ponedjeljak, 25. ožujka 2013.

Phosphorescent - Muchacho (2013)

Impresivna urbana rustikalija, sentimentalne himne i jedan od najčudnijih/najljepših glasova u okolici. (Ipak i nekoliko razočaravajućih pjesama.)


When Phosphorescent's Matthew Houck came off the road in support of his last album, 2010's Here's to Taking it Easy, he was mentally and physically exhausted, uncertain he wanted to make another Phosphorescent record. So he dispatched himself to Tulum, a small community in Mexico, where, he said, "I just checked out of my life for a while." As he took long solitary walks in the woods and swam, the pieces of what would become Muchacho began taking shape in his mind.
As with everything Houck does as Phosphorescent, from 2007's urban-rustic classic Pride to his 2009 Willie Nelson tribute record, this little story has an endearingly second-hand ring to it, as if Houck was obediently following the dictates of some dog-eared country-drifter playbook tucked in his back pocket. But this credulousness is also key to his music, which glows with simple reverence and purity. On Muchacho, Houck gathers together everything he's attempted-- beery, rollicking country-rock, haunted tribal hymnals, regret-soaked bar room heartbreak-- and fashions it into something close to a defining statement.
The first layer of Muchacho to savor is the simple gloriousness of its sound. Houck records his music largely alone, bringing in key players for individual parts but crafting the end results meticulously, in isolation. With the assistance of engineer John Agnello (Kurt Vile, Male Bonding), he has produced a bright, rich, warmly three-dimensional record, one that fuses the headed-for-the-big-city bar-rock signifiers of Here's to Taking it Easy with the night-sky awe of his earliest work. In fact, the album feels like a daylight version of Pride, a point hammered home by the contrast between that album's "Be Dark Night" and this one's two book-ending hymnals.
Accordingly, listening to Muchacho often feels like being warmed by afternoon sun as it floods your window. Every sound is lovingly recorded and given a cradle of space: The rounded pop of the drum track on "Terror in the Canyons (The Wounded Master)", paired with tumbles of upright piano and softly pattering bongos; the dryly whispering bowed harmonics that open "A Charm/A Blade"; the mournful little mariachi trumpet solo winding through the country waltz of "Down to Go". The first thing we hear on the record, introducing the opening "Sun" hymnal, is a dreamlike, welcoming major-key synth flutter. Those synths reappear on "Song For Zula", mingling with crystalline threads of pedal steel guitar, lifting country's signature instrument further heavenward.
At the center of all these majestic noises sits Houck himself. His voice is an unreliable instrument-- reedy, hiccuping, prone to cutting out entirely mid-note-- but he plies it heartbreakingly, never more than on Muchacho. On "Sun, Arise!" and "A New Anhedonia", he stacks himself into massed, keening layers, like a church full of choirboys. It’s a technique that he’s used before, but he has never sounded as overwhelming as he does here. The persistent catch in his voice, meanwhile gives him an unstable, baby chick fragility, magnifying the pathos of a line like, "See honey I am not some broken thing/ I do not lay here in the dark waiting for thee" from "Song For Zula".
One of Muchacho's main thematic concerns is redemption, and it’s one Houck explores with his customary ringing, allegorical language. Sometimes his writing grows so high-flown that it eludes sense: "I was the wounded master, and I was the slave… I was the holy lion, and I was the cage/ I was the bleeding actor, and I was the stage," he sings on "Terror in the Canyons (The Wounded Master)". More straightforward is this, from "Muchacho’s Tune": "See I was slow to understand/ This river’s bigger than I am/ It’s running faster than I can, though lord I tried." It’s a simple sentiment, pitched somewhere south of Zen koan and just north of heartland-rock cliche, and it maps out the coordinates of Houck’s world: It’s a place where well-worn sounds are the most beloved, where ideas and poses are settled into like old chairs. On Muchacho, Houck invests this world with new beauty and profundity. - Jayson Greene
There are derivative songwriters, and then there are guys who warrant comparisons to countless others simply because they deal in musical forms that have been around for decades. Phosphorescent’s Matthew Houck falls into the latter category, but that doesn’t mean he’s been excused from adding new elements to his sound. With his first five albums, the Alabama-raised, Brooklyn-residing Houck tended to navigate country- and folk-based territories that evoked contemporaries and all-time luminaries alike (Neil Young, Will Oldham, and Conor Oberst to name a few). But with the new Muchacho, we find him as exploratory with his craft as ever, and the result does more than enough to distinguish him from his usual reference points.
Muchacho is, for starters, a tapestry of sounds. Here, Houck gets more mileage out of effects pedals than pedal steel, not to mention a ton of bonus arrangements that lend the record some serious muscle. Bringing together bursts of horns, airborne Fleet Foxes harmonies, and linings of violins and piano, this is just a gorgeously recorded album. (It doesn’t hurt that John Agnello, the producer who helped make Kurt Vile’s Smoke Ring for My Halo one of the richer singer-songwriter LPs in recent memory, gets an engineering credit here.) Plus, where Houck’s voice has often been cracked and almost too vulnerable, it’s stronger than ever here, and songs like “Song for Zula” or “Muchacho’s Tune” wouldn’t be as effective otherwise.
Of course, in 2007, Houck released an album of nothing but Willie Nelson covers, so we know the rudiments of great songwriting are too important to him to be given up in favor of sonic heft. That’s not to say there’s a “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain” here — there isn’t — but penultimate track “Down to Go”, for one, would work pretty damn well if stripped to just acoustic guitar and voice. Factoring in both songs like “Down” and the grandeur of “Song for Zula” and “A Charm, a Blade”, Muchacho is a well balanced listen, one that finds Houck adding new hues to old canvases and striking gold at every turn. - Mike Madden

Believe that album cover for three minutes and twelve seconds. That’s how long it takes for Matthew Houck, the Alabama native better known as Phosphorescent, to finish the high-harmonic tilt of “Sun, Arise! (An Invocation, An Introduction)” and drain it into the aching, pained, sublime “Song for Zula.” If you’ve been following Houck’s exploits for long enough, “Zula” is only the next piece of evidence in the long case to be made for his specific genius: Very few people write, much less perform, about heartbreak with this much conviction. “Honey, I saw love,” Houck sings. “It put its face up to my face so I could see/Yeah then I saw love disfigure me/Into something I am not recognizing.” Sure, it’s an impossible argument to prove, the question of just how authentic Houck’s words and manner might be. But for years now, he’s articulated the skeleton of the lovelorn corpse with a precision that can make his work almost impossible to stand. “Song for Zula,” 2010’s “The Mermaid Parade”—these are the kind of songs that make you pull your car over to the shoulder so you can stare at the dashboard and shake your head in disbelief.
But, actually–believe the grin on that cover for a little longer. Because unlike previous Phossy records, Muchacho rarely attempts to justify its own good times. Even at the wildest and freest moment in his catalog to date–the horn-laden braggart’s ball “It’s Hard to be Humble (When You’re From Alabama),” from Here’s to Taking It Easy–Houck sounds like a man moments from comedown; not for nothing was he wearing sunglasses in that record’s promo shots. And on 2009’s Willie Nelson cover album To Willie, Houck scraped the patina off of “Reasons to Quit” and “I Gotta Get Drunk,” songs which, in the hands of their creator, weren’t exactly burdened with regret. But on Muchacho, when Houck rears back and wails, it’s a sound of genuine pleasure and excitement: the one-two stomp of “Ride On/Right On” at first seems like a trifle coming after “Zula,” but half of the song’s charm is hearing Houck’s ad-libbed woos and oos trip right along over an organ that ducks and weaves through the lock-step rhythm. He does goofy surprisingly well.
Part of what makes that surprising has to do with the quality of Houck’s voice. It’s a broken, beaten thing, so scuffed and tagged that comparing it to rough bourbon does a disservice to Old Crow and Early Times. It’s what makes you think of him as a songwriter of complexity and integrity when he uses it to sing about pain and longing, as he does here on “Terror in the Canyons (The Wounded Master),” and it’s what made the joys of “It’s Hard to be Humble” so complicated. It’s tempting to think of his voice as fragile, and so to think of Houck’s entire body of work as fragile. But to do so would be to equate brokenness with fragility, as if the kinds of things Houck puts himself through (in song, at least) aren’t capable of doing damage to anyone of real substance. Put differently, if he sounds beaten up, it’s because he’s honest. “I’ve been fucked up, and I’ve been a fool,” he sings on “Muchacho’s Tune,” “I’ll fix myself up to come and be with you.”
The album was recorded piecemeal, with various friends and members of the touring band flying out to Brooklyn to track individual sessions at Houck’s home studio. You’d never know it from the record’s coherence, though; the production here is fuller and more ambitious than it’s ever been, and Houck pulls off just enough board trickery to keep the ensemble from getting too crisp, even when they’re up and rolling at full speed. He told MOJO that he’d taken cues from Brian Eno, and while Eno’s not exactly the first producer who comes to the minds of most people making country records, (and Muchacho is a country record) the production highlights both the album’s weariness and its rowdiness. Houck uses the band the same way he uses his voice: He paints, and he paints so broadly that you can see the strokes. They blur behind him, more interested in smearing a worried and confused anxiety against the tape at some moments and an inebriated ecstasy at others than they are in playing it straight. He follows them, too, spilling his voice over their approximated forms, shouting along, breaking down. Maybe it’s that implied sense of community that buffers Houck’s persona; he’s always assembled excellent backing groups, but (at least after having been run through Muchacho’s layers of warm warble) they’ve never sounded so in accord with the singer.
So it’s surprising that the record it most reminds me of is Houck’s largely solo 2007 narco-folk masterpiece Pride. The two albums share a certain propulsion, and, “Zula” and “Muchacho’s Tune” aside, a mysterious inscrutability. The arrangements are more ambitious, the volume louder, and the production clearer, but Houck still traffics in atmospherics almost as frequently as he does particulars: Once Muchacho has rolled past, you can still feel the texture of its residue, even if you can’t read the words.  - m garner

Matthew Houck’s sixth album as Phosphorescent underwent an odd, protracted gestation.
Exhausted following a lengthy stint touring 2010’s acclaimed Here’s to Taking It Easy, the Alabama-born singer-songwriter returned to Brooklyn and bought a bunch of old analogue gear.
Duly equipped, he began cooking up “strange sound pieces”. “I was thinking I might make an ambient record that had vocals, but no lyrics,” he says of this period.
A sudden, unexplained domestic crisis forced his hand, however, leading to an impulsive trip down to Mexico’s Yucután peninsula in the opening months of 2012.
He spent a week there, living in a beach hut and working on his songs, before returning to New York and restoring some sense of order to his life.
At its best Muchacho reflects this yearning for tranquillity, offering the listener a window into Houck’s fuzzy and bruised yet generally hopeful mindset.
Song for Zula is a remarkable thing. Coasting on soft, electronic beats and programmed strings, Houck imparts a devastating clutch of verses that undermine the notion of love as something transcendent and divine.
Instead, he paints it “a caging thing ... a killer come to call from some awful dream”. A sense of the hurt it was presumably born out of lingers strong, completely at odds with the music it rests upon. The effect is mesmerising.
Songs like Ride On / Right On and A Charm / A Blade don’t fare quite so well. The former is built around a two-note riff and an insouciant, yelping vocal that is especially jarring in the wake of something like Song for Zula, while the latter lapses into classic rock cliché just a little too wholeheartedly.
Yet Muchacho’s Tune is as frank and lovely a promise of redemption as you’re likely to hear all year. Weighty, elegant music is a more natural fit for Houck, as songs like this and A New Anhedonia emphatically confirm.
Over the back-end of the LP he heads deeper into this kind of sweeping territory, brushing aside earlier missteps. Muchacho is a vibrant, evocative LP, and a welcome addition to the Phosphorescent catalogue. - James Skinner

There's always something warming about cover art that really conveys the sounds you'll find within it. The coalescing of the art and music creates something intensely satisfying. It’s the feeling that a lot of time and passion has gone into every intimate detail. It gives the album its own unique and distinct feel.
That's what Phosphorescent’s 'Muchacho' does. The cover reveals the light fading on a warm, dusky evening, where dusty and dirty romantic feelings linger. It’s a picture which captures love and fun and of being in a moment. And, of course, regret.
These are feelings that are wrapped up in the DNA of this record. There’s sunshine, there’s a warmth but mostly there’s a feeling that love isn’t working out. 'Muchacho' (a Spanish word, meaning - roughly - a mischievous young person) is a strikingly personal album, the sound of a man recollecting and realising what he’s lost and how he can find it again.
Matthew Houck stated in a recent interview that while he was trying to wrap his head around what his new record was going to be, his "life, to be honest, sort of fell apart". It was in the process of getting it back together he created this collection of delicate and coloured-in hymns, which hum with gentle pastel shades and an electronic pulse.
The electronic elements are the most noticeable addition to Houck’s arsenal. Gone almost entirely is the full-band effort of 'Here's To Taking It Easy' – 'Muchacho' bears a much closer relationship to the naked fragility and enveloping minimalism of 'Pride'.
But right from the Kraftwerkian opening chords of ‘Sun, Arise! (An Invocation, An Introduction)’ it’s also clear that Houck is ready to embrace the electronic. Album highlight ‘Song For Zula’ is the track that brings this all together most impressively. Over an upbeat electronic pulse and tender strings, Houck delivers an achingly personal and honest portrait of love as he realises that ‘love is a cage in me.’
Throughout Houck flings his life out in front of us. It’s an album where his voice controls the environment. ‘Terror In The Canyons’ is dusted beauty, his forlorn vocals gliding over a beautiful piano line as he sings "now you’re telling me my heart’s sick". The windswept ‘The Quotidian Beats’ sways wildly as his voice towers over it. And the hymnal ‘A Charm / A Blade’ catches fire with woops and rolling piano as the light streams in.
But it’s ‘Muchacho’s Tune’ which is the centerpiece of the record. "I’ve been fucked up and I’ve been a fool" his cracked voice sings over twanging guitars, "but I’ll fix myself up and come and be with you." It’s a line where the strands of sunlight burst through the shadows of regret on a wonderful album. 'Muchacho' is a record which can soothe even the darkest nights and moods.
-  Danny Wright

Matthew Houck, the self-directed highway mystic behind Phosphorescent, bookends his new album, “Muchacho,” with a slow, wakening melody sung by a mass of voices. The voices are all his — multitracked, mostly set in falsetto range — and with a series of elongated vowels they salute the gradual arrival of dawn. Both tracks, “Sun, Arise! (An Invocation, an Introduction)” and “Sun’s Arising (A Koan, an Exit),” serve a ritual and meditative purpose, but they also enfold the album in a shroud of grandiosity.
Don’t let that give you the wrong idea. Phosphorescent is a Brooklyn band that hasn’t forgotten its Southern pedigree, creating washy psychedelia with a foothold in country-rock. “Muchacho” does come with its share of artistic pretensions: Mr. Houck wrote these songs while hiding out in a beach hut on the Yucatán Peninsula of Mexico after a romantic unraveling. “I sang, ‘Roll away the stone,’ ” begins “Muchacho’s Tune,” the bittersweet, echoey centerpiece, and it isn’t the only instance on the album in which Mr. Houck’s lyrics claim resurrection, along with martyrdom.
But a bad breakup has a way of blowing things out of proportion, and these songs deftly map out that mess of ragged hurt, smoldering hope and self-righteous spite. Mr. Houck, who has made a close study of outlaw-country confessionals, kicks off the album’s lead single with a wry nod to “Ring of Fire,” the Johnny Cash and June Carter song, over a reverberant chord progression that also evokes “With or Without You” by U2.
“See, honey, I am not some broken thing,” he insists, though by that point in the tune, called “Song for Zula,” he has already shown his hand:
See, the cage, it called. I said, “Come on in”
I will not open myself up this way again
Nor lay my face to the soil, nor my teeth to the sand
I will not lay like this for days now upon end
The scriptural cadence and mythic gravity of Mr. Houck’s lyrics, here and elsewhere, manage not to overburden his emotional payload. Over the last decade of releases as Phosphorescent he has learned how to add layer upon layer of information without losing an essential lightness of touch. “A Charm/A Blade” is a good illustration of this principle: it has this album’s most rhetorical structure, delivered with those crowded vocal harmonies, which sound more festive than oppressive.
But that might be an underlying mission on this album, to find peace in turmoil. Phosphorescent, currently on a tour that will reach the Bowery Ballroom on April 18, does that sort of thing well. The final moments on “Muchacho,” near the end of Mr. Houck’s sun salutation, find him singing “Be easy,” as a mantra. Then, finally, just “Be.” - NATE CHINEN

Phosphorescent’s sole proprietor, Matthew Houck, begins his sixth proper full-length album, Muchacho, with a bit of a fake-out. The ethereal album-opener, “Sun, Arise! (An Invocation, An Introduction)”—with its multi-layered harmonized vocals and burbling, bubbling keyboards bordering on space-age—indicates that perhaps Houck is feeling a little Fleet Foxy this time out. Or perhaps he’s hoping to revisit his 2007 effort, Pride, an album whose songs Oxford American aptly described as sounding as if they were being “backed up by choirs of miserable ghosts, the percussion often knocking and rattling like stuff shifting around in a room at night.”
Phosphorescent’s next album, 2010’s Here’s To Taking It Easy, was his breakout, and Muchacho is about as opposite of that title as a follow-up can get. A companion title to describe Muchacho might be Here’s To Taking The Hits As They Come. Muchacho is also Houck’s most accomplished release to date—his most heartrending and life-affirming, equal parts lost-love devastation and hip-swaying, horn-led exultation.
Well, maybe not equal parts. “Song For Zula” is a mournful beast of burden, Houck’s lyrics stealing the show from the string section and bass-as-heartbeat supporting actors. “I will not open myself up this way again,” he sings at one point, before laying it all out at song’s end: “So some say love is a burning thing / that it makes a fiery ring / Oh, but I know love as a caging thing / just a killer come to call from some awful dream.”
Elsewhere, “Terror In The Canyons (The Wounded Master)” employs a piano-and-pedal-steel country shuffle as the new foil for Houck’s world-weary warble. Not one for missed opportunities, he sings, “But now you’re telling me my heart’s sick / And I’m telling you I know / And you’re telling me you’re leaving / And I’m telling you to go.” Houck is usually pretty reticent about explaining his lyrics, but when describing the sounds that eventually became Muchacho for Spin, he admits, “My life, to be honest, sort of fell apart.”
While all of Muchacho isn’t a wrist-slitting affair, it is, apparently, the sound of a man dealing with the consistent and consistently frustrating ups and downs of life. “The Quotidian Beasts” plays out like the spiritual brethren of Songs: Ohia’s “Almost Was Good Enough.” And on “Muchacho’s Tune,” when Houck sings “I’ve been fucked up / and I’ve been a fool” over a marching bass, spare strums, mournful pedal steel, and noncommittal piano, it’s as if the arrangement agrees that shit got pretty real back there. Yet when the horns step in to lead the way, everyone must move on if they’re to accomplish anything. Houck admitted as much when he explains, “A lot of this record is about getting something of what you want and still having your ass handed to you by the world. Like, ‘That’s how it is, muchacho. Handle it.’”
Handling it isn’t a simple proposition, of course, and the eight songs following “Sun, Arise!” sound nothing like their introducer as they work through a rather exhausting set of emotions. Unsurprising, then, is album-ending sister song, “Sun’s Arising (A Koan, An Exit),” which also has little in common with those eight songs sandwiched in between. The bookends wipe the mind clean in preparation, then cleanse the palate in conclusion. They’re necessary and refreshing, much like moving on. - Austin L. Ray

While Matthew Houck would not be strictly classified as a country musician, he's taken a wonderful lesson from country about range of emotion. Muchacho, his latest album, swings from heartbroken to celebratory and back again, sometimes within one song. There are the yelps of joy or surprise that adorn "Ride On/Right On," the title a mixed message all on its own. There's the barroom lament "Down to Go," with its drunken horns. "Muchacho's Tune" manages to feel both remorseful and eminently hopeful: "But like the shepherd to the lamb/Like the wave onto the sand/Fix myself up/Come and be with you."
Since Muchacho opens with "Sun Arise! (An Invocation, An Introduction)" and ends with "Sun's Arising (A Koan, An Exit)," it's not a secret that it's meant to be seen as a singular work. The purposeful construction and execution is not only a rare commodity, it's of rare quality in Houck's hands. This structure is strong but not overbearing; it doesn't feel blatantly organized to replicate the structure of a novel or a film, but that's exactly what it does.
Muchacho uses "A Charm/A Blade" as the mass around which the rest of the record orbits. The song, in its nearly five and a half minutes, runs the gamut from the patient opening to the mumbled, "This can't be what you want," which leads into the explosive chorus. Because of the sophistication of the rest of the lyrics, a simple couple of lines, "Cut my heart but do it fast/Don't want that hurt to last" end up with tremendous power. It might be the best thing in Phosphorescent's enviable catalog.
Houck's career should be viewed as a blueprint for young songwriters in how to grow with each recording. As his songs have grown more complex, they've also become more focused. No matter what happens to Phosphorescent from here on out, Muchacho is an artist setting a new standard.  -

Phosphorescent’s last album was called Here’s To Taking It Easy. It was hard to know whether to take Matthew Houck’s statement at face value or whether there was a certain irony to it. On the one hand you had sentiments like “love me foolishly” and “I don’t care if there’s cursing” suggesting that he was indeed finding it easier to be more care free, and then on the other hand you had the soul crushing heartbreak of songs like “The Mermaid Parade” and the deceptively upbeat tale of a desperate man in “Heaven, Sittin’ Down,” amongst others. Phosphorescent’s new album still veers around the subjects of love and lust in a way that makes it clear that Houck’s still unclear exactly how he feels about it all (though his utmost passion in every song is never in doubt). He’s decided to title it simply Muchacho; almost like a dressing-down of himself, admitting he’s just a man, ruled by his emotions, consequences be damned.
Almost every song on Muchacho concerns Houck’s ill-fated relationships with women, but the way he approaches and feels out the subject can be wildly different from track to track. This is perhaps most obvious in the album’s first two songs (following the koan introduction), “Song For Zula” and “Ride On/Right On.” On the former violin-laden track we have a disconsolate Houck, looking back on a relationship that went south, and realizing now that love is not “a burning thing” but in fact “a fading thing, just as fickle as a feather in a stream”; something that “disfigured” and “caged” him, painting it as an omnipotent emotion. While “Ride On/Right On” follows is an uppity guitar-led track in which Houck casts himself as a lascivious biker travelling from bar to bar, loving the feel of women’s hands on him as he rides his bike (and so much more), where love isn’t even in consideration.
These strange poles of emotion can seem hard to balance, until we get to the album’s centerpiece “Muchacho’s Tune,” the first track written for the album and probably the most honest. Amidst a lilting, watery, downbeat jaunt, Houck is confessional, addressing his reckless side, mentioning his small fame, his drug use and plainly stating “I’ve been fucked up and I’ve been a fool.” This honesty and outpouring of grief brings out his loving side, where he ultimately decides to “fix [him]self up, and come and be with you,” and the defeated way in which Houck delivers this line makes you feel the weight of his tribulations and the seriousness of this resolution.
In interviews Houck has stated that he hopes the production on this album is a step up from his previous efforts, and has specifically mentioned Brian Eno’s 70s output as an influence. This is certainly audible in some of the wider and airier tracks on here; most notably the placid soundscape created by the violins on “Song For Zula” and the horns that subtly add wings to “Down To Go.” What’s more notable is how everything from drum sound to cascading pianos, pedal steel, violins and more are implemented so precisely that they bolster the sounds and the strengths of all the songs. To the point where sometimes you might not even notice how much is going on. This is undoubtedly a feather in the cap for Houck as a producer, but at the same time it can feel like Phosphorescent have lost some of the Americana spirit that went into Here’s To Taking It Easy, where the songs felt looser and more ramshackle, like any of the instruments could fly off the handle in a moment of inspiration. There are a couple of moments like this on Muchacho, such as the grand and boisterous side one closer “A Charm/A Blade” and the rollicking “The Quotidian Beasts,” but moreover it feels like the band is evolving with a more focused and manicured sound. Nevertheless, the passion fueling every song is never in doubt when you have a lyricist and vocalist like Houck at the helm.
On “Down To Go” Houck describes a conversation in which the accusation is thrown at him that he’ll “spin [his] heartache into gold,” and his reply is “I suppose, but it rips my heart out, don’t you know?” This more or less sums up Phosphorescent’s appeal; it’s rare to find a lyricist so honest and a vocalist so earnest, and when put into song it seems to Houck as if every word is vital and cathartic and necessary. Muchacho feels like the next link in a chain of anguish that is Phosphorescent’s discography. It’s not a thing I would wish on most people, but when it comes to Matthew Houck, long may the heartache continue, because it seems like there’s plenty more gold to be mined from those depths. -

 Here's to Taking it Easy


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