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Tag Archives: music

The Perfect Hopelessly Romantic Playlist

Note: You can find this and all my other playlists on Spotify by using the post titles as search terms.

Ah, love. The ultimate motivator for music, poetry, even a few fingerpaints somewhere, probably; every artistic medium is fueled by overwhelming devotion or shattered hearts. Here’s a collection of songs that will have the hopeless romantic in you sighing about that special someone–or the one that got away.

1. “Easy Silence” by The Dixie Chicks: “I just want to hold on to the easy silence you create for me / … / And the peaceful quiet you create for me / And the way you keep the world at bay for me.” A sweet ode to the comfortable quiet of a relationship, “Easy Silence” is about finding peace in another person. Or, if you’re single, just pretend this song is about noise-reducing headphones; they’re almost as good as sharing your life with someone, right?

2. “Make You Feel my Love” by Adele: Bob Dylan’s lyrics get a stunning makeover in Adele’s version of “Make You Feel My Love”: “When the rain is blowing in your face / And the whole world is on your case / I could offer you a warm embrace / To make you feel my love.”

3. “The Nearness of You” by Norah Jones: “It’s not the pale moon that excites me / That thrills and delights me / Oh no, it’s just the nearness of you.” This song captures the electricity of proximity–surely you’ve felt your pulse quicken in the presence of that one person (you know the one I’m talking about). As an aside, many, many artists have recorded versions of this song. I’m partial to Norah Jones’ slow and sweetly sultry rendition, but the Ella Fitzgerald & Louis Armstrong recording is thoroughly lovely as well.

4. “I’ll Be” by Edwin McCain: A classic wedding song, this anthemic track is one long promise of undying devotion. ”I’ll be your crying shoulder / I’ll be love’s suicide / I’ll be better when I’m older / I’ll be the greatest fan of your life.”

5. “No Man is an Island” by Jack’s Mannequin: This song was written as a wedding present, and you can definitely tell. Self-explanatory: “As long as your heart’s beating it should never beat alone / No man is an island when a woman is his home.”

6. “You Don’t Know Me” by Michael Buble: Fear and shyness gets in the way of love in this story: “You think you know me well / But you don’t know me / No, you don’t know the one who dreams of you at night / … / Afraid and shy, I let my chance go by / A chance that you might love me too.”

7. “Blue Eyes” by the Cary Brothers: This song is slow and sweet and carries a hint of sadness behind the yearning lyrics. “All the lights on and you are alive / But you can’t point the way to your heart / … / I just want to be the one / I just want to sing a song with you.”

8. “In Your Atmosphere (L.A. Song)” by John Mayer: Sometimes when love goes bad, certain places are rendered uninhabitable by a coating of painful memories. This phenomenon is the focus of John Mayer’s plaintive lyrics: ”I don’t think I’m gonna go to LA anymore / I’m not sure that I really ever could / … / I’m gonna steer clear / I’d burn up in your atmosphere.”

9. “One and Only” by Adele: I’ll admit this song didn’t catch my notice the first few times I listened to Adele’s Grammy-winning album, 21. It’s a bit of a sleeper, but it gets under your skin–give it a couple listens and you’ll be hooked on her brazen pleas. “I dare you to let me be your / Your one and only / I promise I’m worth it / To hold in your arms / So come on and give me a chance.”

 10. “Basket Case” by Sara Bareilles: As the title suggests, this song is about the emotional destruction a bad breakup can wreak. Simple guitar and harmonica support Ms. Bareilles’ silky voice perfectly. Listen to this if you’re in a wallowing mood. “He’s not a magic man or a perfect fit / But had a steady hand and I got used to it / … / Now I’m just a basket case”

11. “Colors” by Amos Lee: Simple in sentiment, delicate in delivery. “When you’re gone / Colors seem to fade.”

12. “City Love” by John Mayer: This particular love story paints a picture of day-to-day romance grounded in geography, namely NYC. I love the way he zooms in on the details: “She keeps a toothbrush at my place / As if I had the extra space / She steals my clothes to wear to work / I know her hairs are on my shirt / I tell everyone I smile just because / I’ve got a city love / … / And I can’t remember life before her name.”

13. “This Year’s Love” by David Gray: Poor David Gray. He’s been burned before, and that makes it hard to fall into something new with the same innocence, no matter how right it feels. “When you hold me like you do / It feels so right / I start to forget how my heart gets torn / … / It takes something more this time / Than sweet, sweet lies / Before I open up my arms and fall / Losin’ all control.”

 

You can find this playlist on Spotify by searching for “The Perfect Hopelessly Romantic Playlist”.

-Benevolent Siren

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Must-Hear Song of the Day: In Your Atmosphere (LA Song) by John Mayer

Poignant and raw and dripping with regret, this song breaks my heart into a million pieces every time I hear it.  So, on that note, enjoy! “I’d die if I saw you, I’d die if I didn’t see you…”

I promise I’ll pick a joyful song one of these days, but in the meantime I’ll be keeping Kleenex in the black.

-Benevolent Siren

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Must-Hear Song of the Day: “The Cave (Bookshop sessions)” by Mumford & Sons

A Grammy 2012 nominee for Record of the Year, Mumford & Sons’ “The Cave” is a nuanced and engaging track that I can’t stop listening to. The banjo is fun and lends a kind of frenetic energy to the song, while Marcus Mumford’s satisfying growl puts delightful substance behind the lyrics. (I call it a growl mostly because his name sounds to me like a well-dressed British lion detective character from a kid’s book. Maybe I’ll write a kid’s book just so I can use that name.)

 

While you watch that, I’m going to go write chapter one of Marcus Mumford and the Case of the Jungle Bow-Tie Thief. …I’m still workshopping the title.

 

-Benevolent Siren

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I just watched the best thing ever: Depeche Mode cover band DMK on YouTube

There are some days that just seem surreal…and I tend to want to embrace that feeling. I was having one of those days when I came across DMK, a Depeche Mode cover band from Bogota, Columbia. They just took “surreal” to a whole new level. And my view of the world became instantly brighter.

This cover band is unlike any other I have seen. I am obsessed. I’ll admit that I find these videos slightly disturbing for some reason, which I cannot seem to name. But their slightly disturbing nature is part of their appeal. You just need to watch.

The leader singer is a Columbian dad named Dicken Schrader and he has some serious skills. Schrader’s band is comprised of his children, Milah and Korben. Some of their instruments include; keyboards, kazoo, tambourine, soda bottles, beer cans, baby rattles, and chocolate mix cans.

I like to think that this is what happens when children watch less television and spend more time with their parents. They seem to be having a lot of fun together.

Everything Counts: Yes…Korben is playing a metal mixer and cheese grater. He looks like a deer in headlights and, when I first watched, I was certain he could not keep it together. But his timing is spot on.

Strangelove: Yes…those are metal binder clips Milah is attaching to her dad’s face. The play on the word “pain” somehow seems very wrong, but in just the right way.

Shake the Disease: It does appear as if dad might be sporting a bit of a hangover this time, but it doesn’t seem to affect his timing. Yes…Milah is playing scissors and a spray bottle. It does appear there is clear liquid in the spray bottle. And the traveling gnome in the corner is like the cherry on top.

Absolute perfection.

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The Perfect Playlist for Changing Your Life (Part II)

Note: You can find this and all my other playlists on Spotify by using the post titles as search terms.

To read the first part of this post, visit The Perfect Playlist for Changing Your Life (Part I). As the title suggest, this playlist is the perfect soundtrack for taking action, taking chances and taking charge of your own destiny. Also, the songs are pretty catchy if you’re into that sort of thing.

 

8. “Defying Gravity” from the musical Wicked: This is the ultimate feel-good, do-your-own-thing, break-all-the-rules anthem. Plus it’s from a musical and thus a perfect sing-along. “Something has changed within me / Something is not the same / I’m through with playing by the rules of someone else’s game / Too late for second guessing / Too late to go back to sleep / It’s time to trust my instincts, close my eyes and leap / It’s time to try defying gravity / … / And you won’t bring me down” Aaand goosebumps. Yeah, obstacles, you WON’T bring me down. So there.

 

LIKE SO.

9. “I Woke Up In A Car” by Something Corporate: “Here I am, well here I am / … / I’ve never been so lost, I’ve never felt so much at home / Please write my folks and throw away my keys / I woke up in a car.” This song is about the freedom and clarity that can arise from aimlessness, which I definitely need to hear about at this juncture. Plus it’s really fun to dance to, and it’s impossible to worry when you’re dancing with the appropriate level of enthusiasm. (In case you’re wondering, the appropriate level of enthusiasm when dancing is AS ENTHUSIASTIC AS YOU CAN BE.)

 

10. “Shake It Out” by Florence + The Machine: In which Florence reminds me that you can’t really control what happens, so just get ready to roll with the punches and take chances. All you can do is open yourself up to the world and let the experiences wash over you. “And I’m damned if I do and I’m damned if I don’t / So here’s to drinks in the dark, at the end of my rope / And I’m ready to suffer and I’m ready to hope / It’s a shot in the dark aimed right at my throat / … / But what the hell, I’m gonna let it happen to me, yeah”

 

11. “The Cave” by Mumford & Sons: The Cave was nominated for Record Of The Year at the 2012 Grammys, and it’s easy to hear why—it’s hard to resist screaming along that “I’LL FIND STRENGTH IN PAIN” and “I WILL CHANGE MY WAYS!” Anthemic and singable, this song isn’t to be missed. “But I need freedom now and I need to know how to live my life as it’s meant to be…”

 

12. “Dancing with a Gun” by Jack’s Mannequin: Dancing with a gun sounds like a fairly dangerous pursuit, but no guts, no glory. Like all the songs in this collection, “Dancing with a Gun” urges the listener to bust out of the comfort zone and take action, however uncertain the outcome. “Sometimes we’re stuck, most times we’re drifting / But tonight let’s move / … / You’re dancing with a gun / Your hands are shaking / Just take another shot in the dark / Don’t keep your safety on…”

 

Ah, the open road.

13. “Boston” by Augustana: This one’s a little melodramatic, but fitting nonetheless. The protagonist of this piano-rock ditty seeks the comfort of anonymity and a fresh start, which is an appropriate theme for a Change Your Life playlist: “I think I’ll start a new life / I think I’ll start it over / where no one knows my name…” As a bonus, the song is lovely.

 

BONUS. ”The Motto” by Drake feat. Lil Wayne: Drake didn’t really fit musically into this collection of songs, but I couldn’t resist throwing this song in as a bonus track. It’s a rap song, not a ballad or anthem, but it’s a good one to have in your back pocket when you need to put a little attitude in your step. I certainly do every now and then. Use in case of self-confidence emergency: “You only live once, that’s the motto / … / **** what anybody say / Can’t see ‘em ‘cause the money in the way” …WHAT’S UP. The bass line will have you feeling like a champion in no time. (If you’re interested, you can read more about how bass can affect your mood.)

 

Well, that’s all the songs I have. Armed with this playlist and determination, I’m off into the great unknown to forge my path on this big blue orb. I’ll keep you posted.

 

-Benevolent Siren

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The Perfect Playlist for Changing Your Life (Part I)

Note: You can find this and all my other playlists on Spotify by using the post titles as search terms.

Sometimes you have to make a change, and for me that time is one week from now. I won’t go into details because I don’t really know the details yet, but suffice it to say I’m gearing up to make some major life changes (geographical and otherwise) and my future is totally open-ended. On the one hand, I know through and through that I need to shake things up and open myself to new experiences. On the other hand, change can be daunting and, if I’m totally honest, a little terrifying. I flip on a momentary basis between excitement and fear, and as the date approaches I’m finding the anticipation to be rather exhausting. Luckily, I’m of the opinion that there’s nothing that music flowing through my headphones can’t make a little easier, so I’ve combed through my library of tunes to find the gems that will help me navigate uncertain waters with optimism and joy and certainty that I’m doing the right thing. Without further ado, I give you The Perfect Playlist for Changing Your Life (Part I):

1. I’m Ready by Jack’s Mannequin: As the title suggests, this is a song about being READY. A strict interpretation indicates that the singer is ready to end a relationship, but this can also apply to making a change in general. I especially love the way this song starts, with the spoken line “And today was a day just like any other.” In a way, this reminds me of why I’m going for broke: I don’t want today, and the next day, and the next day to be just like any other. The rest of the lyrics are a mantra that I need to keep repeating until I believe it: “I’m ready / I’m ready to drop / I’m ready / I’m ready so don’t stop / Keep pushing, I’m ready to fall / Don’t stop, I’m already gone.”

2. No Such Thing by John Mayer: A common theme of this playlist is the assertion that one must forge his or her own path, ignoring preset notions of how to live your life and creating your own destiny. This theme is the core message of Mayer’s hit, with lyrics like “I just found out there’s no such thing as the real world, just a lie you’ve got to rise above.” Amen, John!

3. Unwritten by Natasha Bedingfield: This song is a definitive call to action with the most upbeat melody you could hope to find. Singing along makes me feel like I’m on top of the world and I can’t wait to embrace whatever’s next. “Reaching for something in the distance / So close you can almost taste it / Release your inhibitions / Feel the rain on your skin / No one else can feel it for you / … / Live your life with arms wide open / Today is where your book begins / The rest is still unwritten.” In other words, uncertainty is an essential part of an adventurous existence and today is the first day of the rest of my life. If it rained more than twice a year in California, I’d be inspired to go feel it on my skin right now.

4. Live Like We’re Dying by Kris Allen: A little on the nose, but I’m not looking for lyrical subtlety here. Kris Allen has essentially the same message as Ms. Bedingfield, but he’s a little more morbid about it, citing mortality as motivation to live in a meaningful way. At the end of the day, can you think of any better motivation? This song will always give me a kick if I need one. Also, death is pretty scary, so it makes moving away seem a lot less scary by comparison. Key inspirational lyric: “So if your life flashed before you, what would you wish you would have done?” [Incidentally, another song with the same message is “Hey Hey Hey, We’re All Gonna Die” by Jack’s Mannequin, but I already have far too many Jack’s songs on this playlist. If you want a shortcut to perpetual inspiration, you can stop reading this now and just buy their three albums—I won’t take it personally. On that note, on to another one…]

5. People, Running by Jack’s Mannequin: “We are only chemical and skin barely strapped in for this air-conditioned drive / We are tired of waiting, still we stand in line / … / You drift in no direction so it seems / That we are just these people running around / And I am in no hurry to figure it out / … / I think we’re learning that the answers never come / … / Just watch the people run.” This lyrical commentary on the absurdity of human pursuits is very existentialist, which to me is a comforting belief system. If you accept the premise that everything is inherently meaningless, you can’t possibly get it wrong as long as you indulge your whims and desires; the lack of inherent meaning gives you freedom to create your own. So, in my interpretation of existentialism, the locus of control is placed firmly with the individual and calls for a rejection of external ideals and…Oops, I’m waxing philosophical. Back to the music.

6. Why Georgia by John Mayer: This track documents Mr. Mayer’s “quarter-life crisis,” to which I can relate whole-heartedly. “I am tempted to keep the car in drive and leave it all behind / Cause I wonder sometimes about the outcome of a still-verdictless life / Am I living it right?” He perfectly captures the melancholy of monotony and reminds me that I’m not alone in my need to examine and take control of my life direction.

7. I’m Movin’ On by Rascal Flatts: Self-explanatory: “I’m movin’ on / At last I can see life has been patiently waiting for me / And I know there’s no guarantees, but I’m not alone / There comes a time in everyone’s life / When all you can see are the years passing by / And I have made up my mind that those days are gone.” I can’t listen to this song without getting emotional, but I’m not afraid of a few tears. Or, okay, a lot of tears.

 

I’m already a bit of  an emotional wreck putting this together, and I’m only half done, so it’s time for an intermission. If you’re still in one piece and ready for the rest, continue with Part II of the Perfect Playlist for Changing Your Life.

 

-Benevolent Siren

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Live vs. Headphones (A selection of tracks)

There are many ways to experience music. Historically, I’ve found two of the most emotionally arresting of these ways to be live and via headphones. As I explained in Tuesday’s post, each offers distinct advantages; some songs are more powerful with the pulsing electricity of a crowd backing them up, while others benefit from the intimacy of the artist singing right into your ear. I’ll run through a few of my favorite songs and let you know whether to snap up concert tickets or pop on some ‘phones to hear them at their best. (Make sure to choose headphones with good bass; if you’re wondering why, read my post about why bass is important).

 

Florence Welch of Florence + the Machine is a captivating performer. Photo from F+TM's official web site.

Howl by Florence + The Machine: LIVE Florence Welch’s vocals are exquisite in any setting, but she is a truly enchanting performer. I saw her in 2010 at the Wiltern in LA and was mesmerized by her stage presence and spellbinding, emotional delivery. The difference between the recorded and live renditions of her songs was most stark in “Howl,” a visceral and animalistic track that evokes wild passion. It’s a sight to behold when this song pours out of Ms. Welch with an intensity that’s a little scary in the best possible way. 

Baba O’Riley by The Who: HEADPHONES This was a tough call, since this song is so amazing and epic that it blows me away no matter how I listen to it. I was lucky enough to see The Who play the HP Pavilion in San Jose in 2006, and they’re still legendary rock stars. Still, the magic and energy of the live setting (and accompanying light show) couldn’t quite compare to the overwhelming sensory overload that takes place when I close my eyes and fall into this song through a good pair of headphones. Just try getting one-on-one with this song without getting goosebumps.

“MFEO Pt. 1 – Made for Each Other / Pt. 2 – You Can Breathe” by Jack’s Mannequin: LIVE I was already in love with Jack’s Mannequin’s first album, Everything in Transit, before I ever saw the band live. The obsession didn’t set in, however, until the first time I saw them in 2007. “MFEO” was a completely overwhelming experience; the lyrics took on an entirely new meaning in the context of a live show. And maybe we were made for each other // And maybe, just maybe // the world will look like this forever… meant that I might get that feeling over and over, the feeling that everything was perfect and wonderful and utterly, painfully beautiful. It wasn’t a love song about a girl; it was a love song about music, about the crowd, about the ecstasy of a couple hundred people worshiping at the rock pulpit together in a room. If you’ve never seen Jack’s Mannequin live, I recommend it as highly as I could recommend anything.

Black Balloon by the Goo Goo Dolls: HEADPHONES “Black Balloon,” which tells a story of love and drug addiction, breaks my heart every time it plays on my headphones. The Goo Goo Dolls put on a decent show, but by now they’ve performed this hit so many times that it’s lost a little bit of emotional authenticity in the live rendition. It’s clear that they’re bona fide rock stars, and with that title comes an aura that enhances their “bigger” songs (see the next paragraph) but detracts from their most heartfelt offerings.

Slide by the Goo Goo Dolls: LIVE The rock-star vibe that takes away from “Black Balloon” serves to pump up sing-along-friendly radio hits like “Slide”. I had a blast dancing and singing along when this song filled the Greek Theater in Berkeley on a Friday night in 2007, riding the energy the band brought to the venue.

 

I invite you to play “Live vs. Headphones” whenever you get the chance to compare. No matter how you listen, I wish you frequent and joyful musical experiences.

 

-Benevolent Siren

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5 Differences between Live Music and Using Headphones

Visual elements can enhance or detract from live music. Oooh, pretty lights... so green...

It’s happened plenty of times before: I’ll buy concert tickets months in advance, my expectations directly proportional to the price of the tickets, only to wish I could have just heard the tunes on a good pair of headphones when the show was over. On the other hand, I can look back at a few live music events as peak life experiences and never quite recapture the excitement without the pulsing energy of a jazzed crowd. When it comes down to it, live music and the stuff that comes through your headphones is fundamentally different. Here are 5 key distinctions between the live and headphone experience.

 

  1. Technical perfection. Live music is almost never “perfect” the way a recording can be. Auto-tune is a fickle mistress, and it’s painful when an artist can’t deliver the goods live. On the other hand, as Dave Grohl explained following his controversial Grammy speech, little flaws can add authenticity and excitement to a performance. Personally, I’ll happily forgive a few missed notes if the artist is a passionate and energetic performer.
  2. Personal space. Boy howdy, can this one make a difference. Whether you’re fighting it out in a mosh pit, perching on the edge of a stadium seat or reclining on a blanket in the grass, you will invariably have neighbors in a live music environment. Whether or not they act neighborly is up to pure chance–I’ve personally had to elbow my fair share of bubble-violators, which can certainly detract from the magic of the evening. On the other hand, the crowd can create an electricity and energy that headphone listening can’t hope to match. Whether the adjacent masses help or hurt the experience is up to the crowd-sorting fates to decide.
  3. Intimacy. As #2 suggests, there’s plenty of (often unsolicited) physical intimacy to be found at a concert. Aural and emotional intimacy, though, is hard to attain when throngs of people around you are chatting over the music or singing along off-key. By contrast, a pair of noise-reducing headphones can isolate the sound to the point where the whole outside world melts away, and all that’s left is you and the artist playing right into your ear. That’s the kind of intimacy I’m talking about: no distractions, no extraneous noise, no intrusions. And you’re better able to get it with a pair of ‘phones.
  4. Visual aids. Unless you’re prone to using the visualizer option with iTunes or watching music videos, your typical headphone experience will be strictly auditory in nature. This leaves you free to close your eyes and supply your own visual elements, or to concentrate only on how the sounds hit you. At a concert, with light shows or pyrotechnics or even just the band, the visual spectacle can have a big impact on your experience. Whether the production is distracting or engaging depends entirely on the show.
  5. The element of surprise. When you select your favorite track on your MP3 player, you know exactly what’s about to come through your headphones. A familiar album or playlist can act as an aural security blanket or change agent that you can perfect and select for your particular mood and musical needs. Live music has the element of surprise; instead of being in control of your experience, you’re along for the ride.

 

Coming soon: I compare the experience of hearing a few of my favorite songs live to the recorded versions in one of my favorite games, “Live vs. Headphones“–with some unexpected results.

-Benevolent Siren

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Why Music Snobbery Is Codswallop (A Rant)

If you have ever been young, chances are you have been told that the music you love is garbage. Maybe it was a parent, maybe a teacher, maybe an old fogey on TV; it might even have been a peer with a cool older sibling who molded his or her tastes. Whoever it was, he or she was 100% wrong, totally misunderstood what music is for and had absolutely no right to tell you that. Here’s why.

Music is one of the most personal things you can experience. At its best, it gets all the way in you, through you, messing with your head and your heart, speeding or slowing your pulse, triggering your tear ducts, making your heart swell until you’re sure it’s going to burst out of you. I don’t care what kind of performer does that for you; if they do, they are by definition a good artist. I’ll say that again because I feel it so strongly: If an artist moves you, he or she has succeeded in creating good art. And if you love something, if you feel it in your bones and your veins, it’s not up to anyone else to say that it’s crap. Because they are necessarily wrong.

I can’t even count the number of times I’ve heard older generations (and jaded, too-cool-for-school youth) bemoan the decline in the quality of popular music, and I understand where they’re coming from–but I vehemently disagree with their assessments. I would argue that the intended effect of popular music is to appeal to a very wide range of people, which can only be accomplished by tapping into emotions that are a fundamental and near-universal part of the human experience, and that isn’t as easy as it sounds. Successful pop songs are an integral part of cultural cohesion and the bonds between a society held together by common experiences, regardless of their content or technical merit (and really, who’s deciding how to judge technical merit?). Popular art will always serve a powerful cultural function, and while it will superficially seem quite different between generations, it is fundamentally the same thing. If you listened to pop music in your youth, you are committing hypocrisy by criticizing today’s pop music.

It’s one thing to admire and value a song or artist from an academic, music theory perspective. I don’t wish for one second to suggest that music theory is worthless and music academia is silly. But when it comes to experiencing music, one-on-one with just you and a pair of headphones or killer sound system or even live as one of thousands in a crowd, the music theory is almost besides the point. In the same way that fine art is about touching something in your heart and soul at least as much as it is about technique, I think it’s utterly foolish to criticize someone for the aural art that makes them feel something as deeply as a human can feel.

 

By all means, let me know if you disagree.

 

-Benevolent Siren

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