utorak, 27. kolovoza 2013.

Forest Swords - Engravings (2013)

Forest Swords Shares Engravings Album Details, New Track

Elektroničko brušenje sablasti postkolonijalnog kišnog dub-folka. Zlokobna mitologija prostora.

'Engravings' is the incredible and eagerly awaited debut album by Forest Swords. Emerging some three years since his cherished EPs for Olde English Spelling Bee (remember them?!) and No Pain In Pop, he returns with a heavy soul and keener grasp of aerated R&B and dub dynamics whilst retaining the deglazed, haunted and crepuscular pop essence that left us wanting for much more with 'Dagger Paths' and the sublime Rattling Cage' single. It's to their credit that Tri Angle have largely kept him out of the limelight and shy of the gig circuit, affording time to hone ten perfectly flawed songs of sluggish shoegaze swoon and slo-mo dub coming off like Brenda Ray meeting Ennio Morricone and Philip Jeck at dusk on Hilbre Island. Thanks to his effortless feel for arrangement and plaintive, ghostly hooks, there's a sincere, considered magick coursing the veins of 'Engravings' from the coruscating, silty shimmer and muddy bump of opener 'Ljoss' thru the forested ambience of closer, 'Friend, You Will Never Learn', which never wavers under the weight of conceit or over-production. Everything occurs in a misty mid-ground, as though heard from a distance or through dense gorse and woodland, like rituals stumbled across in the halflight, from the dilapidated glory and pagan mysticism of 'Irby Tremor' to the flinty percussive shards and mossy bass of 'Onward' thru the foghorn guitar cries and literally Timbaland-ed drums of 'The Weight Of Gold' and 'Anneka's Battle', or the private R&B folk dance routine of 'An Hour'. But if we're picking favourites, the elemental elegance of his strafing sample serrations and thumping bass of 'Gathering' get us most, providing that one precious moment deep into the album that'll make you restart the route again to discover its cloistered charms. - boomkat

I just listened to the execrable new album from Money, or at least as much of it as the office could bear before Phil insisted I switch it off some way into track four. My despair has been eased somewhat by the fact that I have this absolute corker of a new album by Forest Swords to follow it up with, though. I’ve been saving it for such an occasion where the endless review slog descends into such drivel that it causes my faith in music itself to dwindle.
On it, Forest Swords takes the spook-loop darkness of the likes of Decimus or Burial Hex and injects it with a healthy dose of woozy Hype Williamsy post-dubbiness and then a few cinematic and subtly melodic ingredients of his own - ‘Onward’ ends with some sweeping strings and puttering tribal rhythms, there’s some Ennio Morricone-ish guitar in ‘Irby Tremor’ (which I briefly thought sounded like something else until I realised that the “something else” I was thinking of was just the fact I’ve heard this album a couple of times already). ‘An Hour’ is like a dubbed out coffee-table Boards of Canada with its staccato synth and xylophone loops and blurzed hip hop beats, even getting touches of Gold Panda in there. Tri Angle certainly seems like an appropriate home for this record.

For all the idle comparisons I’m making, though, what really sets Forest Swords apart is that he’s making music which is truly distinctive and sounds like himself. The clear, plangent guitar, dubby bass, woozy beats and muffly samples all add up to an instantly recognisable and totally listenable aesthetic with a great balance of light and shade and a woozy drifting sonic palette which is very current without sounding like a pastiche of any other artist doing the rounds right now. I’d be very surprised if this doesn’t grab our Album of the Week title. - Norman Records

When people borrow Gertrude Stein’s notorious phrase “there is no there there,” their meaning is usually pejorative. But in the case of Forest Swords (a.k.a. Matthew Barnes), it seems instead appropriate as the highest compliment. Engravings, his first full-length, evokes a grayness of place so completely that it is utter, that there is no there there because there is only there there. This seems apt for an album mixed outdoors: cyborgization not as the incorporation of the technological into the self, but the world becoming monistic cyborg as digital Techne extends her limbs outwards.
Others have experimented with the post-colonial place where dub and British folk traditions meet: Ian King, Edward the Second and the Red Hot Polkas, Sinead O’Connor. Engravings both stands in this tradition, but also, like a root system, deepens and extends it, the melancholy of English dub’s triple diaspora via Africa and Jamaica being used rhizomatically to transpose Bristol’s trip-hop from urban to sylvan surrounds. Engravings seems the culmination of the sound that, it’s now apparent, Barnes was only developing on 2010’s Dagger Paths EP, bringing to that darkness a maturity that consists in a paradoxical expansion of space and in the introduction of depth perception through fog0like tendrils of white infecting that flat black panorama (or rather lack thereof).
Barnes uses sound to its full effect, but more accurately, he allows it simply to inhabit or to be its own innate “sinister resonance” (David Toop). For example, the early-industrial millstone clanking of “Onward” appears to cut off too abruptly, before and until the timeless pattern language Barnes finds in his sources (a language that can only exist through the manipulation of time-bound sonic objects) reveals its perfection as the figure repeats. And the onward march is still not done: a sublime, Gavin Bryars-esque orchestral motif squeezes and unfreezes the heart in a manner that has never been achieved by post-rock.
A wild huntology, a meandering psychogeographyThursday’s child has far to go. Barnes’ home in the Wirral, with its history of Norse violence and genetic traces of more peaceful cohabitation, reverberates through Engravings’ persono-cultural mythology (“Thor’s Stone”). There are echoes here of classic English children’s fantasy in the album’s mood of beauty and desolation, and also in its deep bedrock: particularly, Alan Garner’s Brisingamen trilogy, set in nearby Cheshire, in a brown-grey autumn where the prehistoric Edge rises through the surface of the landscape like a petrified mammoth tusk or a flint arrowhead for a worm. “The sedge has wither’d from the lake,/ And no birds sing.”
These then are Pet Sounds, if your pet was an ominous, mini-monolithic Pet Rock that you found in the cellar. A pet you’ve adopted as beloved child, for whom may be invoked half-remembered ritual-processional lullabies that are, simply, child ballads. - 

On Forest Swords’ 2010 EP Dagger Paths, the web of dub, psych, dance, and drone spun by UK producer Matthew Barnes felt instantly singular. So singular, in fact, that the task of creating a worthy follow-up must have seemed daunting, which I assumed was why it took him a while. It turns out there were other reasons-- for one, he suffered from hearing problems that made his new work sound different with each listen, and forced him to consider ending Forest Swords. But also, in keeping with his music’s slow-growing vibe, he was wary of rushing things. As he admitted in a February interview, “I’m glad I took a step back…I’ve seen so many bands who strike while the iron’s hot and then burn out.”
Barnes’ judgment proved sound, as did his ears, at least in their ability to assess his work. Created at his own pace in his own home in North West England, Engravings is the perfect sequel to Dagger Paths. Barnes steadfastly retains his sturdy loops, simple beats, and evocative guitar lines, refusing to overhaul his potent formula just to dodge accusations that he’s repeating himself. But he also gradually inserts new sounds into that equation, fitting them snugly into his songs’ accumulating layers. The result is both familiar and fresh, cementing Barnes’ knack for creating complex effects with elementary methods.
Engravings also confirms his ability to conjure more than just a chilly, faded-memory vibe. Dagger Paths did that too, but it was easy to get lost in its burned-out echo and miss other ideas and moods that Barnes explored along the way. Here, those diverse facets of his music are unavoidable. Every song is boldly sensual, and each note has a distinct emotional hue. Mixing that intensity with dream-like atmospheres lands Engravings in a unique emotional space, one Barnes accurately describes as a “balance between really intense euphoria and this almost bleakness.”
Trying to balance those opposites could produce disjointed, even jarring art. But one of the biggest strengths of Forest Swords’ music is its fluidity. Although Barnes adds and subtracts loops and beats without hiding the seams, he persistently maintains a DJ-like flow. As a result, following the curving path of his melodies feels more like riding a wave than cutting through choppy waters. So even a track as spliced together as “Onward”-- which opens with a stuttering clang, grafts on glittering guitar, then drifts into strings and a pounding beat-- feels completely logical, as if this is the only way time could march on.
Barnes’ strong sense of flow lets him add new twists to his sound without forcing them in. Often they emerge sneakily, like the radio-static transmissions in “Ljoss”, the New Age piano on “Gathering”, the horn-section accents in “An Hour”, or the near-militaristic beat of ecstatic closer “Friend, You Will Never Learn”. In other places, these additions are clearer, but they’re always well-suited to their environment, as if Barnes had no other choice but to include them in his mix.
That’s especially true of the increased amount of singing on Engravings. The majority of it comes from Barnes’ own voice, which he sampled and then edited down to a nearly molecular level. This digital abstraction of the music’s most human element gives Engravings subliminal warmth, as if the ghosts of long-dead lyrics are watching over the songs. At times, vocals even become the focus: “Gathering” is nothing but overlapped singing for its first half, and the inclusion of Brighton-based vocalist Anneka on “Anneka’s Battle” adds vivid soul to Barnes’ brand of negative-space R&B.
Barnes inviting a guest onto a Forest Swords song is a bit surprising. His one-man music is usually a personal affair: you can practically hear him thinking through the songs as they unfold, and all the reverb and atmosphere make them feel like internal monologues. But compared to Dagger Paths, there’s more acknowledgement of the external world on Engravings. Barnes incorporates field recordings and refers to his locale in song titles; he also mixed the entire album on his laptop while sitting outside. Opening his process up a bit to include his environment perhaps explains how music this skeletal can sound like it has so much blood coursing through it.
It also explains how the one-man world of Forest Swords can feel so universal. Unrestricted by words or verse-chorus structures, Barnes’ songs reflect the way life can feel like an endless loop, growing and building without ever losing its cyclical nature. Maybe that’s why, even though Forest Swords’ sound skirts an array of genres, it doesn’t belong to any single one. Barnes’ work is less concerned with trends or scenes than experiences and memories that everyone has had, regardless of what music they’ve listened to before. On that count, Engravings is a broad success. - Marc Masters

Forest Swords is Matthew Barnes, a Liverpudlian producer whose sound is singular and hopelessly gorgeous enough to induce oppositional descriptors such as "ancient but contemporary" and "epic but intimate". This is his first full-length release and it's restless – exploring dub, post-rock and R&B – but each track coheres seamlessly into a whole of a record. The only human voices are processed and reverbed into wordlessness so that they sound as dread-laden as they do ecstatic. In short, it has the kind of beauty that sees you playing it, and only it, for the next three weeks. - 

The phrase “exciting UK producer” is only matched in ubiquity these days by “exciting young Chicago rapper,” and Forest Swords is the latest to add to the former column. Much like the violence-affected verses of Chicago’s youth, the project of Matthew Barnes is colored heavily by his home, instrumentation barely hanging on in the rainy wind, everything doused in a hazy, gray downpour. Barnes’ debut LP as Forest Swords, Engravings, isn’t solely inspired by present aspects like today’s weather; instead, it’s a blend of the modern prevalence of dub and the harsh mysteries of Norse invasions in England’s distant past.

At face value that connection might seem like a bit of a leap, but the track listing’s strange placement of Js mid-word and references to Thor build the bridge. The vocals, when present, are either effect-laden past a point of clarity (as on “Irby Tremor”) or samples that shiver and chatter in the cool, moist breeze (as on opener  ”Ljoss”), echoing the Babel-ish blending of Germanic, French, and other languages into England’s history. “Thor’s Stone” opens with war toms and fog rolling on the battlefield, later met by a resonant flute overblown with a brow-furrowed urgency, the invasion spreading.
But the present will not be denied. While the guitar on Barnes’ Dagger Paths EP often felt pulled from a cowboy soundtrack, the plinking quality afforded on tracks like “The Weight of Gold” give them a sort of demented steel drum quality, the dub pulled through a dark mirror. The clacking loop that opens “Onward” seems to stutter, at first triggering a thought that the track is skipping, before an underpinning of malevolent bass and tinny high-end brings everything into a droning focus.

“Gathering” is a key example of the duality that Barnes manages to pull off. The track pulses its vocal contributions until their ancient, monastic incantations become the rhythmic bed for a darkened groove meditation. Engravings is the sound of a man walking out into the coastline with his headphones on, the epic, Saxon past showing through the fog and playing with the Anglo present’s love of electronic music. - Adam Kivel

In an oft-cited XKCD comic strip, writer Randall Munroe demonstrated an easy way of making people of any age feel old; citing a generation-wide cultural touchstone (Jurassic Park, The Matrix, Finding Nemo) and asking if they realised how long ago it had come out. Punch line aside, it made a neat point about our inability to date cultural trends – some releases continue to seem fresh, current, and are consequently assumed recent, whilst others date quickly or fade in appeal, quickly appearing completely outmoded.
Toy Story 3 came out three years ago! As did still-loved records like The Suburbs, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy and Total Life Forever. The year of LCD’s last release, a year dominated by ‘Love The Way You Lie’ and when The Social Network premiered. 2010 was alo when experimental dub began throb in the mainstream’s consciousness – the year of James Blake’s first EPs, Mount Kimbie’s Crooks and Lovers and another producer/composer, Forest Swords’ remarkable debut EP. If anything, the genre has expanded in the intervening years, as attested by the success of both Blake and Mount Kimbie’s 2013 releases. Engravings, Forest Swords’ debut LP and first release since the excellent Dagger Paths, conforms to the pattern – still bewitching, still utterly relevant.
There are many more bedroom producers now than in 2010, and witch-house has become a touchstone hipster genre. But Matthew Barnes, the hermetic Merseysider behind the moniker, still stands out, his distinctive deeply layered ambient trip-hop and haunting dub remaining instantly recognisable. There has been no sudden shift in sound, no Kanye or Foals jump forwards – in fact, having struggled with hearing problems and apparently considered giving up music altogether, Barnes seems to have merely concentrated the essence of his sound. Unsettling drones, complex post-punk guitars and always the rumbling threat of deep bass and pounding percussion combine with ambient recordings and hazy vocals to create the feeling of waking from a half-remembered, half-understood dream. Mixed outside under the Wirral’s threatening skies, Engravings has an undeniable visual quality to it, invoking a grim, elemental nature – a counterpart to Burial’s bleak urban scores.
Though inevitably the album is stronger listened to in whole, with the ebbs and flows of Forest Swords sonic kaleidoscope uninterrupted, there are a few standouts early on. The cinematic ‘Irby Tremors’ puts panpipes and a lazy, pseudo-xx guitar line over a colossal jungle beat to enormous effect, whilst ‘The Weight of Gold’ brings a trilling, very Occidental harpsichord into the mix, with droning synths and the odd reggae bounce keeping it fresh.

On paper, it sounds a mess – on record, the abstraction is absorbing and a refreshingly different listen. With references to house, dub, and instrumental rock all stitched together into a looping, building tapestry that manages to be both visually and emotionally evocative, this is certainly an album that will keep your interest long into the next fad. - Kat Rolle

After releasing the Dagger Paths EP, his highly lauded debut as Forest Swords in 2010, Merseysider Matthew Barnes experienced significant hearing problems, namely tinnitus. He returned to his graphic design and producing background for three years, and went relatively silent. We saw and heard remnants of his talent, with Barnes producing tracks for How to Dress Well‘s  Total Loss‘, but no solo work. Despite his embracing of the ephemeral nature of punk bands, with their penchant for one-minute wonders and disappearance after releasing a single  EP, we weren’t alone in hoping he wouldn’t leave the musical planet forever.
Finally, Barnes’ has returned with a debut album Engravings, a psycho-geographical record that combines his design background with that of an ancient, medieval place and time. It’s a sonic exploration that, not unlike graphic design, takes physical elements and visualises them in another manner. And it sounds incredible.
The key to Engravings’ power lies in its background. Barnes mixed the entire record outdoors in the Wirral countryside, an area known for its Nordic/Viking history. As track titles ‘Ljoss’, ‘Thor’s Stone’ and ‘Irby Tremor’ suggest, the album was directly influenced by local history and monuments. Surrounded by beaches, woodland, and sandstone, Barnes took such physical elements and united them in sound, texture and melody.
Engravings moves elegantly from this medieval, Nordic era to present day. From the opening track ‘Ljoss’, you’re instantly transported to another, primordial era; the song reaches out like a human figure who’s trapped, frozen in space, attempting to connect through contemporary computer technology but struggling with the language. ‘Thor’s Stone’, which references a sandstone Viking monument near Wirral, is an immersive, ritualistic track that sounds so amorphous I can’t help being reminded of that morning-rising brachiosaurus’ moan in Jurassic Park. The instrumentation sound like a far off exhaltation from a prehistoric creature which, paired with Peruvian pan-flutes, is wholly intoxicating.
Elsewhere, ‘Irby Tremor’ is like repeating a beautiful haiku whilst embarking on a cemetery procession in the Deep South, while lead track ‘The Weight of Gold’ is reminiscent of a hip hop instrumental that uses harpsichord and chiming guitars to create a soulful yet trippy experience. We hear little of vocals until the last few tracks, with ‘Anneka’s Battle’ being an evocative number that features Barnes’ own voice paired with that of Brighton act Anneka. ‘The Plumes’ is a beautiful, drone rock number with piano, while closing track ‘Friends, You Will Never Learn’ again leans more on hip-hop, no doubt playing homage to Barnes’ well documented love of Aailyah.

Barnes said that “music is design with texture”, and the remarkable Engravings is, as the title suggests, just that. - Zoe Sheena 


FOREST SWORDS - Dagger Paths (Remastered and Extended Version) image

Dagger Paths (2010)

An incredible debut from Forest Swords - nope, we've never heard of them before either, but they're only based down the road in The Wirral so we'll send them a thank you message via carrier pigeon or something. 'Daggers Path' is a textured patch of personal sonic connections infusing outsider drone-folk and lo-fi pop with modern r'nb and vintage dub tropes that capture that feeling of Grouper jamming with the Velvets down at Tubby's that you forgot to remember that time you didn't imagine it. Central figure, M. Barnes, cyphers the same soulful impact you'd find in the vocal samples of a Burial record for instance, and shades them with a widescreen wash of lo-fi colours reminiscent of the inherent skyward drama found in his native coastal location, also embedding each track in slow-burnt dub basslines and dread guitar jangles which echo out across the low-lying landscape for miles around. On 'Hoylake Misst' there's even elements of Amon Düül, if they'd taken cues from Timbaland beating rhythms with pencils on his desk, or on 'Glory Gong' we feel like we're about to be dropped into some reggaeton bumper before the all the edges dissolve and we're left with ghostly male groans and plaintive guitar shimmers while some deft fingers on the desk rubs in dubbed out samples and the stodgy-slow bass keeps on heaving. It's love at first sight with this album and we reckon you'll fall for it too. Please don't sleep on this! - boomkat

If there's any space left between micro-genres like witch house/drag, hauntology, hypnagogic pop/chillwave, and drone-step, Matthew Barnes has found it. Forest Swords, the UK producer's one-man project, conjures many ideas associated with those tags-- faded memories, ghostly auras, dream states. His music sometimes feels built from allusions and reference points, but the connections to sources are so elusive that Dagger Paths sounds singular first and evocative of something else second.
For me, that "something else" is often another artist who has snuck into a stylistic crevice, Mark Nelson, the Labradford member who works solo as Pan American. Like Nelson, Barnes is adept at picking simple rhythms and sounds, repeating them at a pace both languid and insistent, and folding in texture and volume until each piece becomes sneakily dense. Both also prefer wiry, reverb-heavy guitars, which charge their songs like lightning inside a cloud. But where Pan American can sometimes softly float away, Forest Swords is rarely hazy or indistinct. Most of Barnes' sounds are clear-- take opener "Miarches" whose echoes are big and bold, less like drifting fog than brisk wind.
That boldness comes partially from Barnes' interest in techno, hip-hop, and R&B. Those influences give him a strong sense of beat and a knack for forceful bass lines. The R&B strain in particular lurks in the background of everything here-- but in case you miss it among the reflecting guitars and rumbling beats, Barnes makes it explicit in an abstract take on Aaliyah's "If Your Girl Only Knew". Prioritizing bass over beat, letting every sound decay and dissolve, Barnes crafts a dying echo of the original, as if he hoped to erase it from his memory Eternal Sunshine-style.
What sticks in my mind after listening to Dagger Paths is its visual nature. When I get wrapped up in one of Barnes' tracks, I picture shadowy figures, found filmstrips, or TV movies fuzzed by tape wear. Barnes' videos are actually clearer and simpler than that (though "The Light" is almost exactly what I imagined), but they all use old footage to reflect the music's sense of dislocation. But it would be wrong to peg Barnes to one set of images or sounds-- my guess is he can do a lot more, and his new single, "Rattling Cage", has a dubby, Sun Araw vibe. As long as he keeps making music this blurrily evocative and vividly pictorial, any direction he takes will be the right one.  - Marc Masters

Listen closely enough, and it’s possible to detect subtle variations in the resonance of the world around you. Different terrains modulate the properties of sound: wind, whipping across moorland, spirits a voice away before it can even reach the ear; the soft, muted crunch of woodland; how a grassy natural amphitheatre almost imperceptibly raises the volume of spoken words. Wandering between these environments reveals a soundworld constantly in flux, never settling for long enough to become predictable. As Forest Swords, Matt Barnes treads similar paths, taking equal inspiration from dub’s studio trickery and the landscape of his home in the Wirral to create music that captures those shifts as they occur. Each track is a languid snapshot of a single moment in time, as though he’s able to pause the clock and cycle slowly through the stacked layers of the present.
In the months following its original release, through US lo-fi magicians Olde Engish Spelling Bee, his bewitching Dagger Paths has ever-so-slowly wormed its way into wider consciousness. Despite its quiet emergence as a six-track, vinyl-only curiosity on a tiny label, it sold out almost immediately. Since then, Barnes’ music has slowly trickled its way through the internet’s usual channels, gradually being discovered by new groups of people and in the process establishing itself as 2010’s most quietly affecting record: a true sleeper hit. This CD reissue by No Pain In Pop, which brings the original 12-inch together with its sister 7-inch Rattling Cage and a limited bonus disc of remixes and rarities, should ensure it only continues to grow in profile.
Upon its release Dagger Paths was almost inevitably filed alongside the backward-looking ranks of his OESB labelmates. And there are certainly parallels to be drawn between tracks like ‘Miarches’ and ‘Rattling Cage’ and the likes of Autre Ne Veut and James Ferraro. But Forest Swords’ music is far more spatial than it is temporal. Shedding the thin haze of nostalgia that peppers the hypnagogic pop phenomenon, he crafts landscapes that are entirely of now. Rather than remain content with abstract expression, his cover of Aaliyah’s ‘If Your Girl Only Knew’ (recast simply as ‘If Your Girl’) is almost overwhelmingly visual. Barnes’ imperfect vocal take, buried in mist and murk, is crisp and autumnal, stretching out a single second into a percussive eternity. His music certainly plays tricks with time but also operates defiantly outside its rigid boundaries - album highlight ‘Hjurt’ hangs in unbroken stasis for five blissful minutes. In that sense it achieves a druggy 5am lucidity despite its low fidelity, low tech gestation.
Dagger Paths’ upward trajectory, subtle, organic, expanding from tiny eddies and ripples to full-blown waves, is mirrored in – or perhaps, more accurately, mirrors – its contents. As simple as it is effective, Barnes’ signature technique is to construct aural illusions of vertiginous depth from layer upon layer of sparse instrumentation, all bound together with the sticky gum of reverb. It’s as if dub had first developed in the windswept, changeable expanses of the Wirral, rather than the sun-soaked warmth of Jamaica. When I interviewed him earlier this year he also cited Simon Reynolds’ seminal post-punk document Rip It Up And Start Again as an inspiration. That book’s legacy becomes increasingly clear while listening to his music: the principle of tearing apart everything that came before and rebuilding it in stark new shapes lies right at its heart.
Crucially though, instead of using reggae or punk as a basis from which to experiment, ‘Glory Gongs’ and ‘Hjurt’ take the crystalline, spidery guitar structures of post-punk and set them buoyant above cavernous low-end. Combined with scraps of sampled voice strewn across its surface, the result is a take on similar ideas of deconstruction but filtered through a modern lens. While not explicitly political, it’s strangely appropriate that, in keeping with the origins of post-punk, its arrival coincides with the sort of vicious governmental agenda not seen since the days of Thatcher.

Beneath its dense, layered appearance, Forest Swords’ music is deceptively simple. Listening closely, you can practically hear Barnes’ bedroom tightly enclosing the music: fingers scraping on frets, failed takes, fruitless nights spent bathed in a laptop’s glow. But what’s so remarkable about Dagger Paths is how it transcends the limitations of that space. Like another of the year’s finest records, Actress’ Splazsh, it refuses to remain trapped between four walls, instead reaching outward to absorb the peculiarities of the surrounding environment. Tantalisingly short but precociously fully formed, operating both within and totally apart from current trends, it’s like nothing else out there. - Rory Gibb 

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