Sayonara Amerika, Sayonara Nippon


What I listened to in 2022

Posted in Classical,J-Pop,Music,Putting One Foot in Front of the Other by bourdaghs on the December 28th, 2022

I’ve always enjoy reading other people’s lists of their favorite music of the year past, so here in alphabetical order are 20 new albums that gave me the most listening pleasure during 2022. As usual, a heavy emphasis on local musicians from the Chicago area.

Beyonce, Rennaisance, not quite as great as Lemonade, but then again what is? (Tidal; Spotify)

Dehd, Blue Skies, alternative pop/rock by terrific Chicago band (Tidal; Spotify)

Horsegirl, Versions of Modern Performance, moody debut album from Chicago band that updates the sound of 1990s alternative rock (Tidal; Spotify)

Samara Joy, Linger Awhile, young jazz vocalist turns in a nice set of standards (Tidal; Spotify)

The Kinks, Muswell Hillbillies/Everybody’s in Show Biz Box Set, two early 1970s Kinks’ albums get the fiftieth anniversary reissue treatment (Tidal and Tidal; Spotify and Spotify)

Les Rallizes Dénudés, OZ DAYS LIVE 1972-3 Kichijoi: The 50th Anniversary Collection, widely bootlegged live recordings by Japanese underground legends finally get a proper release (Tidal; Spotify)

The Linda Lindas, Growing Up, irresistible punk-pop with a nice political edge from a teenaged combo whose sudden emergence made the pandemic a little more bearable (Tidal; Spotify)

Lizzo, Special, for when I need uplift (Tidal; Spotify)

Makaya McCraven, In These Times, powerful statement by a tremendously creative Chicago jazz composer, arranger, and percussionist. (Tidal; Spotify)

ネクライトーキー (NECRY TALKIE), Memories2, the latest from eclectic Osaka-based pop/rock band (Tidal; Spotify)

Mali Obomsawim, Sweet Tooth, very appealing collage of avant-garde jazz, pop melodies, and Native American cultural traditions (Tidal; Spotify)

Nora O’Connor, My Heart, talented Chicagoan jazz/pop vocalist (Tidal; Spotify)

Gilbert O’Sullivan, Driven, new collection of pop tunes from the man whose March concert (my first popular music live show in three years) brought tears to my face when he performed “We Will” (Tidal; Spotify)

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Live at the Fillmore, 1997 (Tidal, Spotify)

She & Him, Melt Away: A Tribute to Brian Wilson, nice selection of Brian’s songs, tastefully covered (Tidal; Spotify)

Various artists, Starstruck: A Tribute to the Kinks, a collection of new punked-up covers of my musical heroes (Tidal; Spotify)

Wet Leg, Wet Leg, “Chaise Lounge” is probably the song I most often caught myself singing in my head this year (Tidal; Spotify)

Wilco, Cruel Country (Tidal; Spotify)

The Robert Wilkinson Band, Lost and Found, a delicious pop/rock album by Minneapolis legend that was recorded back in the 1990s but only released this year(Blackberry Way Records; Tidal; Spotify)

YeYe, 『はみ出て!』(Hamidete!), latest collection from Kyoto-based singer-songwriter who has been putting out terrific music for several years (Tidal; Spotify)

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A Book Prize for “Sound Alignments”

Posted in Books,J-Pop,Music,Putting One Foot in Front of the Other by bourdaghs on the December 3rd, 2022

  • Last month brought a bit of very welcome news: the Society for Ethnomusicology has awarded the 2022 Ellen Koskoff Edited Volume Prize to Sound Alignments: Popular Music in Asia’s Cold Wars, which I co-edited with Paole Iovene and Kaley Mason. As someone who studies popular music without being an ethnomusicologist, this recognition feels especially meaningful. We had a terrific team of contributors to the volume, and I am delighted to see their valuable work acknowledged with this prize.

    Here is the encomium that was read at the presentation ceremony:

    The committee to award the 2022 Ellen Koskoff Edited Volume Prize included Deonte Harris, Victoria Levine, Jesús Ramos-Kittrell, and Margaret Sarkissian. After carefully considering eight excellent nominees, we decided to award the prize to Sound Alignments: Popular Music in Asia’s Cold War, edited by Michael K. Bourdaghs, Paola Iovene, and Kaley Mason. Sound Alignments challenges us to rethink global history through investigations of the complex interplay between music and geopolitics. The contributors foreground musical routes, covers, and fronts, re-telling the Cold War from the orientation of musicians and particular songs that circulated across Asia. The authors reveal fascinating contradictions between economic, class, and social alignments through detailed analysis of both lyrics and musical structures in Asian popular songs. This is a beautifully crafted, edited, and produced volume. Annotated with scholarship in multiple non-European languages, the book has an extensive bibliography, a sturdy index, and informative contributor bios. Many of the authors work outside of US institutions, creating an international and disciplinary diversity that enhances the editors’ stated goal of decolonizing scholarship on Asian music. Sound Alignments offers critical perspectives on the position of music in Cold War studies, the narrow view that ethnomusicology has advanced, and intellectual blind spots that have driven music studies in this area. With rich ethnographic detail, theoretical sophistication, and broad content, Sound Alignments sets new standards for the study of music in the context and afterlife of global conflict. Congratulations to the editors and contributors! 

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    Plague Year Listening: A Look Back

    Posted in J-Pop,Music,Putting One Foot in Front of the Other by bourdaghs on the December 22nd, 2020

    The lockdowns of 2020 provided ample opportunities to sit at home and listen to music. Here are twenty albums from the plague year that gave me the most pleasure, listed in alphabetical order.

    I got back into the habit of buying CDs this year, so thanks to the pandemic I own physical copies of most of these titles. Looking over the list, I’m pleasantly surprised to see how much of it (seven out of twenty) comes from local Chicago artists. Maybe in 2021 I’ll be able to go see them play live….

    Fiona Apple, “Fetch the Bolt Cutters”
    Beach Bunny, “Honeymoon”
    Curtiss A, “Jerks of Fate”
    Ehara Mei 江原茗一, “Ampersands”
    The Flat Five, “Another World”
    Ted Hearne, “Place”
    Jyoti (Georgia Anne Muldrow), “Momma, You Can Bet!”
    Kate NV, “Room for the Moon”
    Lianne La Havas, “Lianne La Havas”
    Mary Lane, “The Real Mary Lane”
    V.V. Lightbody, “Make a Shrine or Burn It”
    Paul McCartney, “McCartney III”
    Sen Morimoto, “Sen Morimoto”
    Ohmme, “Fantasize Your Ghost”
    Kate Rusby, “Hand Me Down”
    Tokyo Incidents, 東京事変 “News” 『ニュース』
    Twin Peaks, “Side A”
    Various artists, “Save Stereogum: An ’00s Covers Comp”
    Wussy, “Ghosts”
    Zombie-Chang, “Take Me Away from Tokyo”

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    Re-Encountering John Lee Hooker

    Posted in Books,Music,Putting One Foot in Front of the Other by bourdaghs on the May 13th, 2020

    Last week, I enjoyed reading Robert Christgau’s belated review of Boogie Man: The Adventures of John Lee Hooker in the American Twentieth Century, Charles Shaar Murray’s 2002 biography of John Lee Hooker, the great Detroit blues musician. Christgau admits that he’s never been a huge fan of Hooker’s recordings, but Murray’s writings have opened his ears in a new way.

    No surprise, then, that Hooker has risen in my personal blues pantheon. Sure I still prefer early Skip James and Robert Palmer’s Elmore James best-of, among others. But on The Healer, just as a for instance, I can now hear how right it is that the star-stoked first half, most strikingly the Carlos Santana title song and Los Lobos’s big-bandish “Sally Mae,” wind down into a guitar-bass-drums “My Dream” that’s less sung than sweetly murmured and the solo “No Substitute” finale, which fades into a whisper on the repeated theme “There ain’t no substitute for love.” “No Substitute” is some kind of masterpiece. I can’t imagine anyone but John Lee Hooker getting away with it. And I also can’t imagine feeling it the way it deserves if Charles Shaar Murray hadn’t shown me the way.

    I haven’t read the Murray book yet, but Christgau has convinced me to put it on my to-read list. And it reminded me of the two times I got to see Hooker play.

    The first time was in 1980, I think, at the Union Bar, a venerable blues joint in Minneapolis. I was nineteen at the time and went with my friend Frank to see the “King of the Boogie” in person. We worked our way through the crowd up to the front of the stage, and I remember being blown away by Hooker’s solos. Atonal and punk-ish, they repeatedly seemed on the verge of veering off into chaos but then Hooker would play a lick that instantly pulled the whole string of notes together so that the whole thing made brilliant, completely unexpected sense. It was as if the rest of us were stuck in Euclidean geometry, and he was playing fractal equations. Hooker was sixty-three at the time, but his calloused and deeply grooved fingers looked like they were about a thousand years old.

    All through the show, two women who looked to be in their late twenties were standing right in front of Hooker, who played sitting in a chair. I noticed that one of the women kept reaching out and stroking Hooker’s shin as he played. He steadfastly ignored this for most of the set, until near the end of the evening. At that point, he looked straight at the woman with a grin on his face and announced, “The next song goes out to a young lady in the audience tonight. It’s called, ‘(If I Could Only Do Now) The Things That I Used to Do.”

    The second time was in the summer of 1986. He was playing at the Cabooze near the University of Minnesota campus. I went with my friend Tom. Again, Hooker provided an amazing lesson in how to make the blues sound completely original. Between sets, they announced that he would be available at the merchandise table to sign autographs. So Tom and I dutifully lined up: for a mere $5, you could get your own signed John Lee Hooker photograph.

    As we waited, though, I saw that the whole process was oddly mechanical. When your turn came, you approached Hooker, who took the 8×10 glossy from his manager and slowly printed his name below at the bottom with a thick magic marker. He barely made eye contact with the fans who had waited their turn.

    This wouldn’t do. So, when my turn finally came up, I lied through my teeth. “Great show,” I said. “You know, the last time I saw you play was two years ago, in Sendai, Japan.” Hooker’s show in Sendai happened in early 1984, before I got there for my year-abroad program that autumn, but I heard all about it from friends at the Peter Pan rock music coffee house. Hooker paused, looked up at me with a smile and asked how long I had stayed in Sendai. I told him I’d stayed there for a year and that I was looking for a way to get back–both of which were true. He asked if I had a girlfriend there, and I told him that I did. He smiled again and said something about how much he liked touring in Japan. He then took up the black marker and signed my photograph (that’s it above) and it was Tom’s turn to get his autograph.

    Honesty is usually the best policy, but not always.

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    A Light Bulb Goes On in my Mind

    Posted in Books,Music by bourdaghs on the June 16th, 2019

    I am reading Mark Fisher’s brilliant posthumous collection, K-Pop: The Collected and Unpublished Writings of Mark Fisher (2004-2016) (edited by Darren Ambrose, Repeater Books, 2018) and come across the following passage from his 2004 essay, “K-Punk, or the Glampunk Art Pop Discontinuum.” In the piece, Fisher is trying to define the position of glam rock (in particular, Bryan Ferry and Roxy Music) in a history of UK youth subcultures.

    Here’s the passage that caught me up (p. 279):

    After the Fifties, pop and art have always been reversible and reciprocally implicating in British culture in the way that they are not in America. […] British pop’s irreducible artificiality makes it resistant to the Romanticist naturalisation that the likes of Greil Marcus and Lester Bangs achieved in respect of American rock. There’s no way of grounding British art pop in a landscape.

    Not a natural landscape in any case. […] in the late-twentieth century the ‘space’ of the internal-psychological was completely penetrated by what [J.G.] Ballard calls the media landscape.

    When the British pop star sings, it is not ‘the land’ which speaks (and what does Marcus hear in the American rock he mythologises in Mystery Train if not the American land?) but the deterritority of American-originated consumer culture.

    Fisher is guilty of a bit of over-generalization here, of course, but he’s also onto something. And the light bulb goes on in my head:

    “We are the Village Green Preservation Society, God save Donald Duck, vaudeville, and variety” (“Village Green Preservation Society,” The Kinks, 1968)

    “We’ll surf, like they do in the U.S.A.” (“Australia,” The Kinks, 1969)

    “Cos I’m a Muswell Hillbilly boy/But my heart lies in old West Virginia/Never seen New Orleans, Oklahoma, Tennessee/Still I dream of the Black Hills that I ain’t never seen” (“Muswell Hillbilly,” The Kinks, 1971)

    “Everything around me seems unreal/Everywhere I go it looks and feels like America” (“Working Man’s Cafe,” Ray Davies, 2007).

    Of course, Ray Davies had this realization long before I did.

    Americana. It started as a flickering light sending black-and-white images through an old movie projector. Faces of cowboys and Indians, superheros, the good guys victorious over the emissaries of evil. Then as I grew the music took over. Rock, jazz, skiffle…the blues…and country songs came to liberate me, a north Londoner, growing in [sic] up in the austerity of postwar Britain. The music gave me hope and feeling that I could express myself in song through this new art form called rock and roll.

    (Ray Davies, Americana: The Kinks, the Road, the Story [Sterling, 2013], p. viii)

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    How to be an Ethical Music Fan in a Corrupt World

    Posted in Books,Change is Bad,Classical,J-Pop,Music,Putting One Foot in Front of the Other by bourdaghs on the March 26th, 2019

    1). How to buy music: Never, ever order your music from Amazon.com or its woeful kin. Obviously. Your local record shop, should you be so lucky as to still have one, needs your business. Another alternative is buying directly from the artist’s website. It’ll probably cost you a couple extra bucks, but that’s a low price to pay for retaining the rights to your soul. Online retailers have replaced record companies as the Satan of the music industry. Don’t feed Satan.

    2). How to listen to music: Here’s how you can pry something out of Satan. After you have bought the CD or vinyl or mp3 download, use a streaming service to listen to the tunes. If you don’t subscribe to a streaming service, try YouTube. They all pay shit royalties to artists and composers, but after you’ve already shelled out a fair price for your own copy, listening via a streaming service throws a few more pennies in the direction of the people who actually made the music.

    3). How to find new music: Read. Good music writing teaches you about your own limits and points out a way past them. Criticism is being squeezed as badly by capitalism as any other branch of today’s music world. If you are so lucky as to live in a place where the local press runs music criticism, read it. Then like it and share it on social media: publishers count up those beans. And buy and read books. Your local bookstore has shelves bursting with excellent writing on music. You could start with Jessica Hopper’s The First Collection of Criticism by a Living Female Rock Critic, Mark Fisher’s K-Punk, or Jim Walsh’s Bar Yarns and Manic-Depressive Mixtapes, to name three random examples sitting on my desk right now.

    Did I miss something? Let me know in the comments. We need all the ideas we can get.

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    What I Listened to in 2018

    Posted in Music,Putting One Foot in Front of the Other by bourdaghs on the December 27th, 2018

    It’s that time of year: I’m enjoying reading people’s top-albums-of-the-year lists. So, for what it’s worth, here are the twenty 2018 albums I listened to the most, in alphabetical order:

    Courtney Barnett, “Tell Me How You Really Feel”
    Cero,”Poly Life Multi Soul”
    Chai, “Pink”
    Shemekia Copeland, “America’s Child”
    Dave Davies,”Decade”
    Ray Davies, “Our Country: Americana Act 2”
    Dessa, “Chime”
    Betty LaVette, “Things Have Changed”
    Lykke Li, “So Sad So Sexy”
    Janelle Monae, “Dirty Computer”
    The Kinks, “Village Green Preservation Society” box set
    Chris Mars, “Note to Self”
    Kacey Musgraves, “Golden Hour”
    Noname, “Room 25”
    Ohmme, “Parts”
    Parliament, “Medicaid Fraud Dogg”
    Ike Reilly, “Crooked Love”
    Robyn, “Honey”
    Stew and The Negro Problem, “Notes of a Native Son”
    Walter Wolfman Washington, “My Future is My Past”

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    Hosono Haruomi: The Reluctant Frontman (11/15/2017 @ Nakano Sun Plaza)

    Posted in J-Pop,Music,Putting One Foot in Front of the Other by bourdaghs on the November 15th, 2017


    After opening sets by manzai duo Knights and the Suzuki-Suzuki brother-sister musical impersonator team, Hosono Haruomi took to the stage at sold-out Nakano Sun Plaza. The 70-year-old revealed a surprising new look: his head is now topped with an unruly shock of white hair. Backed by a talented young band that included the wonderful and seemingly omnipresent Takada Ren on a range of stringed instruments、Iga Wataru on bass, and the duo Good Luck Heiwa on keyboards and drums, Haruomi played a characteristically low-key but quite satisfying set. I’d seen him perform live before with YMO and also with Yano Akiko, but this was my first solo Hosono concert.

    Much of the material featured his recent bent toward cover versions of standard numbers, played in Western Swing style: “Ain’t Nobody Here But Us Chickens,” “Tutti Frutti” “L’Amour,” “Angel on My Shoulder,” “Suzi Q.” This is the style found on his solid new CD, Vu Ja De, as well as on its predecessor, HoSoNoVa (2011). Several times during the night, Hosono spoke of his love for boogie-woogie tunes–a predilection that especially came forward during the final part of the evening, when stride pianist Saito Keito took over on keyboards.

    There were also nods to the “soy sauce music” of Hosono’s early solo career, with songs like “Pom Pom Joki” from 1976’s Bon Voyage Co. and “Pekin Duck” from 1975’s Tropical Dandy. The evening closed with an all-hands-on-stage final encore of “Koi wa momoiro” from Hosono House, his 1973 solo debut album. Perhaps it was only to be expected that the set list included no nods toward any of Hosono’s great bands: Apryl Fool, Happy End, YMO, or H.I.S. He did, however, play a moving tribute to the recently deceased Endo Kenji, a cover of his friend’s “Nezumi Kore wa Taiheiyo Da.”

    Hosono has never liked being the front man: he feels more comfortable playing bass at the back of the stage than standing at the mike down front. He joked when his set began that he wished everyone in the audience would stop looking at him, and he seemed delighted when he left the stage for a couple of numbers midway through to give the backing band its turn in the spotlight. Then, when it came time to bring the main set to a close, he introduced the last number by saying, And this next song, thank god, is the last one. But he carries the unwelcome burden of fronting the band well: his easygoing humor and self-deprecation have their own unmistakable charisma. And his inimitable baritone voice (well, actually, imitable, as the Suzukis showed in their opening set) remains fully intact.

    Here’s a preview of Hosono’s just-released new CD, which is well worth your while:

    [Update on 11-22-2017]: Here’s a Japanese-language review of the concert, including video:
    Hosono Haruomi 11-2017 Nakano Sun Plaza concert review

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    Even a Tree Can Shed Tears: Japanese Folk & Rock 1969-1973

    Posted in J-Pop,Music by bourdaghs on the October 5th, 2017

    About a decade ago, when I was writing Sayonara Amerika, Sayonara Nippon: A Prehistory of J-Pop, I had the idea of trying to organize the release in the U.S. of a series of compilation CDs of a variety of Japanese popular music genres: city pop, folk-rock, etc. I even pursued informal conversations with a record label about doing this, and they showed a fair amount of interest. But then I thought about it seriously and realized that once I got to work on a project like that, it would take over my life for the next several years. As much as I liked the idea of having the CDs out there, I wasn’t all that eager to surrender control over my life. So it never happened.

    But now the good people at Light in the Attic Records have stepped up with a fine compilation CD, Even a Tree Can Shed Tears: Japanese Folk & Rock 1969-1973, which collects a nice cross section of the genre. They’ve done an excellent job of curating, combining well-known tracks (Happy End’s “Natsu nandesu,” Hachimitsu Pie’s “Hei no Ue de,” or Yoshida Takuro’s “Aoi Natsu”) with some quite obscure treasures (Yamahira Kazuhiko & The Sherman’s “Sotto Futari de,” for example). Kagawa Ryo passed away earlier this year; I wish he’d lived long enough to see his first official U.S. release: the brilliant 1971 song “Zeni no Koyoryoku ni tsuite,” with fierce backing from Happy End, is included. The compilation also introduces terrific recordings by Asakawa Maki, Kato Kazuhiko (as a solo artist), Kanenobu Sachiko, Hosono Haruomi, and The Dylan II, among others. The CD comes with excellent liner notes on each of the artists, plus English translations for the lyrics. If I have any complaint with this set, it’s that I wished they also included the original Japanese lyrics in the booklet, but that’s a minor detail.

    Even better: the label plans to bring out more reissues of Japanese popular music in the coming years. I’m so glad that somebody finally got around to doing this, that they did it so well–and that it didn’t have to be me.

    Track Listing
    1. Curry Rice (Endo Kenji)
    2. Sotto Futari De (Yamahira Kazuhiko & The Sherman)
    3. Anata Kara Toku E (Kanenobu Sachiko)
    4. Rokudenashi (Fluid)
    5. Arthur Hakase No Jinriki Hikouki (Kato Kazuhiko)
    6. Natsu Nandesu (Happy End)
    7. Man-in No Ki (Nishioka Takashi)
    8. Yoru Wo Kugurinukeru Made (Minami Masato)
    9. Konna Fu Ni Sugite Iku No Nara (Asakawa Maki)
    10. Mizu Tamari (Nunoya Fumio)
    11. Boku Wa Chotto (Hosono Haruomi)
    12. Aoi Natsu (Yoshida Takuro)
    13. Takeda No Komori Uta (Akai Tori)
    14. Marianne (Gu)
    15. Ware Ware Wa (Saito Tetsuo)
    16. Sugishi Hi Wo Mitsumete (Gypsy Blood)
    17. Hei No Ue De (Hachimitsu Pie)
    18. Zeni No Kouryouryoku Ni Tsuite (Kagawa Ryo)
    19. Otokorashiitte Wakaru Kai (I Shall Be Released) (The Dylan II)

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    Yet Another Unjustly Overlooked Song by The Kinks

    Posted in Music by bourdaghs on the July 25th, 2014

    Do yourself a favor and take three minutes to listen to this 1971 recording, an outtake from the Muswell Hillbillies sessions.. Make sure you read Ray Davies’ lyrics, too. The song has everything: (working) class consciousness, a critique of urban renewal, a deft melody and la-di-doo-da nonsense syllables, which here take on distinct semiotic content. You’re welcome.

    “Lavender Lane” (source)
    Written by: Raymond Douglas Davies
    Published by: Davray Music Ltd.

    Daisy and Teddy had two Cockney boys
    And two Cockney sisters and they all shared their toys
    With old Rosie Rooke and Peggy O’Day
    They all lived together down in Lavender Lane

    Lavender Lane, oh my Lavender Lane
    The people were poor and the people were plain
    They didn’t have much but they shared what they gained
    Contented to drift along Lavender Lane

    Oh Lord, such a pity that the world’s gotta change

    All of the houses were old and decayed
    The people were proud who lived in Lavender Lane
    Oh Lord, Lavender Lane
    Oh Lord, Lavender Lane

    Sometimes I wanna get back home and do the things we did before
    And break down the old school tie, and all the la-di-do-dahs

    The knobs and the toffs sent down two la-di-dahs
    To mix with the people and to drink in their bars
    They looked down their noses and they puffed their cigars
    Instead of ‘off’ they say ‘orf’, instead of ‘yeah’ they say ‘ya’

    And oh Lord
    And Ted and Daisy said, ‘what a shame’

    They’ll knock all the houses down for financial gain
    And send all the people to a new town estate
    Oh Lord, they gutted Lavender Lane
    Whoa-oh, they gutted Lavender Lane

    Sometimes I wanna get back home and do the things we did before
    And break down the old school tie, and all the la-di-do-dahs

    In the great London Council a decision was made
    By the bright civil servants and the people in grey
    They sent all their navvies with their buckets and spades
    To knock all the houses down in Lavender Lane

    But worst of all, they’ve taken all the people away
    Now only memories are all that remain
    Of all of the people down in Lavender Lane
    Oh Lord, they gutted Lavender Lane
    Whoa-oh, they gutted Lavender Lane
    Whoa-oh, they gutted Lavender Lane
    Whoa-oh, they gutted Lavender Lane

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