The Truth Don't Stop

The soundtrack to HBO’s “Big Little Lies” is fantastic

HBO has been impressing me lately with the choices for its shows’ soundtracks. Last year, astute listeners caught haunting covers on Westworld’s piano player. Songs like The Rolling Stones’ “Paint it Black,” Soundgarden’s “Black Hole Sun,” and The Animals’ “House of the Rising Sun” were each given new life by the show. And just last week, I noticed Mayer Hawthorne’s “Out of Pocket” playing in the background at a bar as Pete Holmes and T.J. Miller conversed on Crashing.

One of the newcomers to HBO’s lineup this spring – Big Little Lies – has blown me away so far with its soundtrack. Through its first four episodes, the murder-mystery/relationship drama based on Liane Moriarty’s 2014 novel of the same name has used a variety of contemporary and classic hits to effectively bolster the show’s emotions.

Without giving too much away, viewers are led to believe that somebody in the show’s incredible cast – including Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman, Shailene Woodley, Adam Scott, Alexander Skarsgård and many talented others – has committed a murder in their picturesque Monterey Bay community. There is constantly tension of all kinds between characters. Violence and aggression fuel acts of betrayal and revenge as relationships are stretched thin over struggles for power.

As one could imagine, this drama hits even harder when accompanied by the right music. A heartbroken Witherspoon softly singing along in the car to “This Feeling” by the Alabama Shakes at her six-year-old daughter’s recommendation is simultaneously solemn and hopeful.


The best example might occur in the show’s opening credits. A portion of Michael Kiwanuka’s epic “Cold Little Heart” plays as characters drive along the Pacific coast. These are dangerously windy roads along steep cliffs, and an ominous, gray haze hangs over the rocky shores. On another day, this landscape would be gorgeous and calming. But the dark lens and Kiwanuka’s conflicted lyrics let us know there’s evil hiding beneath the beauty.

“Did you ever want it?
Did you want bad?
Oh, my
It tears me apart
Did you ever fight it?
All of the pain, so much power
Running through my veins
Bleeding, I’m bleeding
My cold little heart
Oh I, I can’t stand myself”

Spotify user Ignatious Pop has compiled the soundtrack in a playlist that’s updated with each new episode. It’s a great mix of soul, rock and pop through the years. For starters, here’s a sampling of my favorites so far.

Frank Ocean ft. Earl Sweatshirt – “Super Rich Kids”

Sade – “Cherish the Feeling”

Irma Thomas -“Anyone Who Knows What Love Is”

Charles Bradley – “Changes”

Leon Bridges – “River”

-Mike Still


Hear Hiss Golden Messenger cover the Grateful Dead’s “Brown-Eyed Women”

Hiss Golden Messenger made one of my favorite albums of 2016 with Heart Like a LeveeThey recently stopped by Relix to play a stripped down version of the Grateful Dead’s “Brown-Eyed Women,” and their country road sound is perfect for the classic written by Robert Hunter and Jerry Garcia.

Here’s what Philly electro-pop singer Evan Wize has been listening to

I recently talked to Evan Wize about the making of his debut Evan Wize EP. Wize’s formal introduction to the music world is an effortlessly cool blend of pop, R&B and soul. It begs to be played on city rooftops as the sun slowly disappears on summer nights.

It’s curious then to hear from Wize that the earliest musical influences that inspired him to start singing as a teenager were mainly emo/hardcore bands like Brand New and Taking Back Sunday.

“It was a part of the people and musicians that I hung out with when I was younger,” said Wize. “That was the kind of stuff they listened to, and I wanted to get into it, too. As I grew older I just grew out of that phase like a lot of people do, and started exploring new stuff.”

Wize said his greatest period of musical discovery came when he needed it most. He was studying psychology at West Chester University, and had nearly accepted that it might be the right time to move on from making his own music.

“There was a two-year period where I was done trying to make it in music,” he said. “I was trying to do the college thing – get a degree, get a normal job – and the artists that influenced me during that time were guys like Chet Faker, The Neighbourhood, Anderson .Paak…those types of artists. They really changed my perspective on what I wanted to do as an artist and who I wanted to be.”

I asked Wize if he could put together a playlist of some of his favorites – old and new. Follow the link for a full Spotify playlist and check out the tunes below for a sampling of Wize’s taste.

Anderson .Paak & The Free Nationals: NPR Music Tiny Desk Concert

Chet Faker – Talk Is Cheap

Tom Misch – Beautiful Escape (feat. Zak Abel)

Jordan Rakei – Add the Bassline

HONNE – Warm On A Cold Night

-Mike Still

Local artist Evan Wize uses resources to forge his own sound on debut EP

About a year ago Evan Wize stopped by Josh Lerner’s South Philly apartment for an important and long overdue conversation.

The two had been writing and making music together for a few years by that point, stemming back to when Wize transferred to Penncrest High School in Media as a junior and he and Lerner met in a Computers and Music class.

“I was like, ‘Look man…we’ve been doing this kind of half-heartedly for a long time. But this is what I want to do. I’m confident that if we really go for it, we can make some really good songs together,'” said Wize.

“Josh was all for it.”

Since then the two have honed Wize’s smooth and soulful electro-pop sound, collaborating as one and capitalizing on an abundance of musical resources in Philly.  The hard work ultimately has come to fruition in Wize’s debut EP out today.

Wize – whose real name is Evan Wisneski – and his impassioned voice serve as the face for the duo. But as he puts it, “Josh is just as much a part of Evan Wize as I am.”

Lerner is a multi-instrumentalist and producer whose work has appeared on a variety of different projects in the Philly area. Scan his Instagram feed and you’ll very quickly get a read on his many talents.

Together they’ve forged a unique, sleek and effortlessly cool style on the EP.

“Because of the relationship we have, writing songs together over the past four years, we’re able to really go back and forth with every idea and come to a direction for the songs that we’re both really confident in,” said Wize.

“Through the years the sound changed and the projects changed and the players changed, but Evan and I were always consistent,” said Lerner. “It wasn’t until the last year that this project came to fruition and the sound really found its way in.”

Photo courtesy of Josh Lerner’s Facebook page. 

The two wrote each of the songs at Lerner’s Pennsport apartment, bouncing ideas off each other and putting in the work until a skeleton of a final product emerged.


“Every song is different,” said Wize. “Sometimes I’ll come down with a melody and build a song around the melody. Sometimes Josh will come up with a progression we both really like and we’ll run with that. Sometimes we’ll just start with an acoustic guitar idea that grows into something else. It’s really about just finding the gem of every idea and rolling with that till it’s finished.”

While the seeds for the tracks that eventually appeared on the EP were planted by just the two of them, Wize and Lerner made it a point to have as many different influences on the music as possible.

Lerner is a wiz on a drum pad, but he is through and though a traditionalist when it comes to production. Ask him about musical collaboration and he will gush sincerely about the romanticism of doing it old school.

His enthusiasm is unmistakable.

“I grew up with The Beatles and The Stones, Miles Davis and Jimi Hendrix…the best music anyone could ever ask for. And I know the way they did it – with real instruments and real players and real creativity in a room,” said Lerner. “Not that everyone can’t achieve that… There’s just a warmth and a texture and a tone that comes from that, that can’t be replicated synthetically. So on Evan’s record, our approach was to use all real studios, real drum sets, real guitars…everything is real. Players’ hands have touched this project and helped it grow and evolve, as opposed to him and me in a production suite, working alone and putting something out there.”

“We feel this is a sound that’s more timeless than timestamped.”

There are certainly artificial elements on the EP, as Lerner himself provided some of the synth work. But give “Our Love” – the first single off the EP that Wize had been released months earlier – a spin and you’ll hear that authenticity.

Wize sings over Lerner’s simple, driving backbeat on the drums. Keyboards make their way into the landscape and later a sultry saxophone melody slides into the chorus.

“A drum set never sounds old. A piano never sounds old. A guitar never sounds old. They’re just timeless,” said Lerner. “And in a world full of synthetic sounds, you have to find a way to stand apart.”

As independent artists financing the work themselves, Wize and Lerner sought out friends and fellow musicians in the city to contribute to the project. The EP includes Rodrigo Pichardo on bass, Wesley Robinson on keys and Art Crichlow on sax.


“The people that have worked with me on the album have been absolute pros,” said Wize. “We’re all just musicians in Philly trying to make it.”

“There’s a lot of talent in Philadelphia. In this stage of the game and even generally in the music industry, you don’t make it by being on your own,” added Lerner. “You use other people. You use everyone’s ability. You find what someone’s good at and you work with them. If you have a chemistry or energy together, you see where that can go.”

Joe Boldizar – co-owner of Retro City Studios in Germantown- engineered the EP. Space at Retro City was also used to track the album. Wize’s vocals were cut at Sine Studios in Center City and the album was finally sent for mixing to Kawari Sound in Wyncote.

“It’s expensive to use studios and real players but I truly believe in that sound and the music can live much longer doing it that way,” said Lerner. “It’s the closest we can get to doing it like The Beatles did. To be in a session, standing in a room with five guys working out a tune…There’s nothing like it.”

Wize will play an album release show at Boot and Saddle on March 18th. He’ll be joined by fellow locals Dizzy Valdez and Bamboo Tommy.

-Mike Still







This Just In…featuring Fruition, John Mayer and Tuxedo

All kinds of new music was released this week. Arcade Fire got together with Mavis Staples on a stirring new single. Austin rockers Spoon are back with a new song for the first time since 2014’s They Want My Soul. Foxygen’s Hang came out today. They reportedly employed the help of a 40-piece orchestra, and man, does that extra step pay off. And Maggie Rogerswho I recently stumbled onto – added a third song to her slight but impressive body of work.

Here’s the full playlist of this week’s favorites!

Fruition – “Labor of Love”

I’ve been listening to a whole lot of Hiss Golden Messenger recently, and that’s led me into a strange place musically I’d never expect to be. Hiss Golden Messenger doesn’t explicitly make country music – a genre I cannot and will likely never warm up to – but you can definitely hear country elements in their lyrics and twangy guitars. Alt-country / new country / southern rock…whatever you want to call it, I’m into it and surprised to find myself here.

This kinda-country kick led me to Fruition, a quintet from Portland, Oregon that is difficult to categorize. “Labor of Love” is the title track and opener of the band’s 2016 album. It features smooth transitions between banjos, mandolins and bluesy electric guitar riffs, and highlights the call-and-response and harmonies of Fruition’s three very capable vocalists.

Fruition and its unique blend of bluegrass and rock and roll will be in Philly soon, playing Union Transfer with Greensky Bluegrass on February 1st.

John Mayer – “Moving On and Getting Over”

Touring with Dead & Company has kept John Mayer busy for the past couple of years. The guitar virtuoso finally gave fans fresh music of his own on Friday with four new songs – the first batch of tracks dubbed Wave One off a new project called The Search for Everything

Mayer went in-depth with Rolling Stone to explain the creative process behind the new tunes. In the interview he also explains the choice of unrolling the record in pieces at a time:

“The price of admission is four songs,” he says. “If you don’t like these, don’t get the next four. But if I’ve engendered some kind of trust that you think i’m onto something, get the next four, and come along with me on every single wave.”

Each of the four songs addresses the pain and frustration induced by a broken heart. “Moving On and Getting Over” is the oddball of Wave One, though. Mayer’s guitar is still guiding us along for the most part, but it’s the R&B-inspired boom-tick-tap beat that you’ll find yourself nodding along to long after the song’s four minutes are up.

You’ve earned my trust, John. I’m eagerly awaiting the next wave.

Tuxedo – “Special”

As far as I’m concerned, Mayer Hawthorne can do no wrong.

The neo-soul artist from Detroit released some of the finest modern funk of 2016 with Man About Town. And out the blue, Party of One – a three-song EP just dripping with cool – appeared later the same year.

Hawthorne is back again with a few new songs from Tuxedo, the duo he forms with hip-hop producer Jake One. It is called Fux with the Tux. Really, that should be all I need to tell you to catch your interest.

“Special” has the same driving funky guitar riff heard on parts of Party of One – see “Time For Love” – but is dipped in an extra layer of late-night, low-light swagger.

-Mike Still

Allen Tate to give solo debut new life with stop at Johnny Brenda’s

Allen Tate has grown accustomed to sharing the stage.

As a lead vocalist for Brooklyn-based San Fermin, Tate’s unique baritone is just one element of meticulously crafted chamber pop. Though the band’s creative direction is led by composer Ellis Ludwig-Leone, it takes a large team of musicians to bring his ideas to fruition.

Having played a supporting role since San Fermin released its self-titled debut in 2013, Tate is now exploring life as a solo artist. His first effort recorded under his own name – Sleepwalker – was released this past October. The songs he had written back during a six-month break in touring for San Fermin have found new life as Tate readies to present them live.

Tate – a Philadelphia area native – will return home for a solo show at Johnny Brenda’s this Thursday along with Typhoon lead singer, Kyle Morton. It’s the second of four shows Tate will play over a four-day span.

About a month ago, Tate played a gig at World Cafe Live and was supported by a full band that included members of San Fermin. This time he’ll be alone in the spotlight.

“…When you’re used to having seven other bandmates on stage, it’s kind of funny to be out there by yourself all of a sudden,” said Tate.

Sleepwalker is brief – clocking in at about 29 minutes – but profound. Its foundations were laid during a three-week trip Tate took by himself to Copenhagen’s Vesterbro neighborhood.

Tate spent evenings writing and mornings editing. In the afternoon, he’d venture out to wander foreign streets in silence. Tate made it a point not to listen to any other music while he was there.

He didn’t set out with the intention of analyzing loneliness, but it naturally became a source of inspiration for the record.

“When I describe it to people, I think that going to see how lonely I could make myself was not the idea,” Tate said. “But it was to go and be alone and see what I was like alone. I had felt really overstimulated and wanted to focus and sort of say, ‘What do I feel like I want to say?’…I just wanted to see what came to me, in a really organic sense.”

Sleepwalker is as a result a portrait of introspection. It’s a thinking man’s record, and certainly offers a greater appeal to listeners who can appreciate what it’s like to be trapped inside your own mind.

Tate had optimistically hoped to write what would be a complete album in his Copenhagen Airbnb. He ultimately found that in his case, creativity cannot be forced.

“…Some of the other people in [San Fermin]…like [singer Charlene Kaye] is a machine. So is [drummer Michael Hanf]. They can both get into the van, no matter what we were just doing, and boom, laptop’s open and they’ll go right at it…write new stuff, mix…and it takes me a while,” said Tate.

Tate said he had been writing songs since middle school. That creative outlet continued to develop when he and Ludwig-Leone crossed paths in high school. Years later he found his time as a student at NYU winding down, and music began to take a back seat as law school loomed ahead.

Tate began “making peace with music,” as he put it.

To his surprise, a clean break from music was postponed. San Fermin signed a record deal after just its second show. The band’s forward momentum has not slowed since. It’s been a tremendously rewarding experience for Tate in many ways.

But how does a songwriter find the time to flesh out his own ideas when the tour bus isn’t parked in one place for more than a few hours at a time?

“At some point I definitely knew that I wanted to get writing again,” Tate said. “But it took me a little while to get going.”

Tate eyed San Fermin’s extended break as his opportunity. He took full advantage of having talented, like-minded bandmates ready and willing to offer their services. Sleepwalker is produced by Ludwig-Leone, and multiple members of San Fermin played on the record.

“We’ve been writing and making music together since we were 15,” Tate said of working with Ludwig-Leone. “So at certain point there’s no comparison to just the ease and understanding of transferring ideas and discussing stuff because we’ve been working together for so long.”

“The same goes for almost all the other guys,” he added. “Pretty much everyone that played on the record, we all ride around and spend half the year playing music together and talking about music together. So it couldn’t be a more comfortable situation.”

Preparing to play live has presented Tate with an opportunity to reflect on his work and view those songs in new light. The chorus  of “Don’t Choke,” for example, features support from female vocals. Tate joked that he played around with using his own “screeching falsetto” as a replacement, but found it to be “too jarring.”

Tate said he’s already begun working on ideas for a second solo record. And the lessons he learned the first time around – notably being creatively resourceful – have provided a spark.

“I think it is a really sparse record,” Tate said of Sleepwalker. “But pushing myself to work with even fewer parts or to hone the parts that are already in there is probably the biggest motivation and the most central idea to this early songwriting process that would be the next batch.”

San Fermin’s third album – Belong – is due out on April 7th. Their 2017 tour makes a stop in Philly at World Cafe Live on May 12th.

Here’s Tate’s take on the new record, as well as some leftover bits from our conversation.

TTDS: Ellis gave NPR an interesting quote in describing the general vibe of the new record. He said, “It’s a call from that little nagging voice telling you that you might be a bad person, or at least want bad things.”

AT: The most interesting San Fermin stuff that we’ve done, there always feels like there’s a lot of dualism. Whether it’s either that my voice is so low, and Char’s parts are so high…the baritone sax and the violin…sometimes it feels like a rock band, sometimes it feels really composed. I think those sort of [in-betweeners] are the most interesting stuff, when there’s a little bit of friction. Whether it’s good and bad, or a saxophone and a violin.

TTDS: What have you been listening to lately?

ATJay Som. I found her by accident on Spotify. I immediately tweeted at her and was like, “I have no idea how I found you, but your record is awesome.” I listened straight through to her record. In this time off from San Fermin I’ve been trying to up my guitar chops. I’ve been listening to a ton of old blues guitar stuff, which is way harder than I had originally assumed.


TTDS: What about early musical influences? Did you listen to anybody a lot growing up? Or pick anything up from parents or family?

AT: It’s totally my dad’s fault, but Stevie Wonder. He’s pretty much the number one. I think I was a senior in college…I got a turntable and stole like half of my dad’s Stevie Wonder albums because they hadn’t been played in years. Of course I got a text like six months later asking where they were. They have not gone home yet. I won’t relinquish them…Tons of Radiohead, but so does everybody. Interpol, for sure. The Roots, growing up in Philly, I think I saw them like 10 or 12 times before I graduated from high school. The Roots were probably the first time that live music made a connection for me. I listened to all kinds of stuff, but I was always really obsessed with lyrics, whether it was hip hop or the worst emo bands…just lyrics, that’s what I always listened to really closely in music. But once I started going to Roots shows, there were a couple times that I saw them and it was just like, “Man, this is it.” It was just a whole other level. That showing, being that impressed with a single performance, being that into it with a crowd, is something I think about a lot. Certainly with playing with San Fermin. If you come to one of our shows, you’re signing up for something that’s going to be different from the norm.

– Mike Still

This Just In…featuring Chance The Rapper, Flo Morrissey & Matthew E. White and Steve Gunn

Sorry this one’s a couple days late! I think it’s worth the wait though.

Chance The Rapper – “Blessings”

I admittedly am not the biggest fan of rap. But every now and then something comes along that just clicks. This time that surprise came in the form of Chance The Rapper.

I am so late to the game on this one. Chance’s Coloring Book was widely regarded as one of the best albums of last year. You can find it in the top 10 of just about everyone’s best of 2016 lists, including industry authorities like Pitchfork, Rolling Stone and Stereogum

There’s not much more that needs to be said about Chance’s work. “Blessings” is a personal favorite because of the laid back beat, sterling vocal support from Jamila Woods and Chance’s effortlessly humble delivery and lyrics.

Flo Morrissey & Matthew E. White – “Thinking Bout You”

Flo Morrissey and Matthew E. White‘s duet album Gentlewoman, Ruby Man has very quickly become one of my favorite releases of the new year. A compilation of covers, each song is completely unique regardless of whether the original is an old favorite or a hidden gem. There’s elements of soul, funk and R&B threaded seamlessly throughout.

“Look At What The Light Did Now” – originally performed by Little Wings and later covered by Canadian singer/songwriter Feist – was the first single to be released ahead of the full album. For a few days there, it was so difficult to make myself listen to anything else. Fortunately the rest of the songs on the record offered even more options to keep on repeat.

Morrissey and White borrow from a wide variety of genres, including the Grease soundtrack, singer Nino Ferrer on “Looking For You,” and often-sampled funk artist Roy Ayers with “Everybody Loves The Sunshine.”

Frank Ocean’s simple yet profound “Thinking Bout You” was a monster hit off his 2012 debut Channel OrangeMorrissey replaces Ocean’s falsetto in the chorus, and White’s electric guitar is swapped in as well. It’s a lighter take on Ocean’s version that highlights the vocal interplay between White’s hushed baritone and Morrissey’s soaring high notes.

For those interested in learning more about how Morrissey and White teamed up, check out the quick documentary below.

“It’s a moment with another person that I really enjoy making music with, being around, and just sort of celebrating that energy,” White says in the video. “For me, I want it to be a record that’s a real document of that.”

Steve Gunn – “Ancient Jules”

Many months ago a friend of mine, whose musical taste I greatly respect, recommended I check out Steve Gunn. This is a fine example of better late than never.

Gunn is the kind of supremely talented, (generally) under-the-radar musician that you hear and figure you have to be one of the first few who have stumbled onto a prodigy. Otherwise he’d be a household name. As it turns out, Gunn has released three solo albums since 2013, and has collaborated with Kurt Vile and Mike Gangloff on a few different projects.

“Ancient Jules” is a rumbling, six-minute showcase of Gunn’s ability. His solo toward the end takes us dangerously close to going off the rails before Gunn reels it back in just time.

Gunn will play a sold out show with Lee Ranaldo at PhilaMOCA this Saturday. Here’s a little taste of what too many in town will be missing:

-Mike Still

This Just In…featuring Electric Guest, Hippo Campus and Lady Wray

A bunch of new tunes were released this week by some big name artists , including The Shins and The xxTheo Katzman’s second full length came out today, as did an EP of previously unreleased songs by Night Moves.

You can check out some of those new releases in this week’s playlist. But here are a few of this week’s best of the best.

Electric Guest – “Dear To Me”

Electric Guest’s debut record from 2012 – Mondo – is one of the few albums I return to multiple times each year. The lead single off that – “This Head I Hold” – got some traction among a national audience, and rightfully so. But the whole thing is a soulful, indie pop masterpiece if you spend some time with it.

The duo is comprised of Asa Taccone and Matthew Compton. Taccone is the brother of Saturday Night Live/Lonely Island star Jorma Taccone, and helped with production on classics like “Dick in a Box.” It was with the help of his older brother that Asa got hooked up with highly sought after producer Brian Burton aka Danger Mouse. 

Production of Mondo reportedly took more than five years. Given that, I had pretty much assumed by this point that maybe it was a one-and-done.

Not only is “Dear To Me” a pleasant surprise, but more importantly it’s silky smooth. Taccone sings about the ups and downs of a relationship he ultimately understands is worth fighting for.

Hippo Campus – “Close To Gold”

I thought Hippo Campus was a one-hit wonder when “Suicide Saturday” blew up for a bit in 2015. That song helped score the young rockers from St. Paul a spot at Austin City Limits and a late-night appearance on Conan.

It turns out I just hadn’t given them enough of a chance. “Close To Gold” is a great representation of what the band’s guitar-driven sound is capable of. The tempo is in flux throughout and that keeps you waiting for what’s going to come next. And I love their vocal harmony at the end. All four of them nearly screaming together over guitarist Nathan Stocker’s playful riff makes for some kind of island-punk (new genre?).

After releasing two EPs in 2015 – South and Bashful Creatures – Hippo Campus will release its first album – Landmark – on Feb. 24. They begin a tour at the end of the month, which includes a stop at Union Transfer on March 28.

Lady Wray – “Do It Again”

Lady Wray’s sound has grown drastically since she made her musical debut back in 1998. The singer – born Nicole Rayrecorded under the name Nicole as Missy Elliot’s first signing to her Gold Mind label.  Nicole’s “Make it Hot” off a record of the same name was certified gold and has more than one million streams on Spotify.

Wray has since left her hot 100/R&B roots behind and developed a stunning and sultry voice. She shows great range all across 2016’s Queen Alone“Guilty” is the song that first got my attention, but “Do It Again” confirmed Wray’s potential as neo-soul royalty.

-Mike Still

Whitney makes TV debut on Colbert

Whitney made quite the splash in 2016 with their widely adored debut – Light Upon the Lake. The Chicago group kept the ball rolling in the new year with its first television appearance on Thursday night, playing “Golden Days” on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. 

Colbert introduced the band led by drummer/singer Julien Ehrlich and guitarist Max Kakacek. He efficiently and almost romatically summed up Whitney’s quick plunge into the spotlight. 

“My next guest started playing music in their Chicago apartment, and tonight make their television debut,” said Colbert.


Whitney toured extensively last year, selling out many shows and making appearances at Pitchfork Music Festival and Outside Lands. After taking the briefest of breaks, they’ll be back on the road in less than two weeks. Another tour with multiple international and US dates is highlighted by an appearance at Coachella.

Those located in Philly can see Whitney play at Union Transfer on May 22. Tickets go on sale today at noon. 

-Mike Still

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