the chorus is one of those Avril bellows that she is known for.  The lyrics, like most of ‘em, are about some dude.  I can’t really sing along to “He was everything, everything that I wanted,” sincerely, you know?  Still, the score is now 5/6.  And it’s going to go up to 6/7, because I remember liking the song “Nobody’s Home” a lot.  I’m not sure what the lyrics are exactly about, but Avril sounds like she’s trying to get serious, so that’s better than words about some dude.  Ben Moody from Evanescence itself co-wrote this one, so you can guess who it naturally reminds me of.  Still, I’ll maintain that 6/7 because the chorus is still great.

“Forgotten” starts out crap.  You sure can tell this one was written by Chantal Kreviazuk as that is who it sounds like.  The track doesn’t improve on the chorus.  Pass.  The board reads 6/8.   A good song called “Who Knows” is up next, and even though it wasn’t one of the single, I think it’s one of the best songs.  This one kind of sounds like a pop metal anthem, you could imagine a band like Warrant having a song like this.  It has mellow acoustic verses with a shout-y fun singalong chorus.  7/9 now!  “Fall To Pieces”, written with Raine Maida sounds like an Our Lady Peace outtake.    A pretty good outtake, with a great bridge.  Good enough for 8/10.

I have always liked “Freak Out”.  It’s just fun.  This one too sounds like a Raine Maida construction, but it is not.  It’s written by Butch Walker and Avril’s drummer Matt Brann.  It’s easier to listen to than most Our Lady Pea(ee-yai-ee-aye-ee)ce, so the score is now 9/11.  As my buddy Craig might say, it’s looking like it’s time to hand in my Man Card.

Maybe not!  “Slipped Away” is utter shite that I cannot listen to.  It sounds like Chantal…guess who wrote it?  The chorus is not too bad, but this song is crap.  Can’t take it.  If I could deduct 2 points, I would.  9/12.  It’s down to the “bonus track” now.  “I Always Get What I Want” originally came from a UK edition, but I bought this CD from my nearest Walmart.  There’s something on the fine print about Sony BMG Music Entertainment (UK) Ltd, so maybe that’s something to do with it.  “I Always Get What I Want” is another “punky” Avril, but like “Slipped Away”, it too is crap.  Sounds like Avril’s trying to be her heroes, Green Day.  No thank you.

The final score for Avril Lavigne’s Under My Skin is 9/13.  Did I like it as much now as I did in 2004?  Not quite.  It might have been that I liked a couple more of those sappy songs.  However, I’ve already said far too much here.  I’m going to cut my losses and get out now.

3.5/5 stars

#321: That Crush on Avril (RSTs Mk II: Getting More Tale)

September 29, 2014 39 comments

NEW SERIES

Welcome to the first of my new continuing series; the “Post-Record Store Tales” I’ve been talking about.  Here are the RECORD STORE TALES MkII:  Getting More Tale.  Featuring my Simon Pegg action figure as the new “Mini-LeBrain”! Title suggested by Aaron!

To quote David St. Hubbins, “Hope you like our new direction!”

LEBRAIN AND AVRIL

RECORD STORE TALES Mk II:  Getting More Tale

#321:  That Crush on Avril

One of those lingering points left after the conclusion of Record Store Tales was this: my unexplained, unusually large Avril Lavigne CD collection.  This is that tale.

When Avril’s first album arrived in 2002, I was encouraged to listen to it by a new hire at the Record Store.  “I hear that this album has some of the best pop songwriting that has come out in years,” he said.  “From a technical point of view.  I read that the album is just mathematically perfect, from a songwriting perspective.  Mind if we listen to it?”

“Sure,” I said.  “Throw it on.”  I scanned the credits.  Each song was co-written by big name mega-writers with more gold records than I have socks.  There were big name producers on every song, and some familiar names from my metal collection:  Josh Freese might be best known as the drummer in the Vandals (among many others) but I first heard his name in regards to Guns N’ Roses who he was with for a short time.  Another guy, Alessandro Elena, was the drummer in Bruce Dickinson’s Skunkworks.  (He’s the subject of their song, “I’m In a Band with an Italian Drummer.”)

I know that the album was mostly pre-fab, but I didn’t mind it.  Since I was limited in what I could usually listen to in-store, and Avril was fairly safe, I played it a lot.  I always recommended it to customers who were looking for new music for their kids, who thought Britney was getting too skanky.  As a bonus, punk kids seemed to hate her.  Eventually I bought a copy myself.

I probably annoyed the shit out of my co-workers.

AVRILAvril released her heavier second album (Under My Skin) in 2004, and this is where my crush really began. Avril had a new image and a new sound.  I don’t like thinking about that crush anymore; I have been mocked enough.  Hell, Craig Fee mocked me for it on the air just this past Wednesday!  It is true that I had a crush on Avril.  The new grown-up Avril had gothed out and turned up on the cover of Maxim.  Maxim agreed with me, just look at that headline!

Today, the thoughts of “Chavril”, that unholy union between Avril and Horse-man, makes me feel ill.  It’s like finding out your ex-girlfriend is now seeing that jock in school you just fucking hated.  We recently heard that Chavril was splitting.  If so, I say good for her!

So anyway, the second album: It had more names from my metal shelves.  In addition to Josh Freese, the legendary Kenny Aranoff and the astounding Brooks Wackerman played drums.  Phil X of Bon Jovi and Triumph was on axe.  Finally the Canadian duo of Chantal Kreviazuk and Raine Maida were playing and co-writing on most songs too.  This is accompanied by an overall darker and harder approach.

I liked the album a lot in 2004.  Will I like it in 2014?  Let’s find out tomorrow, for a full review.

To be continued…

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VIDEO TOY REVIEW: Despicable Me Fart Blaster

September 28, 2014 8 comments

INTERVIEW: Kathryn Ladano – Artistic Director at NUMUS (New Music Now)

September 27, 2014 11 comments

NUMUS

This is an exciting time for fans of live music in Kitchener-Waterloo. Part of this excitement is NUMUS (New Music Now) which is embarking on its 30th season of adventurous, artistic music performances. From their own website, “NUMUS showcases established and emerging talent from across Canada and the globe in Waterloo’s world-class venues. Diverse musical genres, traditional and experimental instruments and scored and improvised elements come together to create unique concert going experiences that capture the fluidity and relevance of contemporary music.”

To go with this 30th anniversary, NUMUS has selected a new Artistic Director, whom I have managed to secure an interview with. Kathryn Ladano is very busy these days, but fortunately I had an inside track to getting hold of her. This is what she had to say about NUMUS, new music, and the 30th year.

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1. Let’s start with a basic question, since the majority of my readers are not from Canada – what exactly is NUMUS?

NUMUS is a presenter and producer of cutting edge contemporary music concerts in the community of Kitchener-Waterloo. By contemporary music, I primarily mean music by living composers within the Western art music tradition, however, we do move beyond that as well. For example, this season we are also featuring freely improvised music, music that blurs the line between composition and improvisation, and this Sunday we’re featuring Korean improviser-percussionist and vocalist Dong-Won Kim with guests.

2. You have said that NUMUS has “has put Kitchener-Waterloo on the new music map”. Can you describe what “new music” means to you personally?

To me, new music simply means compositions from the Western art music tradition written within the past 50 years or so. While many consider new music to be anything written after 1900, I consider it to be newer than that. This is music that needs to be better supported by the public. It’s different, and can be challenging for your average listener, which is why symphony orchestras for example have a hard time moving forward and getting their audiences to readily accept this type of music being programmed. The alternative, however, is music that is literally hundreds of years old, and while that music is great, there is also great music being made here and now. This is the music I’m interested in listening to, performing, producing, and presenting.

3. This year is NUMUS’ 30th, but your first as artistic director. What pressure does that add, if any?

NUMUS has an impressive list of past Artistic Directors (Peter Hatch, Glenn Buhr, Jesse Stewart, Jeremy Bell, and Anne-Marie Donovan), and it is intimating to be following in the footsteps of those individuals. I personally find that more intimidating than properly celebrating our 30th year. Plans are in place to celebrate this milestone though, and these include bringing back each of the previous Artistic Directors to curate a unique program throughout 2015. I will also be curating a celebratory program, and I think all of these concerts strongly reflect the strengths and artistic personalities of each of NUMUS’ Artistic Directors.

4. You have said that you would like to reach out to a younger audience. What do you think will attract young people to the shows?

This year, NUMUS has officially added a side series to its programming called The MIX Music Series. Tickets for this series are about half the price of our main series tickets, and the series itself focuses on improvisatory music and emerging artists. I am hopeful that this series will really resonate with younger audiences as many of the artist we present in the series will be very recent post-secondary graduates just starting to embark on their careers. There are also very few places where young audiences can regularly support emerging artists outside of educational institutions. I feel that the MIX Series has the most potential for growing our younger audience base and getting these people out to experience high quality, affordable live music.

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5. Affordable is a plus.  But what appeal will NUMUS offer to open-minded rock fans and musicians in the KW area?

Any open-minded music lover will find something attractive in NUMUS’ 2014-2015 program offerings, whether it be multi-media concerts that celebrate music and film, a world-class percussion quartet, a concert of improvised vingnettes with guitar and electronics, or a concert featuring a new instrument called the reactable (a digital sampler with a tangible user interface on an illuminated tabletop) that also features video projections and recordings from the Voyager golden records.

6. Wow, is that cool!  That’s definitely something I’m interested in hearing.  Now, you have stressed that you believe in support for young artists. What support did you receive when you were starting out?

It was difficult when I started out, and I really had to be very proactive and create a lot of my own opportunities. I was at a huge disadvantage in that I played a relatively unpopular instrument (the bass clarinet) without a lot of traditional job opportunities, and I also wanted to focus on new music and free improvisation. I had a lot of support from the educational institutions I attended, and I also received a couple of grants early in my career which allowed me to study with Lori Freedman in Montreal, and also do my first mini-tour, performing new music pieces I studied in grad school. Both of these opportunities led to new connections and helped me to advance.

7. Lastly, can you please share your spice cookie recipe?

Yes!

Spice Cookies:
1 cup sugar
1 cup butter
1 egg, beaten
4 tbsp. molasses
2 cups flour
2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. ginger
1/2 tsp. cloves
extra sugar for dipping

  • Cream sugar and butter. Blend egg and molasses with the creamed mixture.
  • Combine dry ingredients and add to creamed mixture – mix well.
  • Put dough in refrigerator until firm (about 1-2 hours) – or put in the freezer if you are pressed for time – this makes the dough easier to form.
  • Take small amounts of dough, form into balls, and roll in sugar, Place these on an un-greased cookie sheet about 2″ apart.
  • Bake for 8-10 minutes at 325F – they should be moist and chewy.
  • Enjoy!

KATHRYN

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