Posts Tagged ‘Music’

HINDI ZAHRA

21 December 2011

[Picture of Handmade Album cover art ]Handmade is the album I’ve been getting into lately. It’s by French-Moroccan singer, Hindi Zahra, and it’s really good.  Don’t fret; she sings in English most of the time. This album has sold very well in France, Belgium and Sweden, but it has not been marketed here in the UK for some reason.

I find that rather annoying; I really think she’d do well — and what a relief to have something else on the car radio for a change.

From the reviews I’ve read, she’s really good live.  She is a good song-writer and self-taught multi-instrumentalist. She lives in Paris, so she’s pretty cool all-round.

[Picture of Hindi Zahra]Last year it won the Prix Constantin for Best Album, and earlier this year it won the Victoires de la Musique award for the best World music album.

She sings in D major and its relative minor key, B minor as her default key.  Kiss & Thrills and Stand Up are in A minor, and Music (which reminds me of Blur’s Boys who like Girls who like Boys in terms of chord progression) is in G major.

Probably my favourite (apart from Music, is Set Me Free — which is a weird sort of Bluegrass thing. She could easily duet with Richard Hawley on Don’t Forget — or it could be covered by Norah or Corinne; it’s THAT laid-back!

The album works on levels — I have grown fond of the album as background to work or even dinner parties — but as soon as I put on headphones, I experienced all the little twists and nuances she’s put in.

It’s deeper than it at first seems — and she manages to blend Frenchness with Moroccanness, touches of reggae, funk, African, it’s hard to describe, but it is NOT hard to get into; at the end of the day it is pop. Only GOOD pop — not Eurovision and not the crap we’re told to buy here in the UK just now.

Links:

Why not check her out and maybe treat someone to the album for a Christmas gift this year? You can buy it Here.

[Embedded video from Youtube.com of Stand Up by Hindi Zahra]

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ARNOLD BAX

6 May 2011

[Pic of Arnold Bax on cover of book]Years and years ago, I went to see the White sands of Morar with a girl called Barbara. This short trip was actually a long weekend that became My Scottish Tour.

We stayed at Fort William, travelled to Oban, and returned through Perth and Balmoral.  Apart from a wee run to the Electric Brae, that has been the sum total of my Scottish travels in my half-century.  Don’t get me wrong; I have nothing against Scotland — nor England, for that matter (I know little of England too), but I will not get lost in Rome, London or Paris due to the weather, the food, the history, the museums and music and art…

Anyway.

Morar.

The reason I was talked into this Scottish Trip was because of Arnold Bax.

Arnold Bax was a composer I was studying at the time.  Not very well known even today, he was pretty famous once. In 1942, Bax was appointed Master of the King’s Musick, and he composed for the Queen’s coronation.

I was actually quite impressed with Morar, albeit on a blustery day, it had white sands, greeny blue sea, and palm trees, so our photographs (on my trusty Olympus OM10, with telephoto lens and filters) made it look like we were on a south sea tropical island!

Back to Bax. I have no problem with his Irishness, nor his romanticism; I think this is because he is always nostalgic for me.  Bax is my childhood, or at least that syrupy sweet, early television version of it.  There is something of the Whisky Galore, or Ealing Studio film about Bax that takes me to “that place”.

Through my study, I discovered that he was oddly in turmoil — receiving awards from the Queen (UK) pulled against his Irishness, and his music was being slated for being “old Fashioned” and melodic. He apparently never recovered from a relationship with a Ukranian lass, and he was influenced by quite a lot of disparate, but northern European, music, and I like that; I like that he was pretty conservative, and yet somehow he was the rebel. I like that Bax succeeded in his lifetime, but that it made little difference, other than to unsettle him.

In short, I had a lot of time for Arnold Bax.  I think he is all-too-quickly dismissed and forgotten.  Maybe one day Bax will be back, and we can hear his lush, large scale music more often.

The very least I owe Bax is that he made me do a lovely sunny mini tour of Scotland, during which I took a great many superb photographs! In fact, writing this has encouraged me to both dig out some Bax, and to consider visiting places nearer to home — maybe England, or Scotland again?  I’ve heard Yorkshire is lovely, as well as the Lake District, Devon and Cornwall. Hmm. We shall see…

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RADIOHEAD

22 April 2011

[Picture of the members of Radiohead]I heard Creep in the early 1990s and was more intrigued than hooked.  I saw Radiohead on Jooles Holland’s Later, and was struck by their prog rock sensibility.  I even remember saying “I bet these guys went to some posh public school” — not in a derogatory way, but simply because they reminded me of Genesis and the like. I was right.

So anyway, as one does, one moves on, and Radiohead keep releasing records.  These keep getting played, they provide a soundtrack to the passing times — and before you know it, you are a fan.

[Embedded video of Radiohead’s High and Dry on You Tube]

This realisation hit me after OK Computer.  I gave in, and went to the chops to buy it in CD format. It was only once I had got home that I realised I needed more.  So I went beck out and got The Bends!

Earworm central — if it wasn’t Karma Police or Anyone Can Play Guitar, it was Creep, No Surprises or Fake Plastic Trees.

This really is a band of songwriters.

[Embedded video on YouTube of Best of]

So what is it with these guys?  Why do folk group them with Yes and Genesis — or with Coldplay and Muse?  The only similarity they have to my mind with Coldplay is that they are sad-sounding, to Genesis and Yes, that they are not delivering simple pop or rock, and to Muse, they have falsetto vocals and anthemic moments.

Radiohead are themselves. Thom Yorke is as much of a natural frontman as anyone in Muse, Genesis or Yes.  They all prove Simon Cowell wrong about what is required to be a hit.

  • I admire Radiohead for trying to get to grips with copyright, digital rights, and so-called piracy.  In fact I just admire Radiohead fullstop.

Radiohead are Thom Yorke lead vocal plus  guitar and keyboards; Jonny Greenwood on guitar and keyboards;  Ed O’Brien playing guitar; Colin Greenwood on bass, and synth; and Phil Selway on drums. I like that they have not listened to marketing, to record company profiling.  I envy that they found themselves to be what they are, and that that was something distinct that sold.

They do things their own way, and thank goodness for that!

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MY AIM IS TRUE

22 March 2011

[Cover of My Aim is True]There was only one Elvis until Elvis Costello came along, after that people had to add “Presley” to make the distinction.

The name caused a stir at the time, it was seen as a punk rock thing, disrespect, an attack on America, God, Music, and whatever else the loonies could come up with.

I’d heard the name, but it put me off a bit.  I wasn’t exactly intrigued enough to beat a path to Elvis Costello’s work.

It was 1977.  I was supposed to be at woodwork or something at high school, but instead a crowd of us congregated in Floyd’s house.  We smoked and chilled in the living room watching cartoons and idiotic children’s television, like “Rainbow” and “Trumpton”. On the turntable was ELP or Yes, I cannot recall exactly…

I’m not sure if it was Barbara Thomson or Moray Robertson, but one of them changed the LP to  “My Aim is True“, and I sat up as my world changed. What a half hour that was!

Yes, this really is that good. It is one of the few times in my life that I had to scribble down the name of a record and immediately go out to buy it, to have to own it.  It was raining, but I caught a bus on Ayr Rd for Glasgow. I bought it in the “Listen” Record Shop on Renfield St.  I have owned it ever since, in many formats.

Sometimes, when nothing else will do, it hits the spot exactly.  It has very short songs, the songs have intros, verses, bridges and choruses.  There are guitar solos, so it is not punk. The melodies are catchy, and every part is completely necessary — full of hooks and colour.

There is a great variety in the rhythms, and his voice is perfectly matched to everything else.  The songwriting is superb — music and lyrics, the musicianship is flawless, but the secret ingredient is Nick Lowe’s production.  That makes this as perfect a work of art as it could ever be.

It has an energy, a purity of tone and of purpose.  It is as clean as a new whistle, fresh and dewy new. It sounded like nothing of its time, and it still is of itself, a standalone classic.

Costello was poor, so he had to record this album in just four short burst sessions after work, hence his demos would have had to have been crafted to a pretty high degree. I read in Sounds, NME or Melody Maker, that his demos were superb, but it was only recently that I found some MP3 versions, and they are amazing as “unplugged” versions — different in key, but complete and polished beyond what I recognise as “demo”.

I have always liked that approach myself, I love the energy of live takes, that is what comes across in old Motown records, or the Pixies, or even the Jazz stuff I like best.  Through Elvis’s “My Aim is True”, I discovered things about myself, about my base tastes.

[Press release picture of Elvis Costello from 77]For example, I like variety, especially in rhythm, I like dynamics and interest, I like the raw energy of single takes and a well-rehearsed live band putting the song first.  I was shocked to realise the importance of backing vocals; the Attractions were a tight band. I realised that a band has to be slick and sharp, but the whole thing lives or dies with the singer at the end of the day. There has to be something to love or hate about the lead frontman.

“My Aim is True” is a perfect record, the order of the songs, the dancability, the singalongability, the image, the fun, the tears (Alison), the words that resonate with real people with real feelings in a real world.

  1. Welcome to the Working Week [E maj] 1:22;
  2. Miracle Man [E maj] 3:31;
  3. No Dancing [D maj] 2:39;
  4. Blame it on Cain [G maj] 2:49;
  5. Alison [E maj] 3:21;
  6. Sneaky Feelings [G maj] 2:09.
  1. (The Angels Wanna Wear My) Red Shoes [E maj] 2:47;
  2. Less Than Zero [F maj] 3:15;
  3. Mystery Dance [G maj] 1:38;
  4. Pay it Back [G maj] 2:33;
  5. I’m Not Angry [Db maj] 2:57;
  6. Waiting of the End of The World [G maj]3:22.

Only recently did I find out that the Attractions were actually more-or-less a band called Clover that I had seen supporting Huey Lewis or Thin Lizzy. There y’go, who knew? I would recommend this album to anyone who plays in a band — listen and learn!

This is one of the few albums I have always had to have around, that has lasted through everything, I thank Elvis Costello for that, from the bottom of my heart.

[Embedded video of Elvis Costello & The Attractions doing “Red Shoes”  on Top Of The Pops September 1977, YouTube.com]

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PLATINUM NOTES

27 January 2011

I like playing guitar along with my hifi.  It often means I have to figure out the key of the song or tune. That’s OK, and while I have done dozens of songs in my collection, I still have zillions of MP3s not done.  I can listen to a couple of hours’ worth of stuff in D major for example.

But the thing I dislike the most is when a track is between keys — off pitch. Eugh!  I use to correct this by ear using Audacity, this can change the pitch yet keep the beats per minute the same — but the trouble with that is the preview is just the starting few seconds, and on some tracks the music proper doesn’t start for quite a while.

Now I have found Platinum Notes — a great bit of software.  It fixes the volume and audio graphs (clipping etc), and tweaks the whole track to the nearest proper pitch key.  It makes the mp3 file size jump to about double, but what a difference it makes!  It doesn’t overwrite — it makes a new audio file adding _pn to the filename.  All you do is delete the original later, and remove the _pn to be good to go. It really is worth doing, and is a LOT easier than doing this stuff my ear.

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JEFF BUCKLEY

12 January 2011

[Picture of the Grace album cover]I love it when you see something by chance on the TV, that stops you in your tracks — and you just have to have more.  This is exactly what happened with the video promo for “Grace” by Jeff Buckley.

I immediately went out and bought the album “Grace“. Thing is, he’d recently died (by accidental drowning in the Wolf River in Memphis USA), so there would be no further wonderfully crafted original music from Scotty Moorehead (his “real” name).  I think there’s a Chet Baker legacy for the quieter ballads, but in the rock music side of things, Buckley is out there on his own — perhaps influenced by Robert Plant, but with lots of added extra influences, possibly black women such as Aretha Franklin.  You listen, you decide!

Over the years I have rediscovered Grace” again and again for the usual reasons — switching from CD to a computer file, the renewed interest in the media (mainly around “Hallelujah” and Cohen, Elisa, Burke etc) a couple of years ago.  But  I have no idea why I didn’t think of looking up YouTube until now.

[Embedded video clip from YouTube of The Last Goodbye]

His voice can give me chills and thrills, and he never plays it safe — the element of right on the edge vocals brings such amazement to me, really — I’ve sung live, I’ve taken chances and they have (luckily) paid off to my eternal immense relief — but to see someone totally risk everything, to squeeze every last drop of emotion, to face public disgrace and humiliation by singing flat or sharp or out of time (or all of the above). OMG. Just wow. It’s crazy, it’s wild, it’s utterly Buckley.

[Embedded video clip from YouTube of Grace – Live]

What a voice — what a guitar player, and what a song-writer!  Clearly Buckley has been a huge influence on Gregory Hoskins and loads more, such as The Antlers.  I can’t listen to “So Real” without thinking of Grizzly Bear, it’s the chords, the mood or something, y’know? But this guy is the original.  I saw a TV documentary about him a couple of years ago — and they reckon he was a blend of Robert Plant and Jimmy Page — now THAT’S an absolutely massive compliment right there, and possibly the best epitaph, I’ll leave it there.

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MUSIC OF 2010

29 December 2010

Lists like this are ubiquitous. Mine might be different because I talk about other lists I’ve seen, and also because I don’t care if the music was released between certain dates.  It is more important to me to talk about music that I associate with 2010. The music that defines time and place for me.

So this year, I really enjoyed ‘The National’ ‘High Violet‘, and I even did a post on it back in June. I see that this is agreement with a lot of best of 2010 lists I have seen. It got to #11 midway through the year on Metacritic. It did better at the end of the year — on The Recommender AND on the Amazon list it reached #9.  That’s pretty good for them as it might just prove to be their breakthrough work. For me, it just seemed to fit what I needed to hear on headphones at work a lot of the time.

Looking round the lists, there is universal acclaim for the following:

Thing is, they just didn’t click with me.  I just don’t like Kanye West and all that — and I saw Janelle on ‘Later’ and was less than impressed. Not my bag. Same with ‘Arcade Fire’ and ‘Mumford and Sons’ — everyone raves about them, so it must be just me.

‘The Drums’ ‘The Drums’ I took an instant dislike to. I didn’t mind the Mercury winner – ‘xx’‘ – ‘The xx’, but they weren’t exactly great live.

On the other hand, ‘Gorillaz’ (‘Plastic Beach’) – #24 Amazon, #10 The Recommender did click with me.  It shouldn’t have, but it did — maybe because my kids like the videos (especially ‘Stylo’ with Bruce Willis), I’m getting influenced by their enthusiasm. I have actually used ‘Plastic Beach’ to look back at their back catalogue — and with Shaun being on the jungle-based reality TV show, “I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here”, ‘Dare’ has been getting a lot of listens (in all its many versions), along with ‘5/4’, ‘Clint Eastwood’ and ‘Kids with Guns’.  So — strangely, the Autumn of 2010 is tied in with ‘Gorillaz’!

Similarly, I found the ‘Foals’ (‘Total Life Forever’) – #2 The Recommender to be one of the best things about 2010. It is a fun record as it conjures up a lot of audio memory of music from the 1980s and 90s.

‘Flaws’ – ‘Bombay Bicycle Club’,and ‘Tourist History’ – ‘Two Door Cinema Club’ and ‘WHB‘  – ‘We Have Band’ are worth a mention. They brought the year to an end in a similar vein to the start of the year with Owen Pallett. This is probably down to the weather and the economy now that I think on it.  Good records, good music.

The beginning of the year was marked by amazing amounts of snow for a protracted length of time — same as November/ December.  The ash cloud and banking crisis meant that there was a cold moroseness prevalent.  I started to listen to Owen and ‘Grizzly Bear’, but also to old Chet Baker records.

There wasn’t much going on through spring to be honest.  I delved back into technical guitar music for a while, listening to Vai, Holdsworth, and the jazz theme continued for summer with Hiromi Uehara and Tal Wilkenfeld — and any need for classical for Autumn was met in the form of Danielle de Niese or Wagner.

Looking back now, I would have to say that summer 2010 was about Peaches / Hiromi Uehara / ‘The National’ / ‘Stars’ how bizarre is that!  I took these  on vacation with me, but ‘The Five Ghosts’ by The Stars has turned out to be the summer album for me; it got me through the weeks of rain. ‘Foals’ and ‘The Antlers’ have seen me through all the snow.

Post-summer has been filled with wonderful music from all sorts, ‘Deadmau5’, ‘Magnetic Man’, ‘The Radio Department’‘The Thermals’, ‘Ratatat’, Regina Spektor, ‘Midlake’, Rumer, Joshua Radin, Larry Carlton and ‘Steely Dan’, Eli “Paperboy” Reed, Mike Posner, Rackmaninoff’s ‘All Night Vigil’.

So here’s my top five albums of 2010:

  1. ‘The National’ ‘High Violet’;
  2. ‘The Antlers’ ‘Hospice’“;
  3. ‘Foal’s ‘Total Life Forever’;
  4. ‘Gorillaz’ “Plastic Beach“;
  5. ‘Stars’ ‘The Five Ghosts’.

Here are the oldies that mean 2010 to me

  1. Peaches ‘The Teaches of Peaches’
  2. ‘Midlake’ ‘The Trials of Van Occupanther’,
  3. Hiromi Uehara ‘Time Control’

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THE ANTLERS

8 December 2010

[Picture of Peter Silberman of The Antlers]Peter Silberman plays a Fender Mustang and has one of the best falsettos in the business. He formed “The Antlers” — and I have their album “Hospice“.  It is Brooklyn, and New York City in mood and lo-fi approach, but it is more straight, clearer and on focus. They opened for “The National” in Barcelona — now that would have been some gig!

I have been listening to this album on and off now for quite a while, but recently a chap I work with has discovered it — which has led to my returning to it again.

My favourite is “Epilogue”, simple guitar strumming (G major) — but a voice like Gregory Hoskins or Jeff Buckley.

“Hospice” is an incredibly emotional record. This guy really seems to pour out his heart and his art.  One for the headphones.

Here’re the usual links:

Peter did a blog that is intended to compliment the album: theantlershospice.blogspot.com

[Embedded videoclip: Epilogue by The Antlers on YouTube]

[Youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bQwkbRVqqxU&feature=related]

In a nightmare, I am falling from the ceiling into bed beside you. You’re asleep, I’m screaming, shoving you to try to wake you up. And like before, you’ve got no interest in the life you live when you’re awake. Your dreams still follow story-lines, like fictions you would make.

So I lie down against your back, until we’re both back in the hospital. But now it’s not a cancer ward, we’re sleeping in the morgue. Men and women in blue and white, they are singing all around you, with heavy shovels holding earth. You’re being buried to your neck. In that hospital bed, being buried quite alive now. I’m trying to dig you out but all you want is to be buried there together.

You’re screaming, and cursing, and angry, and hurting me, and then smiling, and crying, apologizing.

I’ve woken up, I’m in our bed, but there’s no breathing body there beside me. Someone must have taken you while I was stuck asleep. But I know better as my eyes adjust. You’ve been gone for quite awhile now, and I don’t work there in the hospital (they had to let me go.)

When I try to move my arms sometimes, they weigh too much to lift. I think you buried me awake (my one and only parting gift.) But you return to me at night, just when I think I may have fallen asleep. Your face is up against mine, and I’m too terrified to speak.
–Epilogue or Sylvia Alive In Nightmares

Absolutely beautiful music.  Painful at times, but worth it. Enjoy.

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THE RADIO DEPT

13 August 2010

[Picture of The Radio Department -- from Sweden]The Radio Dept is a really good band from Sweden.

[embedded videoclip from YouTube.com, The Radio Dept “David”]

[YouTube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dsuLsb-jrt0]

I got their 2003 EP, “Pulling Our Weight” and I thought “I don’t need love, I’ve got my band” was a fairly unimpressive poppy of-its-time guitar band track.  The title track had a nice beat and wistful guitar and vocal, and was — well, “nice”.  From the start through to the end of “We climb the wired fences” (my fave track of the five), it was a fairly calming, soothing experience, trippyish.  It was never a challenge, but it grew on me still over time.

Pet Grief” from 2006 is a much more mature-sounding band.  Better songs, better ideas.  Same wistful, reverb-filled vocal, but it all comes together like The Blue Nile or Prefab Sprout, if you know what I mean. “I Wanted You To Feel The Same” is beautifully recorded, and the piano is delicious, leading right into the filler, “South Side“. The up tempo “Every Time” has their signature reverb vocals underpinned by the driving beat. Crackin’ stuff. Maybe not as powerfully emotional as The Blue Nile, which is maybe why it is often classed as “Shoegaze” music — it is not “sad” per se, but I guess if you’re in that mood it would be just perfectly melancholy.  I find it hazy, summery, lovely music to wander the streets looking about, or while reading or just chillin’.

[embedded videoclip from YouTube.com, The Radio Dept “It’s Personal”]

[YouTube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PDLLKDJgF1s&]

My favourite track has to be either “It’s Personal” as it is almost Richard Hawley! or “Tell“. But hey; it’s all good.  Yes.  This is a very good album — and definitely worth checking out at Amazon or try these links:

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REGINA SPEKTOR

7 August 2010

[Picture of Russian Sonstress, Regina Spektor]Regina Spektor seems to be everywhere these days. Her music is used extensively in TV commercials, movies, trailers and campaigns, and she’s done all the big European festivals like T in the Park and Glastonbury.

Her album “Far” is actually pretty good.  It is very New York East Village, very girly, and all that.  She is quirky, plays the piano and has some orchestration. That sounds like so many others, doesn’t it?  It moves on the Kate Bush, Joanna Newsom, Tori Amos thingy, and sits well with St.Vincent — or even Emily Simone.

If you listen a wee bit more closely, you hear that she does crazy things while singing — odd noises are emitted form her mouth, buzzes, rasps, tuts and heavy breathing!  She has a broad range too.  This moves the music up a notch from the usual girly wistfulness to something else.

But it doesn’t stop there.  Oh no.  There’s the “Back-Story”, and what a tale to tell — what a soap-opera!  You couldn’t make this up!  I’ll try to be brief and still do this fascinating tale some justice.Where to begin?  Well how about a few weeks ago?

OK, it’s the 7th of July 2010, at the Montreux Jazz Festival in Montreux, Switzerland. Regina was set to perform, but was reportedly distraught, shaken and in tears most of the time.  She had to stop several times simply to regain her composure — all because the day before, her cellist, Dan Cho, drowned while swimming in Lake Geneva near Chillon Castle. But the show went on, and she pulled it off.

Flashback: to 1989, the USSR during the period of Perestroika, the Spektor family (including a nine-year-old Regina) emigrate to Austria and then Italy. She is completely fluent in Russian and reads Hebrew.

They were admitted to the USA as refugees with the assistance of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, and settled in the Bronx in New York where she studied classical piano with Sonia Vargas, a professor at the Manhattan School of Music, until she was 17.  She did a four-year studio composition program of the Conservatory of Music at Purchase College graduating within three years.  In the summers she worked at a Butterfly Farm and even worked in Tottenham, London. Otherwise she was gigging to sell her home-burned CDs and gain a reputation.  She started getting recognition by performances at the East Village’s Sidewalk Café, CB’s Gallery, the Living Room, the Knitting Factory, Fez and Tonic that led to signing with Sire in 2004.

She was on Loose Women (Housewife Daytime TV show in the UK) back in 2007 — and later that year — during a sound-check for her gig at Ryman Auditorium, Nashville on 14th November that year, she collapsed due to intense vertigo as a result of an inner ear infection, and was rushed to hospital, cancelling the concert.  I can relate to that as I was suffering a similar state of affairs at that time too.

I take my hat off to her; she’s not had it easy, she’s a grafter, and she’s done a lot already with her life.  She’s definitely one to keep an eye on; some people just attract happenings and events!

[Embedded videoclip from YouTube: Spektor’s “Samson”]

[Youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p62rfWxs6a8]

[Embedded videoclip from YouTube: Spektor’s “Machine”]

[Youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=thQd1KYCgKU&]

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