The Year In Music: Tracks Pt. 3

Moving right along. Here’s the third of five installments covering 50 standout tracks from 2014. Arranged in alphabetical order, this segment extends from British pop royalty Jessie Ware to Ought, aka just another Montreal band with a string section. Click the track names for music videos and follow the links at the bottom of the page for more aural/mind stimulation. Enjoy.

Jessie Ware | “Say You Love Me”

SAY_YOU_LOVE_MEJessie Ware plays every role a pop princess ought to. She’s impatient seductress one minute (“Cruel”) and heartbroken lover the next (“Tough Love”) and somehow finds the time to mine a ripe middle ground between the two (“Kind Of…Sometimes…Maybe”). But when it comes down to it, Ware’s true gift to the world is her ability to absolutely slay a ballad. The best and worst thing about ballads is how generic they can be and yet still leave you a puddle of gooey sentimentality. Ware’s full throated vocal leaves no doubt that she connects deeply to wanting to feel “burning flames” when the object of her attention calls her, a metaphor that has racked up impressive miles over the years. But, to be fair, don’t we all? On her uniformly excellent second album, Tough Love, “Say You Love Me” represents the finest union of her strengths as a vocalist and the intelligence of her highly skilled production team who strip the track to its barest essentials only to have it explode into ecstatic revelry. It stands to reason why this formula works so well for Ware. She excels at intimacy. “Say You Love Me” is meant for bedrooms, headphones, and, ultimately, private moments. It is comfort music from a singer who knows what it feels like to need it.

Joyce Manor | “Schley”

NEVER_HUNGOVER_AGAINThe art of the perfect pop punk song never ceases to captivate. Perhaps its in the fundamental clash between bright, sing-song hooks and violent waves of distortion or the juxtaposition of a bunch of rabble rousing delinquents sitting down to talk structure, harmony and texture. Whatever the case may be, Joyce Manor are purveyors of the finest contemporary pop punk. Critical darlings, perhaps having something to do with their brevity (their latest and longest album clocks in at a whopping nineteen minutes and one second), the band seemingly manages to do everything in half the time it takes everybody else. Take “Schley” for example: over the course of two minutes the band transitions from scuzz punk to jangly guitar pop, effortlessly evading traditional song structure yet still delivering the goods in terms of stuck-in-your-head-for-days melodies and howling sing along choruses. And then it’s over and you’ve got no choice but to just hit the repeat button from here to eternity.

The Juan MacLean | “A Place Called Space”

IN_A_DREAMFor a group generally approaching middle age, the crew at DFA sure do know how to make great exercise music. Of course, you could argue that clubbing is just group aerobics. The club gigs I saw LCD Soundsystem and The Rapture play at were some of the most physically demanding concert experiences I’ve ever had. I’ve never seen The Juan MacLean outside of their cameo during LCD’s final concert but if I ever do I’ll be sure to sport Pat Mahoney’s signature short shorts because this is jogging in place music of the highest order. The opening track from the band’s latest album, “A Place Called Space”, is an arena-sized epic. In the immortal words of Stefon, this song has everything: harmonized electric guitars, pitch-perfect chanting from scene-crush Nancy Whang, a false ending, and a bald man with a beard whose first name is Spanish and whose last name is Scottish. Putting this song on at a party is guaranteed to incite jumping jacks and exuberant joy. You’ve been warned.

Kendrick Lamar | “i”

ICompared to his contemporaries, Kendrick Lamar is in no hurry. The follow up to good kid m.A.A.d. city is long overdue by hip-hop standards. Lamar’s relative silence in 2014 was broken most notably by self-love anthem “i”, the lead single from his as-yet-untitled third studio album. With its unsinkable optimism and soulful bounce, “i” might not immediately register as a Kendrick joint. But listen closely and you’ll hear the recurrent use of biblical imagery (“walk my bare feet/down, down valley deep”), thematic redemption from sin (the metaphorical “city” as the Devil’s playground) and studied analysis of the struggles of black life that are as fundamental to Kendrick’s style as his varied flow and impassioned delivery. If good kid was an interrogation of Lamar’s own well-justified hangups, “i” represents the born-again clarity of passing through the dark night of the soul. And if this track is any indication, Compton’s own native son is set to spread the good word in a big way in 2015.

Lykke Li | “No Rest for the Wicked”

NO_REST_FOR_THE_WICKEDSweden’s Lykke Li makes the case for considering heartbreak not so much as an event or even series of events but rather a chronic condition. Li’s newest album, I Never Learn, and its unshakeable lead single both promote this sense of the inescapable. There’s a level of self-pity on “No Rest for the Wicked” that, in the hands of another, would be cloying and insincere. Though she claims otherwise (“there’s no song for the choir”), Li nevertheless offers a group singalong for the emotionally damaged. An enigma in the world of pop, Li’s albums have an organic, breathing feel. “No Rest for the Wicked” opens with a voice, presumably that of frequent collaborator Björn Yttling, gently counting off the track’s insistent tempo. The vocals are comprised of an early, raw demo and it’s hard to imagine them being any more perfect with added time or distance. Li moved to Los Angeles to record I Never Learn though the inscrutable intensity and personal commitment of her previous records seems to have only increased in the strange space of L.A. There is a tendency to regard a fixed position as coming from a place of stubborn unwillingness. In the case of Lykke Li, it seems more like a cave of infinite passageways, a place she has made her home and explores dutifully but one that is hard to ever imagine her leaving.

Mac Demarco | “Salad Days”

SALAD_DAYSYou may not guess it from his shit-eating grin but Mac Demarco is full of wisdom. He doles out plenty of it on Salad Days, his excellent album about self-confidence (“Goodbye Weekend”), relationships (“Let Her Go”, “Treat Her Better”) and following your dreams (“Brother”). The album’s title track sets this self-help/advice column precedence. In it, Mac laments the uncomfortable bind of being a young soul in a culture that favors meticulous calculation over flighty inspiration. A melancholy atmosphere hangs over all of Salad Days though Demarco is smart not to overindulge. This is hammock and lemonade music, after all. But there’s an emotional undercurrent here that cannot and should not be denied. “Oh mama,” Mac laments, “actin’ like my life’s already over.” Being able to offer yourself level-headed advice is an early sign of maturity. “Act your age and try another year,” Mac offers himself, acting as his own surrogate mother-figure. If the timeless irony about those who give advice needing plenty of it themselves stands true, then one could reason that Demarco’s inner life transcends his music’s breezy exteriors. If Demarco’s salad days are in fact behind him perhaps something richer and even more nourishing lies ahead.

The Men | “Pearly Gates”

TOMORROW'S_HITSThree years ago, The Men were one of the hardest bands around fitting in comfortably beside the sludgy industrial nightmare of Pop. 1280 and blood curdling noise of Pharmakon on Brooklyn’s Sacred Bones Records. It’s pretty hard to imagine that now. Three albums into their take on modern Americana, The Men are closer to psychedelic revivalists Woods than their thrashier labelmates. Tomorrow’s Hits finds the band settling into a kind of middle age, a sweet spot between the anxiety of youth and the disconnect of age. But whatever you do, don’t call it Dad Rock. The mid-album barnburner “Pearly Gates” tears out at a dead sprint and never lets up. A horror show honky tonk complete with grisly scenes of implied violence, it’s impossible to tell whether the mayhem of “Pearly Gates” is mental, physical, spiritual or all three. Adding dimension to their campfire balladeering, the ever-evolving band injects adrenaline straight into the heart of their newfound sound and the result is terrifyingly pleasurable.

The New Pornographers | “Born With a Sound”

BRILL_BRUISERSAnyone who tells you they know what any New Pornographers’ song is about is a liar. “Bleeding Heart Show” is one of my favorites of all time but I’ll be damned if I can figure out what a “golden handshake” is. The Pornographers themselves admit its hardly important, which leaves the listener free to enjoy their highly choreographed take on power pop. Part of what makes their music so distinctive is the quality and quantity of voices in the group and the sonic and emotional results produced by their various combinations. Their latest, Brill Bruisers, is front loaded with hits (in particular the tandem of “War on the East Coast” and “Backstairs”) but things get interpretive on the album’s back half. There is nothing singular about “Born With a Sound”: Brill Bruisers, like most New Pornographers albums, is so good from start to finish that picking one song to represent the bunch is a pretty arbitrary exercise. But the track does demonstrate some fundamental qualities of this continually maturing band. Like a good cheese, Dan Bejar has gotten even sharper with age and his permanently ruffled delivery pairs excellently with the confident warble of guest vocalist Amber Webber (Black Mountain, Lightning Dust). Like everything on Brill Bruisers, “Born With a Sound” bears regular repeating. At least until you can tell me who the Mistress of Tanqueray is.

The Notwist | “Kong”

CLOSE_TO_THE_GLASSThe Notwist sure do take their time. Their latest full length, Close to the Glass, is only their third since the turn of the millennium. After a prolific and genre-bending period in the 90s, The Notwist seem to have settled on being a glitchy, sonically immersive pop group. But Close to the Glass bears so many similarities to its predecessors that it becomes difficult not to compare it to the band’s mid-career masterpiece, Neon Golden, an album that articulated the state of longing in the early years of digital detachment. The Notwist found psychic brethren in The Books and Radiohead just before a whole wave of guitar-driven rock came crashing down on the unsuspecting aughts. As the decade rolled on, Radiohead transformed effortlessly, seemingly above any musical trends despite fitting in nicely with then-current tastes, The Books eventually folded, and The Notwist persisted, albeit only intermittently. More than a decade later, The Notwist offer up “Kong” as proof of their resilience to trends. Stripped of its buoyancy, the track still effectively represents the band: Markus Acher’s unemotional delivery, the emphasis on craft, synth detours. “Kong” isn’t as subtle as, say, “Pilot“, a song that had more in common with late-period Smashing Pumpkins than with the 2000’s infatuation with new wave, but it is another attempt at redefining a band that has refused to stay put for more than a few albums at a time over the course of their 20+ year career.

Ought | “Today More Than Any Other Day”

MORE_THAN_ANY_OTHER_DAYTim Beeler of Montreal’s Ought is a man of many voices. At any given point on the band’s debut, More Than Any Other Day, he’s a dead ringer for any number of indie royalty: Isaac Brock (“Habit”), Alec Ounsworth (“Forgiveness”), Iggy Pop (“The Weather Song”) and David Byrne all get nods. Byrne is a touchstone in more ways than just timbre. Beeler and his fellow bandmates write songs in a particular urban fashion that the former Talking Heads singer would undoubtedly approve of. The “art” in Ought’s art punk can be found in the compositional nature of their songs. “Today More Than Any Other Day” meanders snakily, in no rush to locate the manic Beeler. Of course, when it eventually does, he grabs the song by the wrist dragging it headlong into a hysterical Powerpoint presentation on his equally sardonic and sincere ambitions for living a fuller life, including but not limited to: grocery shopping, milk (2%, whole, human kindness), and random acts of spiritual generosity. The track is less like the ecstasy of, well, ecstasy and more like the kind of illuminating moments that emerge after periods of degradation. It is liberating, at once incredible and incredibly mundane. Which makes sense. After all, as Beeler would point out, we’re all the fucking same, y’know?

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The Year In Music: Tracks Pt. 2

Welcome back! This right here is the second of five installments covering 50 standout tracks from 2014. Arranged in alphabetical order, this segment extends from Eagulls (no not those Eagles…) to Danish princes of punk Iceage. Click the track names for music videos and follow the link(s) at the bottom of the page for more aural/mind pleasure. Enjoy.

Eagulls | “Tough Luck”

TOUGH_LUCKThe year wouldn’t be complete without a story about some fresh young band armed with a couple of hot-blooded rock songs getting caught up in a scandal over some minorly embarrassing word vomit as they fast forwarded into indie music stardom. Of course, with a name based on a homophonic variation on a baby boomer rock icon, what could you expect? Eagulls deliver a refreshing blast of hooky punk with “Tough Luck”, a standout from their self-titled debut. What’s perhaps most respectable about Eagulls is how disinterested they are in playing the role of “band on the rise.” As compared to their eager contemporaries in Palma Violets, Eagulls seem content to rail against their hand selected targets with or without the attention of the international music press. “Tough Luck” contains plenty of arena-rock ethos though you can just as easily picture the band pounding it out inches above a sweaty basement moshpit. For all their unwillingness to pander, “Tough Luck” still comes on like a legend and it’s hard not to feel excited about this band’s potential. Here’s hoping they can keep their angst aimed outward and not disintegrate under the strain of the world stage.

Ex Hex | “Hot and Cold”

HOT_AND_COLDThe iconography of rock’n’roll is decidedly masculine. Think: Bruce’s butt or what made those fingers so sticky. On every page in the history of rock there are boys thrusting and humping, inducing hysteria with every bump and grind. For history’s favorite sons, clothing is optional, wild behavior is celebrated and no price is too high for the magic of music. For girls the story couldn’t be any different. Shamed and discouraged, the women of rock’n’roll (and music in general, for that matter) have never had the same permissions as their male counterparts. Last year there seemed to be a renaissance afoot. It was the year of Savages, Lorde, Perfect Pussy, Priests, Courtney Barnett and Beyonce, along with many many others. Yet, at the time it felt like there was a hesitation to celebrate. To call 2013 “The Year of Women” would have underlined the fact that women have historically been a minority in rock’n’roll, despite having played key roles in its various high water marks. And yet to deny the achievement seemed as unacceptable then as it does now. A year later, you can enjoy the infectious self-titled debut from Ex Hex, an all-women power trio fronted by Mary Timony (Wild Flag, Helium), without acknowledging the context in which it arrives. You can enjoy its sugary sweet kiss offs without recognizing that their debut is probably the best pure rock’n’roll record of the year. You can enjoy its confident craft without considering that it has invigorated a genre that many have been treating like a wounded animal since the guitar-driven glory days of the aughts. Yes, you could do all of those things but Ex Hex are just so good they’re liable to leave you wishing all your favorite bands would let go of their cocks and rock out like girls.

Flying Lotus | “Never Catch Me” ft. Kendrick Lamar

NEVER_CATCH_MEAnyone who’s wanted to share their enthusiasm for Flying Lotus but hasn’t wanted to burden unsuspecting listeners with the thousand-ideas-a-second aesthetic of FlyLo’s albums has been largely out of luck. Despite its quality, “Never Catch Me” works as an entry point to You’re Dead largely because it is the only track that can be gently pulled from its place without tearing the delicate, insanely intricate web that holds all of mastermind Steven Ellison’s work together. If Flying Lotus’ albums are mountain marathons (and I mean this in the best way possible) than “Never Catch Me” represents a moment to catch your breath. Of course, it’s all relative. Kendrick Lamar use the opportunity to demonstrate, via his rapid fire delivery over Ellison’s ludicrous BPMs,  that he is, above all, the most versatile high profile MC alive. Following the thematic arc of “i”, “Never Catch Me” finds Lamar between death and life. It’s a fitting space for him as he navigates his passage from urban poverty to super stardom. And he has found an ideal spirit guide in Flying Lotus who has always been above and beyond total comprehension. Together the two elevate each other’s powers and in doing so form a kind of mystical force with the power to stop time altogether.

The Fresh & Onlys | “Animal of One”

ANIMAL_OF_ONEAs a signifier, “San Francisco” has, in recent years, come to stand for a rather specific breed of psychedelic garage rock. At first glance artists and groups like Ty Segall, Mikal Cronin, John Dwyer/Thee Oh Sees/Castle Face Records seem to be mining a singular vision of Golden Era rock’n’roll. At the fringes of this vision there’s plenty of experimentation though it requires seeing past the Nuggets-biting guitar tones, major chord progressions and wailing blues riffs to recognize it. In these abundant times, The Fresh & Onlys saw fit to release House of Spirits, a record that was no less enjoyable for its eclectic tastes and came to feel like a welcome reprieve from the overdrive onslaught. That isn’t to say this record doesn’t kick ass. The rollicking “Animal of One” aptly demonstrates the band’s ability to write dynamic, captivating songs that use their enigmatic underpinnings to win your attention. “The point of forgiving is so you forget that being forgiven is all in your mind,” singer Tim Cohen intones wearily, the circuitous nature of his logic clearly getting the better of even his best intentions. But “Animal of One” offers redemption in the form of its weightless chorus. Cohen’s cooing blends with a snaky guitar, each climbing toward a state of sheer bliss. Though they may not exert their muscle quite as plainly as their peers, The Fresh & Onlys offer a transportative, “free your mind” take on garage rock that is San Francisco to its core.

Future Islands | “Fall From Grace”

SINGLES“Another synth pop band. Great.” is a sentence that can be read one of a few different ways depending on your tastes. Being a part of something popular is a double edged sword. You may want to be invited to the party but what happens when the party follows you around wherever you go? Some people are liable to think you’re a nuisance. Future Islands certainly benefited from synth pop’s surge in popularity during the last few years and while they may have elements in common with their peers (a predilection for romance, an ear for melody, a heartbeat-like bpm range), it’s their maturity and willingness to make gutsy but earnest diversions into less popular musical territory that set them apart. Samuel T. Herring’s vocals edge toward the darkly melodramatic more than once before he and his band arrive at “Fall From Grace” but there is no better place to appreciate the true dexterity of Future Islands. Lyrically residing in some dusty gothic hallway, the track smolders hauntingly before Herring unleashes a full throated wail. It’s a shocking turn, as unexpected as it is satisfying. After riding the crest of stardom elegantly this year (performing on The Late Show with David Letterman, opening for St. Vincent, landing a spot at Pitchfork Festival’s Paris extension), it is reassuring to know that the momentum that drove the band to their current success was not derived from the need to anticipate a perceived audience. The sincerity of synthpop can sometimes get overshadowed by its trendiness but there are deep layers of substance to Singles that are manifested in both subtle and bold ways. Future Islands are pioneers of nonconformity, addressing, by their very nature, the joys of abandon and the pleasures of personal truth.

Hamilton Leithauser | “Alexandra”

BLACK_HOURSThe Walkmen crooner stepped out on his own this year and the results were mixed in every sense of the word. Black Hours roams airily over the landscape of early pop (50s rock’n’roll, blues, easy listening) with surprising listlessness. Lead single “Alexandra”, a nugget of pure AM radio gold, proved sadly deceptive in this regard: little else on the album gets anywhere near its ecstatic buoyancy. Leithauser finds an unlikely muse in Vampire Weekend’s Rostam Batmanglij who lends “Alexandra” a hefty dose of charm and musical wit. Yet ultimately it’s Leithauser’s gifts as a songwriter, his crafty choruses and inimitable voice, that make “Alexandra” one of the most replayable songs of the year. If only he had employed the same level of genuine inspiration on the rest of his album, Black Hours may have emerged as a classic instead of a relic.

Hiss Golden Messenger | “Mahogany Dread”

LATENESS_OF_DANCERSThere are few things that have made me happier over the years than seeing success come to MC Taylor and the rest of Hiss Golden Messenger. The first album on their hometown’s most famous label, Lateness of Dancers builds on HGM’s increasingly excellent discography. The band’s intimacy and communion with the spirit of Southern music is only enhanced by the added production values of Lateness and “Mahogany Dread” easily fits in among their best songs. A beautiful accompanying music video reveals what any dedicated HGM listener already knew: family is everything for Taylor though things are never easy. Looking over Taylor’s lyrics since Poor Moon you can identify an increasing sense of solace in the struggle. “The mystery of love is a funny thing,” he muses, “the more it hurts the more you think you can stand a little pain.” Rich and mature, tinged with melancholy yet unsentimentally uplifting, “Mahogany Dread” is absolutely one of the best love songs of the year.

Hospitality | “Rockets and Jets”

TROUBLEAfter their promising twee beginnings, Hospitality took a beguiling turn on their aesthetically divergent second album, Trouble. Flitting from 60s folk to synth-infused prog, Trouble is certainly not without its pleasures. Among them is the longing-laced “Rockets and Jets”, a satisfying mix of what is now old hat for the band and their newer, sharper threads. The band is a shrewd packager of musical detours, often taking you places you might not expect from their outwardly sunny pop songs. “Rockets and Jets” momentarily disappears down a harmonic rabbit hole before emerging once again at the surface, changed in some invisible way. Many of the band’s assets have become more prominent: Amber Papini’s voice has increased its versatility, Brian Betancourt’s bass lines remain as memorable as ever and the songs on Trouble are undeniably ambitious even if they are not always cohesive with one another. The evidence suggests that while Hospitality may not always be consistent they will continue to surprise, which is, in many ways, a more hopeful prospect.

How to Dress Well | “What You Wanted”

WHAT_IS_THIS_HEARTAfter being saddled with the worst subgenre of the still-young decade, How to Dress Well’s Tom Krell has admirably overcome the cultural implications of PBR&B. Like his sonic peers (Drake, Frank Ocean, Autre Ne Veut), Krell works by layering passion and vulnerability, telling intricate and complex romantic tales. While How to Dress Well tends to fall on the ambient side, there is plenty on “What Is This Heart?” that bumps though the various build ups can sometimes be more than the casual listener may be ready for. “What You Wanted” is a perfect example: the track really kicks in only after 2 minutes of bubbly, sparse soul which outlines the eventual figure of the full bodied groove. The wait is worth it for Krell’s dissection of the unrelenting mystery of attraction and the bottomless pit of loneliness. Krell operates in a space within and outside of himself, able to see the faults in his character but seemingly unable to do anything about them. “I know it’s lame, it’s basic, childish, self-obsessed,” he rattles off, “but when I love it, I love it.” Wrapped in a haze that can sometimes feel impenetrable, How to Dress Well offers moments of ecstatic revelation, musically and lyrically.

Iceage | “Forever”

PLOWING_INTO_THE_FIELD_OF_LOVEIf one band truly represented the immortal spirit of “punk” this year it was Iceage. Their latest album, the simply staggering Plowing Into the Fields of Love, finds these Danish lads raping and pillaging their way through the annals of music history to often jaw dropping results. The band wildly mixes tradition with bold experimentation, keeping their own ideas so fresh and raw that many of these tracks feel ready to fall apart from exhaustion by the time they conclude. This is what historians may refer to as “genuine genius” and you’ll find little argument from anyone who’s watched these boys grow up. Take “Forever”: after a breathtaking bridge that finds Elias Bender Rønnenfelt intoning “Dive into the other like it was the ocean/caressed by its waters, I lose myself forever,” the song is ripped in two by a trumpet screaming across a choppy sea of strings and jangly guitars while thunderous drums and bass battle for rhythmic supremacy. It is one of many surprising, provocative and generally disarming moments scattered across the album. Iceage have been great since their inception. Now they have become masters of their craft, fearless pioneers of truth and terror.

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The Year In Music: Tracks Pt. 1

Welcome to the second annual Year in Music review courtesy of What Cannon. We’re so glad you could join us. Herein lies the first of five installments covering 50 standout tracks from 2014. Arranged in alphabetical order, this segment extends from the electrically charged Angel Olsen to Dum Dum Girls’ revamped ass-kickery. Click the track names for music videos & stay tuned for Parts 2 through 5. Enjoy.

Angel Olsen | “Windows”

BURN_YOUR_FIRE_FOR_NO_WITNESSIt’s pretty much a foregone conclusion that when you begin your album with a song as colorfully titled as “Unfucktheworld” that devastation lies in wait. Angel Olsen’s Burn Your Fire For No Witness unfurls the tight coils of Half Way Home, swapping her trademark fingerpicked acoustic guitar for a dynamic electric. The change is a revelation as tracks like the sludgy “Forgiven/Forgotten” land with insistence that would have been out of place on her intensely private previous releases. Burn Your Fire finds Olsen willfully stepping out from behind her own mystique. “What’s so wrong with the light?” she sighs on album closer “Windows” and you get the sense she is asking the question of herself. Introspective to a fault, often painfully aloof in performance, Olsen is light years away from being a heart-on-sleeve lyricist and her work is still hedged in on all sides by darkness. But it takes gall to throw one’s shadow down and step into the light as she’s done here. By all accounts, Burn Your Fire For No Witness is not only a musical triumph but a personal one as well.

Aphex Twin | “Minipops 67 (Source Field Mix)”

MINIPOPS_67Even if you don’t care for his idiosyncratic approach to electronic music, it was hard not to get caught up in the hype surrounding Aphex Twin’s return. His first formal release in 13 years, Syro expands on Richard D. James’ signature blend of squelchy noise and harmonically complex pop. The album’s dense 65 minutes can feel daunting at times and James makes a number of decisions shrewdly calculated to challenge listeners (putting an 11 minute odyssey in the slot generally reserved for a lead single, for instance). Yet Syro never comes off as misanthropic. Rather, the album is joyfully coy, clever without being grating and infectiously fun as on the bubbly album opener “Minipops 67 (Source Field Mix)”. Long delayed releases can often come with the burden of expectation but Syro effortlessly picks up where the Aphex Twin moniker officially left off. James generously brings us right back into the fold like a long lost friend who, after returning from a timeless voyage, is only concerned with whether there’s any decent beer in the fridge.

Black Lips | “Smiling”

UNDERNEATH_THE_RAINBOWThe eternally adolescent Black Lips returned this year with another delicious slice of flower punk. It’s fair to say that by 2014 the band has reached a critical point in their popularity. It’s hard to imagine anyone picking up Underneath the Rainbow who isn’t already in love with the band’s delightfully skewed approach to garage rock. A few added bells and whistles aside, each new record fits snugly in with the rest lending Black Lips something resembling a timeless image of perpetual delinquency. Following in the thematic footsteps of “Bad Kids”, “Smiling” is a loving ode to good ol’ fashioned trouble making. As always, there’s a smart ass undercurrent. In this case a fantasy of imprisonment that turns immediately to regret. But most importantly, like so many great garage rock songs before it, “Smiling” can be enjoyed equally from the comfort of a broken-in couch or the center of a beer soaked mosh pit.

Caribou | “Can’t Do Without You”

CAN'T_DO_WITHOUT_YOUDan Snaith has been on a dance music kick this decade. Beginning with 2010’s Swim and its loping, analog grooves, moving onward to his Daphni side project and finally returning this year with his most mature, restrained and intoxicating record yet, Our Love. These are words that really mean something when applied to Snaith who’s been using his Caribou moniker to follow some of his more complex impulses as a constructor of songs. Less of a dance record than its predecessor, Our Love nevertheless kicks things off boldly with “Can’t Do Without You”. The track begins with a looped sample and a click track, slowly adding textural and harmonic elements before building to a heavenly catharsis of synths and disco rhythms. “Can’t Do Without You” is replete with Snaithian touches both new and old: airy falsetto, romanticism, the sense of watching something bloom. Taking on the notion that consistency is synonymous with conformity, Caribou has traced a diverse musical arc. Dropping in at any particular point you get the sense of an artist operating at an apex of their talents yet having only just begun to scratch the surface of all they’re capable of. In this regard, Caribou will continue to clock musical miles long after many artists have petered out.

Cloud Nothings | “I’m Not Part Of Me”

I'M_NOT_PART_OF_MEConsidering frontman Dylan Baldi’s paralyzing lyrical honesty, it wouldn’t be out of place to characterize any Cloud Nothings album as self-conscious. Yet, after the enormous success of Attack on Memory two years ago, the follow-up, Here and Nowhere Else, feels deliberately difficult, a direct challenge to anyone attracted to the band’s perceived accessibility. Cloud Nothings are hardly the first band in history to retaliate against their own success. Here and Nowhere Else is far and away the band’s most musically dense album to date, a 30 minute blast of filthy bass, wild drums and grungy guitars. While there is plenty to be impressed with on a theoretical level, there is little for the ears to grab on to. “I’m Not Part of Me” reaches for the heights of “Wasted Days”, an impressive feat in its own right, and makes a good case for the band’s foremost strength: their thunderous live sound. Still, it marks the only entry point for anyone who bought this album expecting the pop-inclined hardcore of their previous releases. Change is good, inevitable even, and ought to be celebrated but comes at a cost for those who become attached to a particular phase of a band’s evolution.

Chromeo | “Come Alive” ft. Toro y Moi

COME_ALIVERemember last year when the indie music elite and Top 40 enthusiasts alike were united in their shared passion for Lorde, Daft Punk, and Beyonce, each side feeling they could claim those artists as their own? Well that was last year. While 2014 proved to be a good a year for the Ariana Grandes and Charli XCXs of the world, there wasn’t necessarily a lot of crossover potential. During this dearth of worthwhile commercial music, Canadian pop savants Chromeo eagerly stepped in to fill the void. The duo’s latest album, White Women, is noteworthy not only for its ability to pull off that title but for the tight funk underlying its globe-trotting, game-talking dancefloor pop. As songwriters, Chromeo can be counted on for their strong collaborative instincts. In addition to appearances from Ezra Koenig and Solange, Chaz Bundick’s Toro y Moi offers a sobering contrast to Chromeo’s id-in-overdrive party anthem “Come Alive”. “You’re working double just to have a life,” Bundick claims prophetically, “I like to think that it’s just a phase.” Chromeo weave Bundick’s strengths into the fabric of “Come Alive” so as to avoid a situation where the featured artist usurps the guys doing the heavy lifting (ever heard anyone attribute “Get Lucky” to Pharrell?). Pop music constantly runs the risk of being inconsequential and Chromeo avoids becoming empty-calorie radio filler by making choices that are simultaneously clever audience bait and genuine reflections of their talents as musicians.

Cymbals Eat Guitars | “Jackson”

JACKSONI have a theory that geography suggests the shape and character of one’s emotional life. This idea can be applied finely and broadly. For instance, there is something pure and unadulterated about EMA’s Past Life Martyred Saints that evokes the crippling spaciousness of South Dakota. Then there’s the desperate ennui of all those California hardcore bands in the 80s rebelling against Ronald Reagan, their parents, corporate culture and pretty much everything else. Somewhere in between there’s Cymbals Eat Guitars. The Jersey band captures a great deal of that captivating American wasteland, a region as famous for inspiring The Sopranos as it is for birthing Jon Bon Jovi. As compared to their more boorish urban counterparts (Titus Andronicus, Screaming Females) and their urbane suburban peers (Real Estate), Cymbals Eat Guitars hail from downstate, closer in proximity to Springsteen’s lovelorn Atlantic City and the City of Brotherly Love than to NYC or, God forbid, Hoboken. Album opener “Jackson,” finds frontman Joseph D’Argentino on his way toward a different American landmark: Six Flags. The physical sensations of the amusement park mirror the emotional ones mapped across LOSE’s stellar 45 minutes. There’s a sense of fatalism in “Jackson”, an ominous precursor for the tough life lessons found throughout the album. “There’s nothing to do when it’s a foregone conclusion, a pool overflowing,” D’Argentino hollers before launching into a straight up jaw-dropping classic rock guitar solo. While so many bands invert and suspend the characteristics of rock’n’roll, often to captivating ends, Cymbals Eat Guitars continue in the the well-defined Jersey legacy of mixing tradition with experimentation, knowing when to kick out the jams and when to freak the fuck out.

D’Angelo and the Vanguard | “Charade”

BLACK_MESSIAHOf all the artists you might have expected to release deeply personal and highly reflective work in reaction to the tragic second half of 2014, D’Angelo was probably not one of them. It’s true: believers everywhere had been preaching his return for over a decade, pointing toward snippets of leaked tracks and insider rumblings as proof of his resurrection. Reading about the journey D’Angelo went on from the height of his stardom in 2001 to the release of Black Messiah at the end of this past year, you begin to realize that it’s an honest-to-God miracle that the album ever saw the light of day. And not for the reasons that typify legendarily delayed albums: the one person holding back the album’s release was the same one that brought it all into existence. “Perfectionist” doesn’t do D’Angelo justice: it is at once too soft and too stern. The album is easily the most complex record to crack the Billboard 200 this year and a track like “Charade” captures the progressive approach to songwriting achievable only with this level of craft. But Kid A this ain’t. Black Messiah bleeds soul and oozes passion out of its sultry analog pores. “All we wanted was a chance to talk/’stead we’ve only got outlined in chalk” is a PR-ready lyric if there ever was one and “Charade” perhaps best represents D’Angelo’s mission with Black Messiah: to truly communicate the struggle. Not just talk about it but cut through the clatter and give people something they can hear in their hearts. In this sense D’Angelo is a perfectionist in the same way Terrence Malick is: rigorously human, profoundly expressive and patient to a fault.

Damon Albarn | “Mr. Tembo”

MR_TEMBOThe respective excesses of Blur and Gorillaz, innumerable side projects and left-field theatrical experiments have kept Damon Albarn busy for the first 20 years of his career. This year things slowed down enough for him to squeeze in the recording of Everyday Robots, his first album under his own name. This move is especially significant for Albarn whose work with Jamie Hewlett on the first Gorillaz album pioneered the act of image creation and maintenance for musicians in the formative years of the Internet age. By comparison to the rest of his discography, Everyday Robots is an informal affair though orchestrated with subtle craftsmanship. “Mr. Tembo” begins with little more than a rollicking ukulele accompanying Albarn’s unmistakable tenor though it eventually expands into a full blown spiritual in honor of a tiny Tanzanian elephant. In many way the song serves as an excellent metaphor for Everyday Robots: deceptively simple, highly personal and, above all, delightfully relatable.

Dum Dum Girls | “Lost Boys and Girls Club”

TOO_TRUEDum Dum Girls have a long history of covering frontwoman Dee Dee Penny’s melancholy lyricism with gallons of sun soaked riffs. That sheen started to wear away a few years ago with the still-devastating “Coming Down”, a song that marked a turning point in the band’s sound and image. After a relatively quiet two years (a lifetime for such a prolific band), Dum Dum Girls reemerged like the quiet, bookish girl who shows up to the first day of high school sporting leather pants and blood red lipstick. The band’s third full length, Too True, doesn’t go completely goth but it definitely mines a specific musical time period for the proper mix of delicate synths, hollow drums and spidery guitars.  “Lost Boys and Girls Club” is a slow burner anthem dedicated to standing still. If that seems at odds with Dum Dum Girls discography take it as a good sign even if the song itself is tinged with uncertainty. Dee Dee has fought her way out of an emotional tailspin and “Lost Boys and Girls Club” arrives triumphantly. It is an undersold narrative: an artist not defined by her suffering but by the act of overcoming it. Too True is as rewarding musically as it is personally for anyone who’s spent the last few years cheering for the beleaguered Dee Dee and her rough and ready cohorts.

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The Year In Music: Superlatives

In lieu of a traditional Top Albums of the Year list, Superlatives celebrates 2013’s many musical accomplishments with equally meaningless awards. Enjoy and don’t forget to check out What Cannon’s 50 Tracks of 2013. Links below. Thanks for participating in this little experiment. 

KANYE_WEST

Album of the Year (For The Haters)
Kanye West – Yeezus

You Read A Compelling Think Piece About…
Savages

Ambitious, Experimental Albums That Are Sometimes Indulgent and Sometimes Really Fun
The Knife – Shaking the Habitual
Justin Timberlake – The 20/20 Experience

Ambitious, Experimental Albums From Bands I Really Loved in High School…
…or What’s A Boy To Do When There’s No More LCD Soundsystem
Arcade Fire – Reflektor
Daft Punk – Random Access Memories

Play “Catch That Reference”
Action Bronson & Party Suppies – Blue Chips 2
Chance the Rapper – Acid Rap

ACTION_BRONSON

A Bromantic Excursion
Run The Jewels – Run The Jewels

P.O.P. (Pursuit of Perfection)
Vampire Weekend – Modern Vampires of the City
Chvrches – The Bones Of What You Believe

Most Well Deserved Overstatement
Drake – Nothing Was The Same

Three Jewish Sisters Who All Sound like Stevie Nicks Christine McVie…
…or Dreams Really Do Come True
Haim – Days Are Gone

HAIM_FLEETWOOD_MAC

All The Breath You Wasted on Miley Cyrus Could Have Been Spent Talking About…
Lorde – Pure Heroine

Really Excellent Folk Rock Albums With Really Long Titles
Foxygen – We Are The 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic
Neko Case – The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You

Best Deadpan Delivery
Courtney Barnett – The Double EP: A Sea of Split Peas

The State of the Post-Punk Revival
Arctic Monkeys – AM
Franz Ferdinand – Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Actions

Where Were You In ’92?
Speedy Ortiz – Major Arcana

Best McLusky Reference
Anti Parent Cowboy Killers” – Joanna Gruesome (from Weird Sister)

JOANNA_NEWSOM

Is That You, Jai Paul?
Jai Paul – Jai Paul

The Crutchfields
Swearin’ – Surfing Strange
Waxahatchee – Cerulean Salt

The #1 Best Redundant Album Title of the Year Award
Pusha T – My Name Is My Name

A Snot Rocket Straight to the Heart
The So So Glos – Blowout

If Metaphors Were Dollars You’d Be Rich But Still Sad
Los Campesinos! – No Blues

Worst Album Art/Best Use of Gospel Choir
Yeah Yeah Yeahs – Mosquito

KURT_VILE

Sleepy, Sad or Just Stoned
Kurt Vile – Wakin on a Pretty Daze
Ty Segall – Sleeper

Successfully Completed Musical Grand Slam
Deerhunter

Least Google-able Band Name
Perfect Pussy

Millennial’s Anthem
Stoned and Starving” – Parquet Courts (from Light Up Gold)

RHYE

The Hopeless Romantic’s Breakup Record
Rhye – Woman

The One You Love
Eleanor Friedberger

The One Who Loves You
Torres

For My Memories of the South…
Hiss Golden Messenger – Haw

…And My Dreams of the West
Mikal Cronin – MCII

Brits Do It Better
Palma Violets – 180

SACRED_BONES

Top 3 Sacred Bones Releases
Var – No One Dances Quite Like My Brothers
Milk Music – Cruise Your Illusion
The Men – New Moon

Oldies
Creedence Clearwater Revival – Cosmo’s Factory

Late to the Party
Angel Olsen – Half Way Home
Waxahatchee – American Weekend
Miguel – Kaleidoscope Dream
Mac Demarco – 2
Andrew Bird – Break It Yourself
Matthew E. White – Big Inner

Don’t forget: every time you buy a record an angel gets its wings. If you like something you hear, buy it. Support independent artists.

What Cannon’s 50 Tracks of 2013…

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The Year In Music: Tracks Pt. 5

The final installment of the 50 standout tracks from 2013. Arranged in alphabetical order, this segment extends from hip-hop bromance Run The Jewels to perennial weirdos Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Click the track names for music videos. And be sure to read Parts 1-4 as well. Enjoy.

Run The Jewels | “Banana Clipper” (ft. Big Boi)

RUN_THE_JEWELSI don’t want to jinx it but I think this past year saw the return of real rap. I mean there were always a couple of dudes here and there going rogue but these days rap seems to suffer from a seemingly endless splinter of divides most of which aren’t terribly interesting or fruitful. 2013 will undoubtedly be remembered as the year of Kendrick Lamar’s “Control” verse but what he pointed toward in that track was little more than common knowledge to rap veterans Killer Mike and El-P who make up Run The Jewels. If contemporary hip-hop is like an old folks home with a handful of the game’s foremost seniors overseeing an ever growing multitude of untamed grandchildren, Mike and Jaime are the sensible, fruitful adults ready to give the kids a whooping and bawl out grandma and grandpa for spoiling them. Furthermore, as an autonomous couple they seem quite content to spend their days “going for the throat.” And they do just that on “Banana Clipper,” one of ten airtight jams from the duo’s stunning self-titled debut. El-P’s dense rhymes are offset by Killer Mike’s decadent cadence while Big Boi lends the track his unmistakable braggadocio. The beat here is just as aggressive as the three MCs featured on it. It’ll make you feel the noose around your neck or the  grip pliers on your teeth. Listening to Run The Jewels is literally the only time I’m glad I’m not a rapper.

Savages | “Shut Up”

SILENCE_YOURSELFPoint: Savages are an aggressive band. Evidence: the austerity of their black and white album cover, the reports that cellphones have been banned from use at their concerts, the fact that their debut is called Silence Yourself, the lead track from said album is called “Shut Up.” Yes, all signs point to a band that may be more about the message than the music. Yet, the minute that distorted bass line pushes away that eerie sample from Cassavette’s Opening Night (1977), all doubts regarding the quality of the content should be put to bed. In their music, Savages present a very convincing analogy to the current state of media saturation. It’s a topic that gets trotted by everyone from full-scale luddites to parents who are frustrated with their children’s addiction to the iPhones they got them for Christmas. Savages are not against distortion or communication, their songs are wordy and loud enough to prove that. They simply believe that it needs to be focused. It’s better to do one thing well than ten things poorly. Savages do several things very well and singer Jehnny Beth is clever enough to suggest that if the world just “shut up” for a little while that we might hear “the distant rhythm of an angry young tune.” Whether it’s clever self-aggrandizing or philosophical grandstanding, Savages got the world’s attention this year.

The So So Glos | “Son of an American”

BLOWOUTEach year, in my quest to balance my personal stake in my own tastes while constantly gauging and measuring my expectations, I’ve become more successful at openly embracing disappointment as well as surprise. So I delight in finding the kinds of records that I may have passed by or incidentally missed in years past. Blowout from Brookyln-based The So So Glos is just one of those records. I knew I was going to love this record from the second I pressed play. “Son of an American” opens with a tape-recorded snippet of a young Alex Levine relaying the news of Kurt Cobain’s passing. There’s an excitement in his voice that defies Cobain’s traditional tragic narrative. That excitement translates directly into the song’s gleeful punk rock energy. The band sounds like they could light your couch on fire and make you feel like they’d done you a favor. Several shades lighter than former tour mates Titus Andronicus, The So So Glos remind me more of middle school days spent listening to “Maxwell Murder” on repeat and playing in scrappy, short lived cover bands. There’s a joy to this music even as it mocks itself. “I wanna root for the losing team!” Levine hollers before launching into a chorus that feels like the 21st century’s answer to “Fortunate Son.” The So So Glos may sound like they just stumbled upon one of the best songs of the year but that assumption belies the expert songcraft that the band has in spades. Funny without being self-deprecating and smart without being cynical, The So So Glos rambunctious rock n’ roll will knock the wind out of you. In a good way, duh.

Speedy Ortiz | “No Below”

MAJOR_ARCANA

I categorize music a lot of different ways but one of my favorites is by season. Summer bands and albums are easy to identify: breezy, light, catchy, full-blooded. Fall is a season characterized by wistfulness and longing. Winter is dry, dark and cold. Spring is tentative and soft. But this kind of thinking defies the logic of the musician’s calendar. An album that gets released in the summer might have been written and recorded over the winter. Hence, when Speedy Ortiz released their magnificent Major Arcana this summer, it felt like an album in the process of becoming frozen, fighting and clawing against some unstoppable force. Rough and jagged, visceral and acerbic, the single reprieve against this relentless punk onslaught is also the album’s deepest and most affecting track. “No Below” is the odyssey of a damaged vessel; a sad, searching story of loneliness and perseverance. Singer/guitarist Sadie Dupuis captures moments of childhood and adolescence with grace and simplicity. “I didn’t know you/when I broke my knee/spent the summer on crutches/and everybody teased,” she murmurs before giving voice to a thought that many hopeless kids have felt: Wouldn’t it better just to be dead? Yet, the song marches forward through time as the rhythm section pounds away with measured temperance. When Sadie finally arrives at the conclusion that she’s “ glad for it all if it got us where we are,” the song erupts into catharsis. The realization that everything you’ve suffered has been redeemed in a single person is profoundly disorienting. “No Below” is the kind of music that someone in trouble really needs. It’s direct, honest and empathetic. I imagine this song might be the friend a lot of people didn’t realize they were waiting for.

Swearin’ | “Dust In The Gold Sack”

SURFING_STRANGEThe Crutchfield sisters had a great year. While Katie cleaned up Waxahatchee’s sound with Cerulean Salt, sister Allison seems content to muss things up with Swearin’, a band that follows in the tradition of Pavement by shifting their sound from song to song. “Dust In The Gold Sack” kicks off their second record, Surfing Strange, with a bit of plaintive strumming before launching into thick gritty rock. This track is emo revival in the spirit of Cloud Nothings: loud, frustrated and catchy as hell. The imagery is bleak yet there’s a strangely comforting quality to the underlying angst and frustration. Like a new bicycle rusting in the rain, there’s potency in the image of a useful object going to waste. The Crutchfield sisters share a symbolic language that is intensely personal and poetic without ever being pretentious. But if you want to punch a hole through your wall or tell someone to fuck off rather than drawing a hot bath to sit in until you’re wrinkled, then Allison is the Crutchfield for you.

Thundercat | “Oh Sheit It’s X”

APOCALYPSELike Andrew W.K., Thundercat’s Stephen Bruner makes inspirational party music. The title pretty much says it all, “Oh Sheit, It’s X” is about an evening spent dancing at a club while on ecstasy. Skipping the sickening obsessiveness of The Streets’ “Blinded by the Lights,” Thundercat’s bubbly disco moves outward, seeking friends and lovers to connect with. “I just wanna party/you should be here with me,” Bruner demands with cheerful insistence like a friend tugging you away from the bar and into the crowd of sweaty bodies. Bruner’s narrative is definitely on point, from his fascination with a woman’s purse to literally forgetting who his friends are. At one point he simply lets out a long guttural “uhhhhhh.” It’s Gonzo journalism for your ears. My advice: for your next party, take several doses of Thundercat’s music and don’t call me in the morning.

Torres | “When Winter’s Over”

TORRESOne of the roughest, richest and most heartbreaking records of the year, the self-titled debut from Torres is music for tough times. The album is raw in its approach to instrumentation and haunting in its capacity to capture the dark corridors we travel down in our endless search for the light. “When Winter’s Over” is as intimate and shattering as a mental breakdown. Like Sharon Van Etten before her, singer and guitarist Mackenzie Scott’s greatest strength is her expressive performance. Her ability to go from deadened mumble and airy whisper to full-throated howl will leave you wide-eyed, imagining the kind of tortured romance that gives voice to this many faces of troubled love. “Go find some place warm, I’ll still be here when winter’s over,” she cries. Alternately desperate and resilient, the line can be read one of two ways: either as a promise to wait faithfully or as a sign that she is free, at least for the time being, of love’s wicked ways.

Vampire Weekend | “Hannah Hunt”

MODERN_VAMPIRES_OF_THE_CITYIt’s hard to write about a song like “Hannah Hunt.” That’s because there isn’t language yet invented to describe the invisible minutiae of human life. Is there a word that can summarize the great odyssey of a single romance, from Waverly and Lincoln all the way to Phoenix and Santa Barbara? “Hannah Hunt” plays like small cinema: rich in exquisite detail, it’s innocuous and inconclusive. It’s a series of scenes shot from the perspective of a dreamy lover who invariably finds himself wondering why his idle fantasies don’t match their off-color realization. Hoping for perfection inevitably leads to disappointment, schisms and fallout. “If I can’t trust you then damn it Hannah/there’s no future, there’s no answer,” Ezra Koenig hollers, giving voice to futility and frustration. Yet, it’s the mixed metaphor that follows this proclamation that really ties the song together. “Though we live on the US dollar/you and me, we got our own sense of time,” beautifully illustrates the feeling of falling out of love. The feeling isn’t unlike having the world’s greatest collection of 8 track tapes or a library of classics written in a language that no one speaks. What do you do with all that’s happened that no one but this other person knows or really understands? I guess the answer is in the asking: write a song.

Waxahatchee | “You’re Damaged”

CERULEAN_SALTOf all the tracks on Waxahatchee’s Cerulean Salt, “You’re Damaged” most closely resembles the emotional devastation and sonic starkness of American Weekend. I’m not ashamed to admit that this might be the reason I like it more than anything else on the record. As with so much of singer-songwriter Katie Crutchfield’s lyrics, “You’re Damaged” seeks to discern where the rifts between her and others lay. The language she uses to describe them is by turns vivid and abstract. Just as you’ve wrapped your ears around “vomit and water,” Katie tiredly declares that “God’s buried under your damaged wonder.” What it all means is a mystery but, like so many troubled artists before her, there’s a feeling of philanthropy in listening to Katie’s music as if in empathizing we might help shoulder some of her silent, pervasive struggle.

Yeah Yeah Yeahs | “Sacrilege”

SACRILEGEAs attention-getting opening tracks go, you can’t do much better than “Sacrilege.” From a light shamble all the way to heavenly exultation, this track is a journey from simplicity to insanity. While so much about Yeah Yeah Yeahs has changed since their startling and still-excellent debut, lead singer Karen O seemingly arrived fully formed. What I love so much about Karen O is the fullness of her vocal performance. From a sweet midrange all the way to the fried peaks, her voice is an instrument she treats the way the legendary No Wave bands of yore used to treat their guitars. Her voice has character. In a music world dominated by well-meaning amateurs working up their best impression of Mariah Carey or Josh Groban, it’s refreshing to hear a voice that is strong yet imperfect. Though it lacks the sheer power of someone like Jeff Mangum, Karen O more than makes up for it in her versatility. And she needs it, as her band’s fourth album is delightfully undecided in its musical direction. Daring, bold and original, all the great qualities of Yeah Yeah Yeahs are captured with confidence and bravado in “Sacrilege.”

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