1998 in Music

A list of every 1998 music album that I have reviewed to date.

1. Godspeed You Black Emperor!: F#A# Infinity (9/10)

The first proper GYBE!/GY!BE album is a perfect introduction to their immense, mysterious, powerful sound. The pieces are often slightly more obvious as suites than later work, but that’s hardly a criticism. Frankly, I don’t know of too much music out there like this at the time – it’s contemporary post rock taken to it’s logical conclusion.

(Note: this album was originally released in 1997 as a rarely heard vinyl record which was 1/3 shorter than the CD version which I is the version I have always known. I must say that, in terms of the original 1997 version, it’s hard to get too excited about a record whose best track is missing.)

2. John Zorn: The Circle Maker (9/10)

This was my introduction to both Chamber Jazz and Klezmer Jazz so, at the time, having heard nothing like it in my life, I was kind of blown away.

Time has revealed to me that John Zorn didn’t just invent something in 1998, these styles have existed for a lot longer.

But it’s still absolutely great stuff, some of the best music of its kind I’ve ever heard. And, despite it’s length, I think it’s a rather great introduction to both genres.

3. Tortoise: TNT (9/10)

I wrote this in 2005:

A fantastic album and a landmark of the badly named post-rock genre. Manages to combine a wide variety of styles into something that sounds quite unique. It is kind of amazing that this is the work of a collective as it sounds like it was made by a coherent group that’s played together for a long time…aah the wonders of digital editing.

Anyway, just great stuff.

It’s hard to disagree with that completely, even if this wasn’t their first outing.

4. Converge: When Forever Comes Crashing (9/10)

A great metalcore album. Maybe the best. I don’t know. Read the review for When Forever Comes Crashing.

5. PJ Harvey: Is This Desire? (9/10)

Mostly a radical departure without really sounding like one. Read the review of Is This Desire?

6. The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill (8/10)

I think by sheer influence alone, this likely belongs even higher than this spot but I can’t say I like how long it is. Read the review of The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill.

7. At the Drive-In: In/Casino/Out (8/10)

If At the Drive-In weren’t do damn indebted to Fugazi I’d be tempted to claim this as the best post hardcore record of the 1990s.

They take Fugazi’s ideas and make them more ambitious and (relatively) more polished. They are better songwriters than Fugazi, for the most part, and so the songs are catchier. They are also influenced by different things so that you get musical ideas that would never have graced a Fuguazi record (for good or ill).

But this is still very much indebted to Fugazi and that’s what keeps me from giving it higher marks.

8. Mark Hollis (8/10)

It’s not Talk Talk, but what is? Read the review of Mark Hollis’ debut album.

9. Secret Chiefs 3: Second Grand Constitution and By-Laws: Hurqalya (8/10)

The second SC3 album is just as varied as the first – well, maybe not quite as varied as the first, that’s kind of impossible – but it’s significantly less obviously avant garde and significantly more listener friendly.

This time out the different genres are sometimes placed in their own songs – songs! oh my science, actual songs! – rather than thrown together seemingly at random though there are still many instances of crazy genre bending. You can play spot the genre, just like on the first record, but there are slightly fewer curve-balls and there’s no track where they try to do every single thing all at once.

All of this is relatively speaking of course; there’s still crazy genre-bending, but feels less insane (and less willfully difficult) than the first record.

This is both a step forward for them and a clear compromise with tradition.

10. Zao: Where Blood and Fire Bring Rest (8/10)

Pretty great metalcore, if that’s what it is. Read the review of Where Blood and Fire Bring Rest.

11. Nile: Amongst the Catacombs of Nephren-La (8/10)

YES. This is my kind of death metal. Read the review of Nile’s debut.

12. Archers of Loaf: White Trash Heroes (8/10)

I understand, from my limited knowledge of their catalogue, that this final album is somewhat of an anomaly for this band. But, as the album that introduced me to them, I can’t help but have a soft spot for it. And I wonder if it is the fear of change in fans that has resulted in the view that this is their worst record.

Because it’s certainly not a bad record. It’s got lots of compelling melodies buried in quirky arrangements (which sound like they were dreamed up by a different band than the one that recorded their debut) and it manages to stand out among so much of the other indie rock of the era (that I am aware of) in its embrace of both keyboards/synths and folk music.

I love it.

13. Mercury Rev: Deserters’ Songs (8/10)

I don’t know pop like I know rock music. I don’t know what kind of other pop music was around when this came out. Nor do I know the earlier Mercury Rev records which, I have been led to believe, do not sound like this.

But this is immense-sounding, accessible-but-weird chamber pop of the best kind. This is not a genre I particularly enjoy, but something about this record connects with me in a way that most chamber pop does not.

Part of it is certainly how “out of time” it sounds – aside from the vocal, which feels like it has to be a product of alternative or indie rock, and maybe one song, this record could have been recorded seemingly at any time since the late ’60s. The band has managed to craft timeless arrangements to idiosyncratic songs.

It is also, to my knowledge, a brave left turn into a new genre (one sort of duplicated by The Flaming Lips a year later).

I’d much rather listen to rock music, or folk music, or country or…well, you get the idea. I’d much rather listen to so much other things than pop music, but this is the rare record where I feel like there is enough going on that the obsession with melody doesn’t get annoying.

14. Gastr del Sol: Camoufleur (8/10)

A very long time ago I wrote this:

This record walks a weird line – actually it doesn’t walk it, it crosses it – between chamber pop/folk and post rock. There are strong vocal melodies – a relative rarity in post rock – but so much of the grab-bag of sounds behind, around and apart from these melodies sometimes make you think like you are listening to different bands. This is as “bedroom” as this stuff gets while still being a band recording, and while not being lo-fi.

But despite the rather scatterbrained nature of the ideas involved, it’s really appealing and a lot of the tracks stick with you afterwards, even though it feels like you didn’t really notice them when you first heard them.

It’s a rather unique beast and listening to it again after all these years reminds me I really have to listen to the rest of their catalogue.

I can’t help but think how much more like post-rock in 1991 this record is than post rock in 1998. Gastr del Sol charted their own course, and it’s more of a avant garde singer-songwriter / chamber pop thing than it is “post rock.” But that makes it more unique, not less.

15. Chocolate Genius: Black Music (8/10)

Great set of songs. Read the review of Black Music.

16. Calexico: The Black Light (8/10)

Great stuff. Read the review of The Black Light.

17. Billy Bragg & Wilco: Mermaid Avenue (8/10)

Sometime between 2011, when I first heard it, and now (2018), I wrote the following

I heard this a few years ago and it didn’t register. I’m not really sure why. I wasn’t so much of a Wilco fan then, and I wasn’t really aware of Billy Bragg. But still, that doesn’t excuse me. I guess I had a problem with the multiple artist thing. Who knows?

Well, this is quite the collection. Both Bragg and Wilco have managed to make relatively modern sounding music out of Guthrie’s lyrics, while still sounding relatively folksy. A number of these songs have found their way into Wilco’s live show so I am familiar with them, but regardless there are few if any misses. My favourite at the moment is “Walt Whitman’s Niece.”

It’s a project like this that makes one hope for more revivalist music, rather than dreading it.

I might have gone a little overboard on my second rating of 9/10 (since downgraded) but I do think it’s a pretty good example of what you can do with newly discovered old “music” (just lyrics in this case) if you don’t feel completely tied to the past.

18. Dave Matthews Band: Before These Crowded Streets (8/10)

Much better than I imagined it was when I was 19 and rejected it. Read the review of Before These Crowded Streets.

19. Tori Amos: From the Choirgirl Hotel (8/10)

Despite its contemporary production, I like it. Read the review of From the Choirgirl Hotel.

20. Various Artists: Great Jewish Music: Marc Bolan (8/10)

This is how to do a tribute album: disparate labelmates come together to record idiosyncratic covers of an underappreciated songwriter. Frankly, I don’t know why we’d want something different.

I don’t know my T Rex but this record has always made me feel like I should.

21. Pearl Jam: Yield (8/10)

Not that long ago (2016?), I wrote the following:

This is the first time Pearl Jam really tried to sound different than usual. That may seem like a weird thing to say given that, for example, on Vitalogy then went and did all that “art noise” stuff, but what I mean is that the production – deliberately “modern” ’90s production – is noticeably different. Much like you can hear a distinct difference between Ten and the rest of their records, so it is with Yield.

And it’s annoying. And the songs are a reasonably strong set – some classics, some not – but certainly not the worst set of songs they ever recorded. But so many of them are smothered in this weird attempt to sound different than normal, to sound, I guess, more of the particular time. And it means that Yield sounds nearly as dated as Ten, but has fewer classics on it.

It’s not my least favourite Pearl Jam album by any means – especially given their latest few records – but it has dated about as much as any of their music, and it’s definitely in a lower tier.

I don’t know what happened in the interim, but I heartily disagree. Maybe the record has just worked its way too far into my subconscious for me to be objective about it but the things that used to bother me here, bother me less.

And what I’ve discovered, now that I’ve finally gotten over the consciously “modern” production (which really only affects a few tracks), is that this is a pretty good set of songs, especially compared to some of their 21st century efforts. So, while I feel like a bit of an unreasonable old man for claiming every ’90s Pearl Jam album is at least “very good” I can’t really help myself. It’s good.

22. Tricky: Angels with Dirty Faces (8/10)

Approachable Hip Hop for someone as white as me. Read the review of Angels with Dirty Faces.

23. Elliott Smith: XO (8/10)

Closer to what I would like him to sound like. Read the review of XO.

24. Apocalyptica: Inquisition Symphony (8/10)

Part II of the gimmicky Metallica with covers thing is arguably just as good as the first, as the band covers songs by other bands.

This is still sort of a gimmick and I suppose you like it or you don’t but the material is still strong (because of the covers), whereas with their later releases the reliance on original material weakens things.

As good as this stuff gets.

25. OutKast: Aquemini (7/10)

This probably deserves a higher rating but it’s pretty damn long. Read the review of Aquemini.

26. Cat Power: Moon Pix (7/10)

I like this more than the album of hers I’ve heard before. Read the review of Moon Pix.

27. System of a Down (7/10)

Pretty good but they’d get better. Read the review of System of a Down’s debut album.

28. Neutral Milk Hotel: In the Aeroplane Over the Sea (7/10)

A concept album where it’s better not to know the concept, which is weird. Read the review.

29. Coalesce: Functioning on Impatience (7/10)

Read the review.

30. Pulp: This Is Hardcore (7/10)

Very well done. Read the review of This Is Hardcore.

31. Sonic Youth: A Thousand Leaves (7/10)

Pulling between their two impulses. Read the review of A Thousand Leaves.

32. dredg: Leitmotif (7/10)

A fascinating merger of borderline nu metal (without the rapping) with art rock and a touch of prog. Read the review of Leitmotif.

33. Rufus Wainwright (7/10)

I don’t like his voice but this is good. Read the review of Rufus Wainwright’s debut.

34. Liz Phair: Whitechocolatespaceegg (7/10)

Good. Read the review of Whitechocolatespaceegg.

35. Smashing Pumpkins: Adore (7/10)

In 2009 I wrote:

What’s with the programming? I don’t like the lack of guitars. His songs are still there. Needs his old drummer. Needs to let other people help him out musically

That’s one hell of a brief “review,” though I mostly think I wasn’t far off. The jarring switch to programmed drums (on many if not most tracks) makes it feel like a different band. But Corgan still has a really strong sense of melody and so much here is catchy enough to be memorable.

The problem, for me, is that, as Corgan isolates himself further and further, he doesn’t always make great decisions. Not all of these songs should be here and some of them run too long. Also, I preferred them when they were an actual band.

36. UNKLE: Psyence Fiction (7/10)

A bizarre, all-star collection of trip hop. Read the review of Psyence Function.

37. Opeth: My Arms, Your Hearse (7/10)

This is pretty good for a death metal album that wants to break away from death metal. Read the review of My Arms, Your Hearse.

38. Sunny Day Real Estate: How It Feels to Be Something On (7/10)

If this is emo, I like it. Read the review of How It Feels to Be Something On.

39. Bill Frisell: Gone Just like a Train (7/10)

This is an entertaining and pleasant record that has some really great moments, but on the whole is just what I said was it was, entertaining and pleasant. It’s certainly not going to make you re-think jazz guitar, as Frisell’s best stuff will.

But it is provocatively all-over-the-place and relatively unconventional, for what we thought of as jazz guitar prior to Frisell’s early ’90s work. There is a definite roots vibe that can be found in much of Frisell’s ’90s and later work, but he does remind us that he is a jazz musician here and there, despite the non-jazz rhythm section and the compositions, which feel like they came from different traditions than jazz.

40. Boards of Canada: Music Has the Right to Children (7/10)

Why is this one of the most acclaimed records of the 1990s? Read the review of Music Has the Right to Children.

41. Sparklehorse: Good Morning Spider (7/10)

A little musically inconsistent, but a good set of songs. Read the review of Good Morning Spider.

42. Eels: Electro-Shock Blues (7/10)

Too similar to Beck which is probably why I like it too much. Read the review of Electro-Shock Blues.

43. AIR: Moon Safari (7/10)

I don’t know what to do with this. It’s well made, I guess. Read the review of Moon Safari.

44. Soul Coughin: El Oso (7/10)

A fascinating fusion. I’m just not sure it’s for me. Read the review of El Oso.

45. Massive Attack: Mezzanine (7/10)

Very much not my kind of Trip Hop. Read the review of Mezzanine.

46. Garbage: Version 2.0 (7/10)

Well, if I’m going to listen to post-grunge, at least it can be unique post-grunge. Read the review of Garbage Version 2.0.

47. Madonna: Ray of Light (7/10)

Unlike a lot of electronica/pop hybrids from the era, it’s aged well, far as I can tell. Read the review of Ray of Light.

48. Sloan: Navy Blues (7/10)

Not my thing. Read the review of Navy Blues.

49. Beastie Boys: Hello Nasty (7???/10)

What do I do with this? Read the review of Hello Nasty.

50. Mark Lanegan: Scraps at Midnight (7/10)

A decent set of songs and a good aesthetic. Read the review of Scraps at Midnight.

51. Pearl Jam, Live on Two Legs (7/10)

In 2011 I wrote this not very helpful “review”:

This has its issues compared to their later slew of live albums based on individual shows, as it is a tour album.

It is a little too hit focused, though it has a fair amount of material from No Code and Yield and some covers, which is cool.

It’s definitely not the best live document out there, but it’s alright.

52. Plastikman: Consumed (7?/10)

I have no context for this record. Read my review of Consumed.

53. www.pitchshifter.com (6/10)

This might be a really unique record. But it’s really, really dated. Read the review of Pitchshifter’s fourth album.

54. Soilent Green: Sewn Mouth Secrets (6/10)

I get it but it doesn’t move me. Read the review of Sewn Mouth Secrets.

55. Fear Factory: Obsolete (6/10)

With a better singer and some better sequencing, I’d like this. Read the review of Obsolete.

56. Marilyn Manson: Mechanical Animals (6/10)

In 2011, I gave this a 5 and wrote the following:

So I don’t really know what was going on here but suddenly things are a lot cleaner and there definitely sounds like there is an attempt to make something a little more accessible. And there are ballads… hmm.

So anyway, this sounds post-grunge radio is forcing itself in here.

But listening to it in 2018, I think my review underestimated the strength of the songs. And the production feels more of a deliberate choice this time.

57. Lucinda William: Car Wheels on a Gravel Road (6/10)

I’m not sure I like her lyrics enough. Read the review of Car Wheels on a Gravel Road.

58. The Notwist: Shrink (6/10)

Write lyrics in your own language, please. Read the review of Shrink.

59. Fred Hersch and Bill Frisell: Songs We Know (6/10)

It’s hard to know what to make of this.

I am not familiar with Hersch, but I am now very familiar with Frisell and I am sort of awed at how conventional this all is. Pretty much every song in this set has been done to death by various jazz bands throughout the last half-century or so. And the question for me is, why record them again? I know the answer, it’s because they wanted to. But that’s not enough for me.

For the most part these don’t really go anywhere you wouldn’t expect, and though there are moments of interest, for the most part it’s very low key and very conventional. It’s just sort of surprising that it’s so straight.

Decent background music.

60. The Delgados: Peloton (6/10)

This is fine, just fine. Read the reviews of Peloton.

61. Belle & Sebastian: The Boy With the Arab Strap (6/10)

I’ve never listened to Donovan and thought he needed to be more twee. I’ve never listened to Fairport Convention and thought they needed to be softer. Read the review of The Boy With the Arab Strap.

62. Barenaked Ladies: Stunt (6/10)

Very, very slick. Read the review of Stunt.

63. Cradle of Filth: Cruelty and the Beast (6/10)

No bottom to this record. Read the review of Cruelty and the Beast.

64. The Jesus and Mary Chain: Munki (6/10)

I think I’d rather listen to this than a lot of their records, but that is kind of damning with faint praise. Read the review of Munki.

65. Neil Finn: Try Whistling This (6/10)

Meh. Read my review of Try Whistling This.

66. Death Cab for Cutie: Something About Airplanes (6/10)

Indie rock is dead. Long live indie rock. Read the review of Something About Airplanes.

67. Dixie Chicks: Wide Open Spaces (6/10)

I prefer actual bluegrass. Read the review of Wide Open Spaces.

68. Monster Magnet: Powertrip (6/10)

This is pretty dumb music. But that doesn’t mean it’s not enjoyable. It’s hard to write about something like this because it’s clearly not meant to be taking entirely seriously: it’s big, dumb, loud and very reverent to rock tradition. It’s more fun than pure revivalism because of the deliberate idiocy of the lyrics.

69. Rob Zombie: Hellbilly Deluxe (6/10)

I get the joke with Monster Magnet. I’m not sure I get the joke with this record. Listen to the review of Hellbilly Deluxe.

70. Korn: Follow the Leader (6/10)

The good does not necessarily outweigh the bad. But I thought it would be worse. Read the review of Follow the Leader.

71. Hole: Celebrity Skin (6/10)

Too slick for me. Read the review of Celebrity Skin.

72. Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (6/10)

73. Marc Johnson: the Sound of Summer Running (5/10)

So this is about as conventional, straight-head Metheny-esque jazz fusion as I could possibly imagine. And that’s just a little surprising given the presence of both Metheny and Frisell, who one would assume would push each other.

Johnson does not in any way stand out to my ears as a composer, and the band, which should be awesome, never makes me sit back in wonder.

I also feel like I have heard this way too much on Toronto’s jazz radio station Jazz 91, which plays jazz. Jazz! And I feel this way even though I’m quite sure I’ve never heard it before.

It’s just derivative for 1998. Metheny imitating himself and doing a rather poor job of it. Frisell being pretty boring. Don’t know what else to say really.

74. Everlast: Whitey Ford Sings the Blues (5/10)

Whatever appreciation I have for the fusion disappears due to the lyrics. Read the review of Whitey Ford sings the Blues.

75. Ani Difranco: Little Plastic Castle (5/10)

In 2011, I wrote the following:

There are a lot of songs that I like or don’t mind, more probably than Dilate. But with that album the good songs were stronger, and the weaker “experiments” weren’t so bad.

On one track she is complaining about the radio. On a later track she is performing a club song that sounds way too sincere to be a parody. Ugh. It’s like she doesn’t want to write lyrics for any of her dalliances with rhythm. “I can’t wait for the dance floor to fill up.” Really?? Really? I thought I was listening to a songwriter.

The last “song” is ridiculous. It’s super over-long, she’s not bothered to write any decent lyrics and there is a fairly boring Haskell trumpet solo. If you’re going to experiment with jazz, could you please not pick fusion? Yuck.

I was raiding my ex’s CD collection and listened to a bunch (though hardly all) of Ani’s records. I liked this a lot less than her earlier records. With a lot of reflection I can say that I feel like I was a little mean, but this is still a very flawed record. The title track is pretty great and a couple other songs remind me of the confessional-but-wry-observational style that makes her best work so appealing. But some of these really don’t work and she’s very hypocritical putting “Fuel” on the same record as “Deep Dish.” And, as I noted in 2011, it’s way too long.

76. Kid Rock: Devil Without a Cause (5/10)

Unfortunately hugely influential. Read the review of Devil Without a Cause.

78. Embrace:  The Good Will Out (4/10)

Holy Oasis Batman. Read the review of The Good Will Out.

Not Ranked: Ahmad Jamal: Cross Country Tour: 1958-61 (8/10)

Read the review.

Not Ranked: Moscow Symphony Orchestra conducted by William T. Stromberg: Garden of Evil / Prince of Players by Bernard Herrmann (8/10)

This disc collects the complete score of the 1954 western Garden of Evil with the suite (i.e. the highlights) of Hermann’s score to the 1955 biopic Prince of Players, both movies which have been somewhat forgotten.

The Prince of Players suite is a very classic Hollywood score. It’s exactly what you would think of and so it’s pretty underwhelming. I guess it’s well done, but hardly stands out from the scores (yuk yuk yuk) of other film music of the era.

Garden of Evil is a far more ominous, interesting piece of music. It’s still somewhat conventional – it lacks the invention of a lot of Hermann’s later work – but it’s a pretty great piece of music as these ’50s Hollywood “dramatic” scores go. I think it’s only under-known because the movie itself is so.

Worthwhile checking this out for the main score, if you’re looking for earlier hints of Hermann’s command of the genre.

Not Ranked: Royal Scottish National Orchestra conducted by John Debney: The 7th Voyage of Sinbad by Bernard Herrmann (8/10)

The conductor, John Debney, would have you believe that this is one of the great film scores of all time. Read the rest of the review.

The conductor, John Debney, would have you believe that this is one of the great film scores of all time. I don’t agree with that. It’s less inventive than many of Herrmann’s best.

But it’s still way more interesting than most Hollywood film scores of its era, and it’s also very much a piece of music that can be listened to without any knowledge of the film. It reminds me of some late 19th century Romantic programmic pieces which were supposed to suggest a plot to you through music.

It’s certainly good, it’s just not quite among Herrmann’s greatest moments. As I noted before, just a little too conventional compared to his best work.

Not Ranked: Royal Scottish National Orchestra conducted by Joel McNeely: The Trouble with Harry by Bernard Herrmann (7/10)

I haven’t seen this movie in probably close to twenty years and, well, maybe I was too young for it – though I saw it at the height of my Hitchcock mania. It didn’t grab me as a classic, the way it has so many others.

But even this many years later I have a bit of a similar issue with the score. I know the score is good, at least it’s certainly very much above average, but it doesn’t really grab me in the way so many other of Herrmann’s scores do. In part I think that’s due to its brevity. This feels much more just like a list of cues – with a theme, here and there – than it does a work. Even some of his weaker scores, such as The Three Worlds of Gulliver feel more coherent than this.

That being said, the music here is still interesting, and does manage, at times to convey the combination of dark humour and suspense that Hitch ostensibly achieved in this film. (Like I said, it’s been like 20 years.)

And so I find myself sort of liking more than some of Herrmann’s other less notable efforts, if only for neat little tricks, like “Finale,” which feels nothing like a finale.

Not Ranked: The National Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Joel McNeely: Torn Curtain, The Unused Score by Bernard Herrmann (7/10)

This is the final version of the score that Herrmann wrote for Hitchcock’s 4th last film, the score that ended their relationship because Hitchcock was looking for something more contemporary, more commercial. (Honestly, the more one learns about Hitch…)

The score is fine. It’s not among Herrmann’s best but it’s hardly mediocre either. It’s been probably twenty years since I saw Torn Curtain so I don’t remember the movie or the official score, but I have a hard time seeing how this was unacceptable for a thriller, unless Hitchcock was trying to make some kind of major departure, musically.

Given how short this is, I kind of think it would be awesome to do a set with both scores in it, so we can compare. But anyway…

This is probably only worthwhile listening to if you’re a film score obsessive. It does what it’s supposed to – I mean, you can tell the tone of the scenes from the tenor of the score – but it’s hardly one of Herrmann’s classics.

Not ranked: The Best of James (6/10)

I’m not going to go into how I got my hands on this, but let’s just say it wasn’t a deliberate decision; it literally fell into my lap.

Read the full review.

Not ranked: Various Artists: Women in Jazz (4/10)

The cheapie box set is an interesting phenomenon: Gather some recordings from major artists where the copyright has lapsed (or never existed), put the recordings in any arbitrary order you choose, use more discs than are necessary to convince the buyer they are getting a great bargain, and give it a catchy title. I have a Scott Joplin compilation with no credits (funnily enough, from a Quebec label, just like this set is) but you can clearly hear differences in piano and recording quality. I have a Muddy Waters box set which is all demos, but nowhere on the outside does it indicate it contains such things. They were great, cheap ways of introducing yourself to somebody (provided you didn’t want their best) back before online music really took off, but now they seem a little silly (potential copyright issues aside).

Read the full review.

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