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Tomás Doncker – Moanin’ At Midnight: The Howlin’ Wolf Project Album Review

New York City soul icon Tomás Doncker with his Tomás Doncker Band have just released their newest album, Moanin’ At Midnight: The Howlin’ Wolf Project. Tomás is the head of True Groove Records who recently signed a worldwide distribution deal with The Orchard. Because of his “global soul” mission and dedication to musical experimentation, he’s been on CNN and Guitar World as well as headlining NYC Summerstage and the Shanghai World Expo.

His latest release is an expanded full-length tribute to one of his idols, Howlin’ Wolf, whose website recently featured Tomás. Developed during a critically acclaimed run at NYC SummerStage during the summer of 2013, this project is now being shaped into a multimedia performance concert.

Doncker said about the release: “We had been bouncing the idea of a Blues record around for awhile. A hardcore modern Blues record. Every time we discussed it The Wolf came up. Willie Dixon came up. Smokestack Lightning, Spoonful, Evil – on and on…The stories – so vivid, even today. We wanted to be a part of that lineage, that history. We wanted to tell that “Same Ol’ Story” one more time…Our way. We felt the time was right”.

And tell it their way is exactly what they do. Evil sheds the heavy piano riff of the original and has been replaced by slick electric guitar. Killing Floor is made more solemn than Howlin’ Wolf’s. Howlin’ Wolf’s was jolly and upbeat with that typical rock ‘n’ roll Blues scale being heard predominantly throughout. Tomás Doncker’s version is darker and more dramatic.

Spoonful stays quite true to the original. It’s not so gentle but vocally and also musically, Tomás hasn’t drifted too far away on this track in comparison to some of the other tracks on the new record. Tomás’ Spoonful sounds like Jimi Hendrix’s Foxy Lady to start with before that insane harmonica comes in.

I Ain’t Superstitious has been completely altered taking out a lot of those old, woe-be-me Blues and making it a much livelier number. The beginning of the track has keyboards reminiscent of The Doors. Tomás has given this track a faster tempo than the original, removing that sense of American soulful Blues slightly. It’s a good rendition though regardless of this alteration.

Tomás Doncker’s new record, Moanin’ At Midnight: The Howlin’ Wolf Project, will be released tomorrow (8 July 2014).

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Umbrella Bed – Refill EP Review

Umbrella Bed  is a ska/2tone/alternative group whose wildly energetic live shows have brought them across Europe twice as well as many major shows in the U.S. Inspired by acts like English Beat and the Dead Milkmen, Umbrella Bed have teamed up with independent anti-racist and socially conscious label Mad Butcher Records to release the brand new EP, Refill.

Picking up on a 2Tone ska sound might have seemed like a strange choice in the summer of 1995 when Umbrella Bed first assembled itself into existence. After all, the 2Tone ska sound had a very shortlived period 15 years earlier and, without a doubt, in 1995 the newly reborn ska genre ‘third wave’ was creating a much harder edged ska sound.

Thirdwave ska was very much guided by the rise of the alternative music scene and infused ska with a more punk/grunge bent. It moved the ska sound pretty far away from 2Tone’s inherent pop roots. But 2Tone’s shorter life had also left a lot of room to explore. And explore Umbrella Bed has.

Five full length releases, hundreds of wildly energetic shows and two European tours later, doing anything but build on 2Tone’s legacy would have been a tragic loss. By taking the alternative minded but accessible framework the 2Tone sound offered and infusing it with it’s own diverse sensibilities and influences, Umbrella Bed discovered a unique blend which resonates as something different in the alternative music realm and also something with mass appeal.

The band also independently released full length albums in 1996 (King Size) and 1998 (Monkey’s and Rivets). Distributed by OarFin Records, both were solid sellers. In 2003 a relationship with German based label Mad Butcher Records marked a new phase of work. Umrella Bed has since released three albums: 2003’s Last Band Standing, 2005’s One Small Skank… and 2008’s GO on the independent internationally distributed anti-racist and socially conscious label.

Each album is wrapped beautifully in a 2Tone framework while infusing swing, punk, reggae, Latin, new wave and good traditional Jamican sounds with the Refill EP following suit. Lyrically Umbrella Bed’s sardonic take on love and politics are the well layered finishing touches.

As a live act Umbrella Bed has also played support role to a who’s who in the ska/reggae world including The Skatalities, The Specials, English Beat, The Toasters, Mustard Plug, King Chango, MU330, Mad Sin, The Selector and many others.

The band’s primary line up has rotated some over the years but has remained largely intact. Lead vocalist Hellrocket, drummer Dutch Buddha, trombonist Al Teagarden and ska’s premier French Horn player Eva Washburn have been around from day one. Trombonist O’Joya and saxophonist DJ WayCool have been with the band nearly a decade. Recent additions Franknos on bass and Rude Boy Bandit on guitar have added a new youth movement to a band on the tail end of its second decade proving there is a lot more history to come.

The band have released two new music videos in support of the EP, Two Tone Monster and Wish That It Would Stop. The new EP Refill is five tracks of ska bliss. Starting track Wish That It Would Stop introduces this band’s energy from the first note. Despite the song’s downbeaten message with the lyrics, “I live a life that I hate/I hate it/Just really hate it” this song is considerably upbeat with the ska tones lifting your mood. The second track Gone Away introduces a darker side to Umbrella Bed’s music. It has an unnerving, wistful guitar riff accompanied by a repetitive bass line and drum beat.

Got It Wrong Now is a lively, danceable number with juxtaposing lyrics. It tells a sad story about someone who has misinterpreted the intensity of a relationship, “You seem a little in doubt…I got it wrong now/You’ll never say I do”.

Two Tone Monster is a bit of a silly song about the band’s chosen choice of genre, 2Tone ska. It’s a harmless pop/ska song with some awesome trumpet solos. Dubb Away finishes the EP perfectly. As the title suggests, it’s a completely instrumental track highlighting the drum and bass rhythms. Dubb Away allows Umbrella Bed to really show off their musicality – they are brilliant at creating jazz influenced ska beats that just fit together perfectly.

After watching Umbrella Bed’s latest videos, you’ll understand why this band has the reputation it does. All the members are full of life and passion – they enjoy performing and creating music whether it be about politics or just nonsense, far from important life events. It’s a little bit like watching your Dad in a band – it’s slightly embarassing first of all, you’re not sure what to make of it but then you become proud. If these guys still have this amount of energy nearly two decades into their career, they are doing well. You can’t fault them for that.

Umbrella Bed don’t conform in the way other bands might – they don’t claim to have the best vocals, the greatest sense of fashion or looks like Kate Beckingsale or Johnny Depp. You get what you see – down to earth people making music and having fun.

The new EP Refill is out now.

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Monks of Mellonwah – Afraid To Die EP Review

Australian indie quartet Monks of Mellonwah’s new full-length CD Turn The People is being released in three parts. The first EP Ghost Stories was released on 29 June and now the second EP Afraid To Die has been released today.

The Monks of Mellonwah have signed to A&R Worldwide (Muse, Coldplay) as well as winning ‘Best International Rock Band’ at the LA Music Awards and AIM Music Awards in 2012. This year they toured nationally and played Singapore’s Music Matters Festival.

Strongly influenced by rock artists such as Led Zeppelin, Muse, Pink Floyd and the Chili Peppers, the Monks’ music displays a masterful and unique blend of intense space, driving riffs and sharp metaphors. As their sound evolved, so did their love for both classic rock and modern progression/experimentation.

Their first EP, Stars Are Out, found the Monks receiving significant radio play across Australia on community radio. The band released their first music video for Swamp Groove in April 2011 and enjoyed airplay on ABC’s music program RAGE. Swamp Groove also claimed first prize at a music video night at “Harold’s Shorts” short film festival, receiving great reviews and the award from legendary music historian and personality Glenn A Baker.

The Monks released their second EP Neurogenesis in May, 2012, along with a new video for the track Neverending Spirit, to an overwhelming response. The band successfully toured for Neurogenesis throughout Australia in Summer 2012 working with Tone Deaf and continued their outreach with a United States tour organised by President Entertainment.

Monks of Mellonwah

Monks of Mellonwah

On 1 April 2013, the band released the progressive and experimental EP/single Sky and the Dark Night, an emotionally charged, heavy offering showcasing the band’s new direction that was hinted at with Neurogenesis.

Now the Monks have taken a turn again with Turn The People, a full-length album being released in three parts. Turn The People finds the Monks experimenting and truly showcasing the bold new sound they’ve developed over the past year of touring, writing and studio work. Rock, electronic and strong pop sensibility infuse this offering.

Title track Afraid To Die introduces a strong rock influence to this EP. Its starts with low tones and heavy bass with a punchy guitar riff in the forefront. Downfall continues to build on the Monks of Mellonwah’s rock style as the fast guitar riff plays unaccompanied at the beginning of the song. Vikram Kaushik’s vocals are as pleasant as ever on Downfall showing off his soft voice that is naturally good. There’s no straining heard in his vocals.

Alive For A Minute is a much more chilled out track compared to the previous two. It has a really wonderful deep bass line drawing the listener’s attention to it leaving the drums being heard playing faintly in the background. It’s the bass line and the occasional strings which accompany it that carry this song. Kaushik has the sort of voice that sends shivers down your spine – you can hear his emotion and strength in every line of lyrics sung. This is especially true in the first verse, “Chasing away in a place where the light is all gone/Run around it’s over now the final seed is a no…”

I Belong To You is a stripped back number with only an acoustic guitar and some soft electronic melodies present making this track the most relaxed on the record. The lyrics, “I still dream of a day of when I’m closer/When I become all that I can be/In my surrender in no conception/I still lose/In my obsession/There’s still no mention of you” are lyrics that can be related to. These lyrics sung with a lack of instruments emphasise the emotion behind this track.

Once again the Monks of Mellonwah have produced an excellent EP that offers emotionally charged rock songs that suit any mood. Afraid To Die is out now.

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Slim Loris Future Echoes and Past Replays Album Review

Slim Loris are an alternative indie/folk rock band from Stockholm, Sweden. They say about themselves: “Slim Loris blends Indie Pop/Rock with Americana and a pinch of Swedish melancholy.” The band consists of just two members; Mattias Cederstam (vocals, bass, piano) and Robert Barrefelt (guitars). But when the band play live Jonas Ellenberg (drums) and Leon Lindström (guitars and vocals) join the group. The band formed in 2009 from the remnants of two indie acts and released a collection of demos entitled Amateur Night at the Asylum the year after.

In 2011, Slim Loris’ debut album Down To Earth was released led by the first single Low, showing the band’s fine-tuned song writing skills and classic rock sense of melody. Now Slim Loris are releasing their follow up album entitled Future Echoes and Past Replays which is an album with a mature, emotionally charged sound showing progression in the band’s song-writing and production. The new record is due to be released on May 19.

Slim Loris

Swedish band, Slim Loris

To get an idea of Slim Loris’ sound think of Del Amitri, Ryan Adams and City and Colour. Now take all the best bits from these artists and you have a good description of Slim Loris’ music. They are a bit alternative rock, country and folk all rolled into one. Cederstam’s vocals are gravelly, husky yet surprisingly pleasant.

Future Echoes and Past Replays starts off as an upbeat album musically while the lyrics are quite dark, these things juxtapose each other making it an immediately interesting album – it’s not all airy fairy and pleasantries here. The album does get even darker and by the third track Domestic, the record has taken a turn. Track one Fear of Flying is very Del Amitri-esque while track two Head On The Floor is more folk inspired with the banjo being a prominent instrument from the first second. Track three Domestic is a fantastic track which has some blues influences seeping through. It also features a woman’s voice which really adds something to the song, it’s definitely one of the best songs on the record. The brilliant blues inspired guitar riff at the beginning sets a more melancholy sound than previous tracks. The spot-on harmonies and call and response type lyrics of “You used to laugh at all my jokes and you’d never turn me down but now you’re closed/Your new dress code is comfortable but you’re never late/You point out all the faults I make/And you’ll stay right here with me…You used to bring me flowers for no reason/We’d talk for hours without end/Now you are just sat there staring at the screen, expecting to get waited on…” are absorbing. You are instantly captivated – it’s like you’re placed into an argument as the middle man. While I Breathe, In Silence and I Will Forget are the ballads of the album.

Visions of Tomorrow is another wonderful song which sums up the title of the record. It’s a song all about regrets. It’s about wondering what you could have done better, it’s quite sad in its own way. The lyrics “Happiness found its way passed me, found a way to flee/Loneliness has walked right next to me and now it’s all I see/It’s all I’ll ever be/And everything I’ve lost is all I’ve ever known has made me turn my head…to the place where I once walked and what I should have done/It’s made me turn my head around…” demonstrates the past regrets held and the strong willingness to change, to stop there being any more regrets. It’s a real eye-opener of a song, just listen carefully to the lyrics and you’ll see a whole other side to this track.

Clean As A Whistle builds the album back up from the slightly depressing songs in the middle ground of the record, it’s a fun song. It has strong folk influences from the beginning. Clean As A Whistle is a relatively bouncy number in comparison to the previous tracks. Norah is very much like the beginning of a Ryan Adams song. It’s more country than the other songs on the album. It’s a really pleasant song with a lot of different layers allowing you to become fully immersed in it. The verses are quite stripped back and the vocals are croaky, passionately sung and almost as if Cederstam is choked up with emotion.

Awakening is the last song on album. Awakening is full of emotion. The first lyrics are sung with cracked vocals, “All a mess inside/My thoughts have left me/Not knowing what’s in or out/I grab hold of whatever I can/Clinging on so hard/It leaves a mark inside my hands.” The chorus “I will follow you whenever/To crawl from me/Despite of my fear/I will leave this broken creature far behind and go/Just help me carry my mental load…” introduces an intriguingly vulnerable character. These intense lyrics combined with the softly played piano really tugs at the heart strings. It’s a raw song where vulnerable feelings are being expressed. It’s a masterpiece of emotions. The song slowly builds but the emotion behind the song is not comprised.

Slim Loris’ Future Echoes and Past Replays is a brilliant album full of passion, emotion and the odd few uplifting numbers. Slim Loris have been described as Sweden’s Mumford & Sons but there is definitely a more serious and melancholy side to Slim Loris. Their songs capture the essence of human emotions in a raw, provocative and enhancing way. Future Echoes and Past Replays is not to be missed. 

Future Echoes and Past Replays is available from May 19. Visit Slim Loris for more details.

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Monks of Mellonwah – Sky and The Dark Night EP

Monks of Mellonwah are back with a brand new EP release, Sky and The Dark Night. The release comes after their previous EP Neurogenesis which was released last May. Neurogenesis received hundreds of reviews and features worldwide including coverage on MTV, Big Takeover Magazine, CMJ, Kings of A&R, Noise 11 and Tone Deaf. The media attention earned them licensing spots through a number of production companies in the US including Discovery Networks and Bunim Murray. The Monks successfully toured for Neurogenesis throughout Australia in Summer 2012 working with Tone Deaf and continued their outreach with a United States tour organized by President Entertainment.

Monks of Mellonwah EP artwork

Monks of Mellonwah EP artwork

After the success that Neurogenesis brought the band, the four piece alternative indie rock band from Sydney may receive similar attention when the new EP is released.

Having been compared to the likes of Incubus, Muse and The Black Keys, Monks of Mellonwah are definitely a band to watch. While the vocals by Vikram Kaushik are very similar to that of Incubus’ Brandon Boyd, Monks of Mellonwah do have their own unique musical style that cannot be compared.

Their new EP Sky and The Dark Night is progressive and experimental. The EP is an emotionally charged, heavy offering showcasing the band’s new direction that was hinted at with Neurogenesis. Sky and The Dark Night is in the form of one composition. The four tracks eventually come together to make the final trilogy mix. The whole EP combines a filmic score with electro and rock influences. Track one Breakout provides the filmic score while track two Control lends the rock influences heard in previous EP Neurogenesis. Track three Condition introduces the idea of electro rock into the band’s style. Eventually, track four sees all three songs transformed into one mind-blowing number.

Joe de la Hoyde (bass) explains the inspiration for Sky and The Dark Night. He says: “We are each riddled by our own curses and battle our own demons. There are diseases and syndromes and many things that we can’t understand let alone hope to control. Sky And The Dark Night, to me, is the journey from the beginning of our battles to their fruitless ends; the ups and downs, the triumphs and the failures. It is the undying hope that maybe somewhere along the way, we might find ourselves.”

Monks of Mellonwah performing live

Monks of Mellonwah performing live

Monks of Mellonwah have toured nationally and travelled to the United States twice, winning awards for Best Indie  Rock Band (2012 AIM Awards) and Best International Act (2012 LA Music  Awards). Their two previous EP’s (Stars Are Out and Neurogenesis) and subsequent music videos have gained them  worldwide critical acclaim, airplay on MTV’s network and extensive  radio play. The band are also now celebrating their new  development deal with A&R Worldwide.

Sky and The Dark Night is being released on vinyl and digital only on April 1.

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Marla Mase – Speak (Deluxe Edition)

Marla Mase is a writer, performer, producer, singer and songwriter from New York City. On top of being multi-talented in the musical and artist side of life, she has been awarded an honorary ‘Messenger of Peace’ award by Friends of the UN for her work as a visionary artist and songwriter. Marla Mase isn’t your typical punk rock chick.

Marla Mase

Marla Mase and the Tomas Doncker Band

Marla Mase has become known for her provocative and raw live performances and thought-provoking lyrics which focus on the injustices of the world, media pressures upon women among other political and social issues. Marla Mase isn’t a passive member of society. She uses her thought-provoking songs to inspire others (just as others like Bob Dylan did in the past). However, unlike those huge inspirational artists of the 60s and 70s, Mase doesn’t take a back seat. Whatever she sings about, she also puts into practice. Songs like Queen of Imperfection and AnnaRexia highlight the issue of the pressure that is put on women by the media and society to look a certain way. Mase sings about this while also actively campaigning. AnnaRexia is spearheading the StayImperfect Project or Love Your Butt Campaign which Marla created to empower women to not only accept but love themselves and their bodies. Proceeds from AnnaRexia as well as emerging artist, Lael Summer’s track, The Good Fight (whose EP Marla co-produced with Doncker) will go towards theprojectheal.org, a non-profit organization founded by two teenage eating disorder survivors, that raises scholarship money for girls whose families cannot afford to send them to treatment.

For the above reasons among others, Mase has been noted as being a true musical pioneer of our time. She is about to release the deluxe edition of her album Speak. Speak was first released in 2010. The deluxe edition features the ten original tracks plus six extra ones such as AnnaRexia and Piece of Peace.

Marla Mase has been compared to the likes of Jim Morrison and Patti Smith. Two of the most inspirational musicians of the 60s and 70s. Mase certainly has a Patti Smith feel to her music and to some extent, her appearance and attitude to life. Songs like Open Up My Heart and Queen of Imperfection really do ooze Smith’s attitude and spirit. Her musical style reflects that of Smith’s as well. Her music is poetry in song. She mixes spoken word, punk, rock, global soul and reggae influences to produce a sound all her own. It seems Mase belongs in the 70s but is a few decades too late.

Lyrically, Mase is not as strong as Smith or Morrison, she is less literary and more factual. Her songs’ messages are easier to understand than that of Smith’s or Morrison’s. For example, the lyrics of and meaning behind track five, New Cell Phone are pretty obvious – the world has become too digitalised, mobile phones and the internet are the only way people communicate now. Mase sings about changing her number and trying to escape the world around her.

Marla Mase

Marla Mase performing live

Mase is more straight forward in her approach to lyrics, she’s clear and direct. However, saying that, Open Up My Heart is a narrative about a protected princess who longs to witness real life and experience true love. It reminds me of the story of the Buddha in some ways, a protected being who wishes to see the real world and how others live, even if that means witnessing love and hate.

Other favourite tracks on Speak are Queen of Imperfection, She Hooked Him Up, Divine Restlessness and Dance the Tango. Usually it’s easy to distinguish your favourite tracks on an album but this time round it was hard. Most of the tracks are outstanding due to the way they open your mind and make you think about the world and how we all live in it together.

Queen of Imperfection sees Mase singing her heart out about how she is not ‘perfect’. No-one is perfect and this is something we should all celebrate. The lyrics, “I’m cracked, flawed and defective just like you are…My body has some wear and tear because it ain’t been airbrushed and I don’t care…Ain’t no cover girl/Ain’t no pornographic supermodel movie star/My hair ain’t combed/My house is a wreck…” are all too true. We should embrace that we are all real and unique and not false like Hollywood movie stars.

She Hooked Him Up has a great funk beat that will instantly have you tapping your feet. This song is about the power of sex in society. Sex sells as we all know far too well.  Divine Restlessness is one of the few slow numbers on the record where Mase sings about switching off and fully relaxing in an Eastern meditative way; reaching the Divine. Dance the Tango is a song that feels separate from the rest of the album which is why it’s a favourite. This is the only track on the album with folk influences and is a welcomed break from the punk influences found in the rest of the tracks. Vocally, Mase sounds more angelic and less angry in Dance the Tango. It has a great melody and beat that will have you bobbing along in no time. It’s a narrative about a woman who died and her obituary was read in the paper. However, it missed out how she enjoyed dancing the tango, “They forgot to mention how you liked to laugh and how you loved to dance the tango”. Dance the Tango focuses on remembering the little things about those people you love; those things that made them happy, not about how much you miss them when they’ve gone.

Mase has the ability to write lyrics and create songs that open your mind. They will get you thinking. There are layers to her songs meaning you can take what you want from each one. Those interpretations above are my own but you might listen and find other meanings in the songs. There are not many artists that can write in that way these days. There are not many artists who can create songs that make you think about the wider picture. For most songs we are a passive audience but when you listen to Mase, you will become an active audience member.

Speak (the deluxe edition) will be available from Thursday 28 February. You can listen to the stream here.

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A Primitive Evolution – Lord of Reason

Alternative blues rock band A Primitive Evolution recently released the official video for their new track, Lord of Reason. The video release comes after the band’s first full length album release in September last year titled The Prize.

The blues rock band consists of Brett Carruthers (vocals and guitars), Stephany Seki (bass, cello and vocals) and Stu Dead (drums and percussion). Based in Toronto, Canada, this trio have a unique view of the world and the human race. Carruthers said: “Creation is evolution. That’s what I figure we’re trying to say with A Primitive Evolution. As evolved as we think we are as humans or animals, we are very much in the beginning of the evolution of mankind. We have so much to learn and yet so much has changed in the last hundred years. We have a long way to go as a species. We want our band to reflect that too, going off of what we feel, doing it out of instinct and evolving naturally; having some fun existing on this planet.” And this is exactly how their music comes across. Punchy, fun and full of life without sinking into that stereotypical view of blues rock. Their music means something, it’s not commercial.

A Primitive Evolution

A Primitive Evolution artwork

A Primitive Evolution has a range of influences including Jane’s Addiction, Stone Roses, Tool, Outkast, Led Zeppelin, Radiohead, Faith No More, Vivaldi and Motorhead to name just a few. This is what makes their music accessible and original at the same time. They have drawn on many different influences which gives their sound a varied feel.

Lord of Reason is a fantastic blues rock track with influences of folk blended in nicely to compliment it. The beginning is mesmerising. The acoustic guitar riff sets the scene with its perfect tones and loose sounding strings while Carruthers’ vocals are slowly introduced. Everything about this song feels right. There are no flaws. The band have become known for their Alice in Wonderland-esque videos and the video for Lord of Reason definitely fits that category.

Dead said about the band’s sound: “It’s bulldozing electronic music without the keyboards. We use real instruments instead. It creates this heavy, industrial aspect. In this band, we push each other to step out of comfort zones. It’s in my nature to always be uncomfortable. That’s when you can really create.”

Seki added: “…The Prize came out really pretty; better than we were hoping. We strive to avoid repetition, to be very raw, real and organic. We don’t follow trends because we don’t work well in that environment. Even if people recognize the songs, The Prize is something unto itself.”

Dead concluded: “Get ’em hot and bothered. They should be excited about music; surprised. As a musician, that’s the greatest reward. We always bring something new, be it this recording or our live show. We  challenge our audience to come with us on our journey. That’s why we went from a super hard record to a crazy acoustic soundtrack record. Some bands put out the same shit over and over. We don’t want to stagnate and becoming boring. We’d never do that to our audience.”

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