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 Psychedelic Backfire II by ELEPHANT9 album cover Live, 2019
3.81 | 7 ratings

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Psychedelic Backfire II
Elephant9 Jazz Rock/Fusion

Review by kurtrongey

4 stars Volume I had just the Elephant9 guitar-less trio. Guitarist Reine Fiske is added here and he mostly plays along without getting in the way. It beefs up the texture but I have a feeling I wouldn't have missed him if he weren't there. As with Vol. 1, fantastic playing and the ideal thing for those who want to let everything go, get in the groove and let the flow of these voluminous jams take you away. Unfortunately, I'm terrible at that kind of thing. The last track is my favorite, with Deep Purple-like riffing, a hot Fiske solo spot, a crisp 5/8 section, and a slam jam over the Hot for Teacher groove.

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 Zzebra / Panic by ZZEBRA album cover Boxset/Compilation, 2010
4.00 | 1 ratings

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Zzebra / Panic
Zzebra Jazz Rock/Fusion

Review by siLLy puPPy
Collaborator PSIKE, JR/F/Canterbury & Eclectic Teams

— First review of this album —
4 stars ZZEBRA was one of many jazz-fusion bands of the mid-70s. Formed by ex-If members guitarist Terry Smith and saxophonist Dave Quincy along with ex-Osibisa percussionist, saxophonist and flautist Loughty Amao, the trio hooked up with ex-Love Affair keyboardist Gus Yeadon, bassist John McCoy and drummer Liam Genockey (as well as others) and released two classic fusion albums in the mid-70s as well as playing a robust circuit scene which got the band known as one of the harder working fusion outfits of the day.

Due to lack of interest the band broke up after releasing two albums: ZZEBRA and PANIC but recorded enough extra material for future archival releases. While both albums finally found remastered releases in 1999 on the Disconforme label, in 2010 both albums emerged on the Angel Air label as a 2 Cd two-fer which contains both albums impeccably remastered as well as six bonus tracks which includes the non-album single "Zurdoz" as well as four alternative mixes and a live version of "Liamo."

For the albums themselves, see reviews separately but if you have any interest at all in the progressive / Afro / jazz / funk / rock that ZZEBRA so beautifully crafted then this double disc set is the way to go. The music sounds so good as if it was all recorded in modern times but evokes the zeitgeist of the mid-70s when these sorts of fusion bands were fairly common place at least in the more progressive arenas of the rock spectrum. I've always compared ZZEBRA to a Nigerian styled Santana with an extra emphasis on jazz.

While this is a great way to get both 70s releases in one package, i wouldn't call any of the bonus tracks essential in any way. The single mixes of "Mr J" and "Amuso Fi" aren't tremendously different than the originals and although "Karrola" sounds great no matter how it's presented, the extra version isn't anything outstandingly different either. The track "Zardoz" is certainly a worthy addition but not worth going out of your way to track down either. Another interesting note is that the alternative mix of "Put A Light On Me" features a cameo appearance by Jeff Beck. "Liamo" offers a peek into the band's live set.

Doubtful that ZZEBRA will ever go down in history as one of prog's most celebrated acts but the band were technically outstanding and crafted instantly catchy melodies that featured bizarre blends of everything from Nigerian folk, funk, jazz, rock, Latin rock and even touches of flamenco. Add to that some seriously excellent instrumental interplay and infectious rhythms with Santana-esque percussion sections. All in all, ZZEBRA cranked out some quality fusion material with their two albums and the bonus tracks are just a little additional insight into the band's short but interesting existence. These multi-disc sets are my favorite way of accumulating the rarities of the past and this set is well worth it with interesting liner notes.

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 Yellow Submarine by BEATLES, THE album cover Studio Album, 1969
2.55 | 394 ratings

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Yellow Submarine
The Beatles Proto-Prog

Review by patrickq
Prog Reviewer

2 stars Even a body of work as gilded as the Beatles' discography must have a nadir, and for the Fab Four, this soundtrack to the 1968 movie of the same name is the low point.

The album is comprised of six Beatles songs on Side One, and a seven-title soundtrack, composed and conducted by Beatles producer George Martin, on Side Two. Two of the Beatles songs had already been released: "All You Need is Love," backed with "Baby You're a Rich Man," as a single in July 1967, and the title track, released on Revolver, and simultaneously as a double-a-side with "Eleanor Rigby," in August 1966. This means that the LP regarded as the Beatles' tenth had just four new Beatles songs: Harrison's "Only a Northern Song" and "It's All Too Much," McCartney's "All Together Now," and Lennon's "Hey Bulldog."

Unfortunately, these are third-rate Beatles tunes, and not the kind that, earlier in the decade, help fill out albums. These weren't fun but flimsy pop tunes put together by young lads learning their craft. These are songs written and recorded which had been recorded between February 1967 and February 1968, by the band which had just released "Strawberry Fields Forever"/"Penny Lane" and Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band - - a band at the absolute height of its songwriting powers. All four were available for inclusion on The Beatles, the sprawling, theme-free double album released in November 1968, yet there was no room for them among the thirty tracks selected for that album.

I think I'm on pretty stable ground, panning he four new songs on Yellow Submarine. Brodax's Up Periscope Yellow has Martin referring to the them as "the dregs of their inventory ? junk, file-and-forget pieces." McCartney and Lennon each disparaged their own contributions to the album. I also think it's worth pointing out that at six and a half minutes, "It's All Too Much" was one of the longest Beatles songs ever;* in its unmercifully extended form, it absolves the group from having to come up with another song for the project.

Side Two - - Martin's soundtrack - - isn't bad; it's actually not that different from incidental music John Williams composed in the 1970s or Danny Elfman in the 1990s. It sounds fantastic, by the way, on the 2009 remaster, from the reeds at the beginning of "Sea of Holes" to the tuned percussion in the middle of "March of the Meanies" to the dramatic brass stabs at the end of "Pepperland Laid Waste." Nonetheless, it's not the Beatles. And besides, stretching four songs into an album largely by adding eighteen minutes of the film's score seems a move beneath the Beatles.

To recap: the only two really good cuts on this album were previously released. Half of the album is unexceptional, albeit great-sounding, film music not performed by the Beatles. The remaining four songs are mediocre. If someone owned all of the group's albums, including Past Masters, except this one, I'd still consider him or her a Beatles fan. Two stars: for collectors or serious Beatles buffs.

====

*Only three were longer: "Revolution 9" (8:22), "I Want You (She's So Heavy)" (7:47), and "Hey Jude" (7:10).

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 For Girls Who Grow Plump In The Night by CARAVAN album cover Studio Album, 1973
4.18 | 715 ratings

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For Girls Who Grow Plump In The Night
Caravan Canterbury Scene

Review by MaxPap

5 stars For Girls Who Grow Plump In The Night is a unique experience from everything Caravan has made. There is something I realized when listening to "Waterloo Lily" and "If I Could Do It All Over Again...", and it's that the unusual-ness of some instrumental passages, which are all well-loved by I and other prog fanatics, can sometimes lead to usual-ness. That is not the case with this album.

I have to admit I was scared before first listen, because I had loved so much "In The Land of Grey and Pink" and Richard Sinclair's wonderful voice missing here had me lose a little hope. I was wrong, and I was pleasantly surprised by Pye Hastings' wonderful performance. Instead of having a competition between two singer-songwriters (ala Supertramp, or even The Beatles), it really feels like a group performing together harmoniously without separation being noticed. Some of the catchy-but-still-progressive choruses prove this, with multiple vocals coming in together: It really has a charm that is completely new to them. This is the first reason why I consider this album better than "In The Land of Grey And Pink".

The second reason is that it seems the band has now a maturity not known before. Grey and Pink was innocent, naive and beautiful; Plump in the Night is mature, majestic, graceful, splendid. They are both amazing for their own reasons. They are also very different! Plump in the Night has a focus on guitars, but also violin, and it really gives it a Folk feeling to it. The solo on "Hoedown", for example, could almost be danced to. Passages between harder progressive rock and softer folk-ish choruses make a refreshing feeling when mixed together, and this album is very good for that. Starting from the epic "Memory Lain, Hugh/Headloss", you can tell it has an unusual happy feeling while still proving to contain magical parts. Singing to the songs here proves the harmony of it. The band also does not fear to be a little offensive in the song "The Dog..." but even there they have a charming harmony while singing together.

The whole plot changes once you hit "L'Auberge Du Sanglier...". This ten-minute instrumental is not only the longest one on the album, but once you get past the rocking "A Hunting We Shall Go" part, we get one of the most beautiful and magic-invoking pieces in all of progressive rock. I'm a sucker for these, and naturally got blown away on my first listen (And pretty much all listens of it).

I could go on, but I think you got the point. This is a must-listen for all progressive rock fans, and even if you generally do not like Canterbury, this is arguably much closer to Symphonic prog than Grey and Pink. Now that I think about it, this album could be in my top ten favorite...

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 La Marmite Cosmique V by BUKWALD, ARNAUD  album cover Studio Album, 2019
3.46 | 3 ratings

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La Marmite Cosmique V
Arnaud Bukwald Eclectic Prog

Review by BrufordFreak
Collaborator Honorary Collaborator

5 stars Master synthesist of familiar musical styles Arnaud Bukwald is back with the fifth installment of his fascinating "La marmite cosmique" series of album releases--all of which seem to choose several prog subgenres or specific artists from the past to emulate. What makes Arnaud's work so unusual and enjoyable, though, is that though you recognize the sounds and the styles within each song, the compositions and performances are all so fresh--it's as if he has discovered old tapes or manuscripts from past masters that no one has ever heard and then performed and published them himself.

I think his work genius. Whereas on previous "marmite cosmique" releases he has masterfully replicated the sounds of such stalwarts as Frank Zappa, Greg Lake, Genesis, Camel, Mike Oldfield, Pink Floyd, as well as many, many Canterbury and Krautrock artists (as well as many modern artists), this one presents some Zeuhl, modern West Coast Psychedelia, Berlin School, as well as electronic masters like JEAN-MICHEL JARRE.

1. "Z'hr" (12:27) opens like POPUL VUH before presenting the theatricality of MAGMA and then turning into the engaging melody-delivery medium of BRAINTICKET, this song rocks like CAMEL and it surprises and it sucks you in like KLAUS DOLDINGER's PASSPORT with its grooves, twists and turns, instrumental sounds and skills, not to mention its multiple earworm melodic hooks and ecstatic choral Zeuhlish parts. The best prog epic I've heard so far in this year of 2019. (24/25)

2. "New Dawn" (2:05) West Coast funk on the level of STARVING DAUGHTERS and BRIAN ELLIS. Awesome! Another little gem of Arnaud's that I wish went on and on. (That's why we have repeat and playlist mixes.) (5/5)

3. "Mandarine" (5:46) wonderful Kosmische Musik of the Berlin School ilk. (9/10)

4. "Kinky Boots" (3:58) funky psychedelia that doesn't work as well as "New Dawn." Nice elements but they don't gel as well as I'd like. (7.5/10)

5. "Theremoon" (9:24) opens with some light, playful fairy-like TANGERINE DREAM or JEAN-MICHEL JARRE synth play which is then joined by dobro, percussion and another wooden flute-like synth playing mostly in the lower registers. I can't quite peg the influences/references, but I like it. A lot. Cool space weave. Maybe KITARO or Larry Fast's SYNERGY or Patrick MORAZ's I (or a combination of all of the above) are also appropriate comparisons. Just before the 4:00 mark a truly spacey synth makes a brief appearance before African hand drums enter. While the song never really goes anywhere too exciting or unexpected, it contains great weaves throughout and incorporates genius sound/instrument selections. (18/20)

Total Time 33:40

Five stars; a minor masterpiece of wonderfully creative, nostalgic instrumental progressive rock music.

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 Presagios by OCTOBER EQUUS album cover Studio Album, 2019
4.13 | 4 ratings

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Presagios
October Equus RIO/Avant-Prog

Review by TCat
Collaborator Eclectic Team

4 stars October Equus is a RIO/Avant Prog band that was founded in 2003 in Madrid, Spain and in October of 2019, has released it's 6th album called "Presagios". The core band is currently a trio with Angel Ontalva (guitar, mixing), Victor Rodriguez (keyboards) and Amanda Pazos (bass). Joining this core line-up are four guests rounding out the sound with Yoland Alba Rodriguez (flute), John Falcone (bassoon), Pablo Ortega (cello) and Piotr Talalay (drums). There are 11 tracks that never break the six minute mark, and the total run time is over 41 minutes.

The music is very avant-garde with a mix of chamber rock, odd time signatures with constant changes, lots of dissonance, and tracks that change in texture on a constant basis. The band has accumulated quite a fan base, and it is quite apparent why. The musicians here are adept putting together smart music that takes a lot of musicianship to create and reproduce. It is all instrumental and complex. The texture sways from odd chamber style music to heavy bouts of traditional guitar and keys bursting out among the more organic sounds of the flute, bassoon and cello. It's quite an interesting and intriguing mix.

For example, on the first track "Pneuma", the band wastes no time jumping right into the bizarre sounds, no time for warm ups or acclimating the listener. The melody quickly jumps from one instrument to another, breaking up traditional phrasing as each musician passes the melody on to another at unpredictable intervals. But, the album still doesn't rely on that style as the next track "Intermitencias" is a bit mellower, but still with a nice level of complexity as the moods of the music shifts back and forth suddenly from organic to heavy rock at a moments notice. "Ceniza" on the other hand, features interplay between the flute, bassoon and the harsh notes of the guitar, which later all gives way to allowing the organ to mess around a bit while a squalling guitar interrupts from time to time. The mixture is awesome and original, everyone producing the strangest sounds, harmonies and textures that can be dreamt up.

Trying to explain the make up of each track is virtually impossible as things tend to swing around and change often. "Igneo" begins very mysteriously and moves along like that before a synth solo comes in and brightens everything up, and high pitched notes of the guitar wail and whine. At times, sustained notes from the synths attempt to anchor the sound, but they usually get swept away in the complexity of it all.

Often times, you might find yourself trying to categorize the music as being classical, rock or jazz, but in reality, it's a combination of all of that set into the avant garde style with plenty of complex progressive structure. The mix of cello with guitar in the title track "Presagio" testifies to the mixture of musical styles contrasting and yet gelling with each other, as this track continues, a smooth piano brings in the jazz element, and all of this is done with a very minimal use of percussion. Later, all of this gets drowned in washes of organ chords while the guitar talks everyone into picking up the tempo. Contrasting melodies are played by the flute and the guitar while the organ and drums try to establish which direction to take everything. When everything is finally figured out, the track quickly ends.

This is one of those albums that will reveal different surprises each time you hear it. Each track has many melodic lines at times, and these are usually anchored some way by the tempo or texture of the particular track, and not necessarily by any one instrument. Since the music is quite complex, it might take some time for certain listeners to penetrate the nuances and many layers of the tracks. The music is very intellectual, and the only thing that could be improved here is a more variable use of dynamics. The complexity can make this difficult, but it has been done quite well by other bands. This little issue might even be less noticeable with further listenings, but for now, it gives the album a 4.5 star rating that rounds down to 4 stars. However, there is a good possibility that might change over time. Excellent and complex.

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 Panic by ZZEBRA album cover Studio Album, 1975
3.52 | 24 ratings

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Panic
Zzebra Jazz Rock/Fusion

Review by siLLy puPPy
Collaborator PSIKE, JR/F/Canterbury & Eclectic Teams

3 stars ZZEBRA was one of many fusion bands that emerged in the 70s however this band was not only a blend of the usual jazz and rock aspects but also incorporated many other styles, most notably Nigerian folk, Latin flavors, blues rock and funk. Despite the team of seven musicians playing a steady circuit scene with the likes of Return To Forever and Soft Machine after the self-titled debut in 1974, the album sold poorly but failed to dampen the spirits of this hard working band that crafted catchy tunes fortified with amazing progressive jazz-rock workouts. ZZEBRA headed back to Escape Studios in Kent, England to record a followup which would emerge with the title PANIC.

The band's indefatigable work ethic turned out to be too much for guitarist Terry Smith and in the middle of recording departed and was replaced by the 17-year old Steve Byrd. Likewise vocalist Alan Marshall replacing former vocalist Gus Yeadon who also played piano and guitar. Due to the lack of success of the debut, PANIC takes a noticeably more commercial approach with less adventurous and calmer compositions than its predecessor. While the title track begins the album with the expected jazz-rock with funk and African rhythms, starting with the cover song of "You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling" the album takes a turn towards the mellower sounds that evoke a more funkier version of Weather Report, a stark contrast to the Santana driven rhythms of the debut. As luck would have it the band also recorded a few tracks with Jeff Beck.

While the keyboard workouts, guitar solos and driving funk bass are present especially on "Panic," "Karrola," "Tree" and "Put A Light On Me" the general atmosphere is more subdued and dreamy with lengthy passages devoted to intricate melodic developments that result in an airy fairy sort of jazzed up rock. Add the change of vocalist duties and PANIC often sounds like a completely different band than what appeared on the self-titled ZZEBRA debut. Likewise the diversity of the debut had disappeared as the band was trying to grasp a definitive sound of its own but i don't think they quite succeeded as the band simply traded one set of influences for another which leaves me preferring the incredible technical workouts of the debut over the more pop influenced funk rock styles of PANIC.

Overall PANIC is not a bad album at all but fails to really standout amongst the plethora of fusion albums that were emerging around the same time. Despite the ambitious live circuit the band failed to fully coalesce into something that truly stood out in the crowded halls of fusion bands of the era and like most prog bands of the day who assumed the technical infused styles that dominated the early 70s would last forever, ZZEBRA was yet another band that was swept away by the turning of the tides with the punk, new wave and glam rock scenes taking over the music scene. Despite the less engaging tracks on PANIC, much of the material here is quite beautifully designed and there are no bad tracks per se as all the instrumentalists have honed their chops and deliver stellar workouts, it's just that the tracks aren't quite as interesting as what appeared on the debut. The spontaneous passion had been replaced by a more calculated attempt to fit in.

Despite remaining a 70s obscurity, the interest in such artifacts from the past has been rediscovered and bands such as ZZEBRA are finding new life with their old recordings. Although the band folded after this release, there was plenty of material recorded intended for a third album but wouldn't see the light of day until the second coming of the prog revolution. The archival releases "Take It Or Leave It" (1999) and "Lost World" (2001) would see those tracks finding a release after years in the vault and the first two ZZEBRA albums including "Panic" would find a new remastered release as a two-fer in 2010 which is the best way to acquire the early albums because of the excellent remastering job as well as a number of bonus live tracks and alternative mixes.

3.5 rounded down

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 Circus by CIRCUS album cover Studio Album, 1969
4.26 | 14 ratings

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Circus
Circus Jazz Rock/Fusion

Review by Psychedelic Paul

5 stars The self-titled one and only album release from the English band Circus (1969) is a rare treasure and one of the earliest and finest examples of a genre that would later come to be defined as Jazz-Rock. The album features two wonderful cover versions of well-known songs by The Beatles and The Mama & the Papas.

The album opens with a terrific cover version of The Beatles "Norwegian Wood" which, dare I say it, is even better than the original. It's a perfect 7-minute-long introduction to the album and represents the best song on the album as a whole. There's a marvellously long instrumental build-up with some skilful fuzzy guitar riffs twinned with pleasantly understated and laid-back drumming. The music is overlaid with the sound of a saxophone, which is where the Jazz-Rock element comes into it. The real highlight of the song comes in the instrumental break in the middle section with repeated heavy guitar riffs and a powerful rhythm section which gathers in intensity and speed towards the conclusion. Track 2 "Pleasures of a Lifetime" is the longest song on the album at over 8 minutes in duration. It's a beautifully sweet-sounding song featuring warm and tender vocals and a gentle guitar, leaving one feeling in a pleasantly mellow mood. The mid-section features a Jazz break with some versatile saxophone playing and up-tempo drumming before returning to a more sedate and low-key pace for the song's finale. Track 3 "St. Thomas" is an uplifting and fast-paced instrumental Jazz number featuring some excellent work from the flautist, very reminiscent of Ian Anderson in Jethro Tull. Track 4 "Goodnight John Morgan" is another Jazz instrumental which continues at a more relaxed pace and features a very pleasant piano twinned with saxophone and gentle drumming which is easy on the ears. Track 5 "Father of My Daughter" is another soft and gentle song with pleasant-sounding vocals in similar vein to Track 2 and this very agreeable and laid-back number compliments the album nicely. The unusually titled "II B.S." is the next tune on the album, opening with strange sound effects, before launching into a fast-paced, 6-minute-long Jazz instrumental jam session, where the skilled musicians are giving free-rein to demonstrate their musical dexterity to the fullest extent. Track 7 features the second cover version on the album, "Monday Monday" by The Mamas & the Papas. Again, this very talented group of musicians demonstrate their prowess with the long and Jazzy instrumental introduction. The vocals kick-in about halfway through the song and it stands as a very worthy cover version of a great song. The final song "Don't Make Promises" rounds off the album beautifully with another nice gentle song featuring a masterly instrumental Jazz break midway through the song.

A superb album overall and highly recommended for fans of early Jazz-Rock. It's a must-have addition to any Jazz-Rock lover's album collection.

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 Strange In Stereo by IN THE WOODS... album cover Studio Album, 1999
3.66 | 66 ratings

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Strange In Stereo
In The Woods... Experimental/Post Metal

Review by sgtpepper

3 stars The doomiest album of the three released by In the Woods, and also less experimental than Omnio. There are however, some new influences, for example the first track "Closing in" has some industrial subtones. "Cell" and "Vanish in the absence of virtue" are absolutely mournful with slow rhythm, sad female voice and ominous chords, while the latter song sounds very much like coming from "My dying bride" + female voice.

But also "Basement corridors" does not bring much hope with dark bass guitar, violin and female vocals that express disappointment."Dead man's creek" is mixing country guitar slides with doom metal.

This is a fine album to finish the first era of In the Woods and the doomiest one. For a progressive mind, there is not much to explore, so 3 stars, otherwise 4.

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 Omnio by IN THE WOODS... album cover Studio Album, 1997
4.11 | 125 ratings

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Omnio
In The Woods... Experimental/Post Metal

Review by sgtpepper

4 stars The most experimental of In the woods releases, even flirting with avantgarde leanings in a few moments. At the same time,the record is not easy to dive in and you will need more listenings to remember most of the moments. There are no short simple tracks and also black metal shrieks and brutality is gone. Keyboards and easier sounding guitars can be heard most of the time. Music is mainly slowly paced but not overly doom, although it stays heavy. Melodies are not in the foreground, it is more about atmosphere and experimentation.

Best tracks in my opinion are the first one, with crushing guitars on one side, soothing violins in the middle and nice vocal cooperation between males and females. The last epic suite has a repeating motive with female vocal and rising keyboard tone. This is an avantgarde metal track with brief excursions into doom/black/heavy/progressive metal but still prevailingly atmospheric metal. Guitar riffs are astonishing but still, you need to listen to the entire suite many times to enjoy this masterpiece of progressive atmospheric metal.

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