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"Come By" by Taylor-Louise

Review

It's been quite a while since I had the pleasure of reviewing a Taylor-Louise release: in fact it was about eighteen months ago when the title track of her magnificent ‘Black Heart' EP became the final single from it.

That collection would have been a hard act to follow, such a career high point as it was and of course the subsequent events were not very conducive to recording let alone trying out new material on audiences. In fact I suspect that simply being busy with all those other aspects of her life and interests would have limited her time for music anyway: she has been far from inactive in the meantime.

"Come By" (for such is the name of today's release and which she has crafted with producer Danny Azhar), either because Taylor-Louise does not wish to try to emulate past glories, or because knowing how restless her quest for moving herself forwards can be or maybe just because the song required such an approach in her opinion, sounds very unlike any of the previous material of hers I have reviewed or you have heard.

Hitherto, her songs have had their genesis on acoustic guitar and even if given fuller arrangements on records, she has still played them solo in that fashion. "Come By" is another variety of creature altogether: very much a contemporary, electronic dance sound: if there is an acoustic guitar in there, then I missed it.

The subject matter is different too: virtually all Taylor-Louise's  earlier songs, right back from her teenage years, have been deeply reflective, soul searching lyrics, culminating in the previously mentioned EP. Now I've gone on record so many times expressing my admiration for her honesty & bravery in delving so deep into her life and emotions and then making really good songs out of what she found: I felt it was her trademark and applauded her for it. Often. However, with hindsight, I suppose not only must there be a finity of such material for any individual but that continual level of intensity in her work must be challenging to keep up permanently: plus adhering to one type of song, however well you do it, is not a great recipe for a long career. A bit of range and diversity will impress people.

Speaking with her earlier, Taylor-Louise confirmed that she was definitely aiming for something more light hearted in tone, something to evoke feelings of "just being chilled and content". Now I am very aware that I am prone to read too much into music I'm reviewing and try to rein myself in from excesses. I fully respect what the track's creator says about it, but I do also wonder if there are more subconscious elements at work from time to time which musicians may not themselves be as conscious of? At any rate, I can't help notice in "Come By" a reflection of Taylor-Louise's well known interest in people's good mental health in the theme of this song which is around a tendency to overthink: the apparent story being around a relationship issue perhaps, but deeper down, we are all going through a period of great stress and many of us have been isolated for a long time, a situation where the space for overthinking expands enormously. Her advice then is most topical: "not to worry about things and it'll all work out!"

Personally I appreciate the message and I also really like being surprised by artists. I'm sure it's a good test for realising how broad their ranges might be. "Come By" should do much the same for all of you too: chill you out & set you on a beneficial road but also offer you a side of Taylor-Louise you might not have expected. Don't worry: she's just as good as she ever was, but she's different on this outing. The writing is up to her usual standards, if the angst levels are down and it's great to hear her adapt her voice to the demands of the new style.

It'll be interesting to hear how she performs it live, but then it'll be great just to catch her live again. As for where her music is going, I think it's fair to say that there'll be plenty of unexpected turns on the road ahead.

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"Too Long" by Contacts in the North

Review

You might perhaps have spotted that the track of the week from BBC Introducing in Coventry & Warwickshire  is the new single by Contacts in the North called "Too Long".

You may, like me, wonder who this band is & I hope I can now be of some assistance in answering that question. It's hardly surprising that the name is new to us, as it is a really recent collaboration between Mark Barron, who is based in Stratford (and what an exciting scene has been developing in that town over the last few years) and his long time friend & collaborator Jean-Marc Valat who lives in Moreton in Marsh.

Mark & Jean-Marc have in fact worked under other band names (DAYS INDOORS: which is a guitar based rock group,  eddington limit: electronica and Hyphae which is an acoustic/electronic  collaboration involving Mark's wife, a professional cellist) but have created this new identity for material which did not fit in with what they were doing with these other projects.

"Too Long" is the first fruit of this and is the development of an existing track by Mark's Swedish friend, singer/songwriter Ingela Wiklund (whose vocals are those you'll be hearing). Though much of the track is new, samples of the original have been kept in. As Ingela lives in northern Sweden, within the Arctic Circle, her vocals arrived by phone: yet another example of the current phenomenon of having to do this sort of thing, yet I am still astonished by the fidelity of how such elements reach us & can be added to other tracks without noticeable loss of quality.

So what of "Too Long" itself? Well you can pretty instantly see what caught the attention of BBC CWR's Introducing team: this is classy stuff. When I first became interested in music, the sheer possibility of a single constructed from guitars played in the Cotswolds with added vocals over the phone from thousands of miles away (where the sun is still shining at midnight) and everything else on a laptop in other locations would have seemed a fantasy. In 2021 it's certainly possible and artists expect to be able to do it: in the special circumstances of the pandemic, this possibility becomes a necessity and a routine approach for many. Not only that, but artists such as these are comfortable putting together coherent songs with the internal dynamics which years ago I could only imagine happening with everyone playing in the same room. I'm so glad that this has been happening to enable so much of what I've been able to review, but even more so given the possibilities for collaboration across miles & oceans which it opens up.

I'd like to distance myself as much as possible from the clichés of writing about a song written & sung by a Swedish artist in terms of "iciness" but it's not altogether possible (some of it may be my subconsciousness forcing associations upon me I accept) as the beats have that arctic crispness and there is an air of detachment in the vocals. The sound is an quite austere dance one which does not intrude upon Ingela's soulful & incisive singing but provides not only a foundation for it, but in many ways a tonal counterpoint: it's that light arrangement/heavy words dichotomy at work again: to excellent effect. Although she sounds finished with whoever she is singing to, she seems free to move on: that sense of detachment indicating liberation.

Contacts in the North is still such a young entity,(we really shall have to watch this space) that it does not yet have its own social media presence, but here are the associated ones:

www.daysindoors.com

www.eddingtonlimit.co.uk

www.hyphaesound.com

The band have been greatly encouraged by the response to this first song already and are looking very much forwards to building on the momentum.

Mark tells me that he is looking forwards to playing live, potentially in Stratford's new music café. He has appreciated the extra time over the past months in which he can make music (which with four potential different outlets must indeed be helpful) and although he agrees that the circumstances have promoted progressive new ways to work on recordings,, this can't substitute for live performances and he's looking forward both to more of these but also hearing setlists enhanced with so much new material created since people last played live. He speaks for me and I imagine many of you too in this matter.

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"Psalm 2" by Rob Halligan

News

Although his spirituality informs & enriches virtually all his work, in April 2019 Rob Halligan released a very explicitly sacred collection of songs based upon the Psalms called "Psalm" (you certainly can't claim he is indulging in misleading advertising).

The project however has continued and since then Rob has accumulated five more tracks of a similar nature ("Into The Valley, "O God Most High", "Show His Love", "Beautiful" and "And In His Prescence") with more to come. These are now available as a "pay whatever you think appropriate" download from his Bandcamp page, with more to be added over time.

https://robhalligan.bandcamp.com/album/psalm-2-2

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"Pray With Me" by Chasing Deer

Review

I have not had a chance to review a Chasing Deer release for you since "Scared" came out in December, so I'm pleased to do so now in reaction to the new single called "Pray With Me".

During that time, Rob Hodkinson has however certainly been very busy: I am not sure he has missed a single weekly livestream since the pandemic began and he has also taken the first steps back into live performance: the rock upon which the Chasing Deer reputation was built. In fact he is playing at the Botanist in Coventry as I write this.

I'm sometimes not quite sure anymore whether to use the singular or plural about the band since circumstances seem to have (for the time being at least) to have reduced them down to just Rob plus his guests for gigs and recordings: that is how "Scared" had to be created. However in this particular instance, the recording is a full band effort as it dates back to their Siena sojourn of 2019 when they recorded four tracks at Virus Recording Studio in Monteriggioni with Alessandro Guasconi and with Oliver Basi as their producer..

The story therefore of this single in some ways encapsulates the effect the pandemic has had on artists. This was intended as a very special session, to build on their rapidly growing profile and fanbase, to create some top notch tracks to release in 2020, kicking them into the next level of their career. That sensibly was put on hold (promotional activity opportunities being so limited in scope almost certainly would have reduced the impact of the singles) and it is greatly to Rob's credit that he has played much more than a holding game in keeping the name in our minds until the time to start sharing the fruits of the Sienna sessions has arrived.

The plan I understand is to start with whetting our appetites for their originals with a cover version they recorded at the same time: originally of course by Rick Astley and a song they were originally asked to play at a wedding on the grounds that the person requesting thought that it would suit Rob's voice. It turned out that it did suit them so much that they not only played it then but enjoyed it so much that it stayed in the set to the extent that it was frequently assumed to be one of their own compositions.

The key I think is to focus on the notion that "it would suit Rob's voice" and not that Rob sounds like Rick Astley as he really does not: this is a really great example of how great covers can be, yet often are not. I personally have never seen a lot of point in an artist attempting to imitate another (and let's face it, so many songs which are popular as covers were originally by artists with sufficiently distinctive a style that a pure impression is pretty much doomed to relative failure), but with a bit of imagination & the right choice of song (credit to whoever suggested it in the first place), good artists can take a song, appreciate its qualities and essence and pay a respectful tribute to the original while playing it in their own way: as Chasing Deer do here. Not only does Rob not feel obliged to do a Rick Astley impersonation, but the band go at the song in a pretty hard rocking way, certainly surpassing the template in terms of dynamics and power: credit too to Rosanne Duckworth who provides trumpet as she will on their next three singles. You can readily understand not only why they like performing it but why they opted to make a professional recording of it as such prestigious a session.

2020 was definitely planned to be a huge year for Chasing Deer: they had been going from strength to strength in terms of gig profile as well as popular and critical response to their material. That didn't happen, but I'm pleased to hear that they have decided the time is right to revert to the original plan. They simply could not have done anything more to maintain a profile in the intervening months and I'm not sure their fanbase will have been eroded over that time: if anything I'd like to think that there are many Chasing Deer fans desperate to see them play again (though of course reconvening as a full live band will require putting into action). They've been sitting on music which Rob described to me as the best they've ever done and starting gently with this cover to ease us in, they could take the music scene by storm in 2021 rather than 2020 by the gems they clearly have been holding back. Judging by the panache and performance commitment on "Pray With Me", there are some very special singles going to be coming our way over the next few months.

In terms of the artwork, you might like to compare it with that of the cover for "Beautiful Life" by Rick Astley. Can you see what they have done there?

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"Wonderful Day" by King of the Alps

Review

In one of those interesting serendipities which real life offers us occasionally, not twenty four hours after reviewing the debut solo single by King of the Alps bass player Simon Ward, ("Always Be Coventry") than I hear from his colleague Paul Ingram regarding their imminent new single (it's out on 21st June) called "Wonderful Day": and the extra good news is that you can download it free from their Bandcamp page.

Not only is this their first release since "Happy Christmas, All Will Be Fine" (I imagine you can work out when that came out), but it is the first track to be shared from their upcoming album, ('Heart of the Matter') their first since their debut ‘Matters of the Heart' some five years ago (though one must certainly not forget their highly regarded EPs ‘Beauty Scarred' ‘The Sun Will Rise Again' and ‘Longing Laughter' the last of which preceded ‘Matters of the Heart'). It's great to learn that despite recent events, they have kept on steadily writing & recording, though unfortunately not gigging.

The lyrical theme too is most welcome. Taking up where its immediate predecessor left off, the message once again is unambiguously optimistic. Bearing in mind that Paul's earlier songs for the band (especially on the debut album and ‘Beauty Scarred') were generally more complex in tone and emotion to the point where ambiguity might well be detected and certainly not necessarily optimistic, this is quite an evolution. It might be that he has got songs of that sort out of his system (the first album definitely had a theme based around experience and the title and this certainly spilled out of the confines of the collection into its successor). Now instead of a combination of wound licking and rueful reflection, we are getting material which suggests an enjoyment of life and an assumption that this state of affairs will endure: if one can discern a pattern out of only two tracks…. At any rate, if that is the aim, it is appreciated right now. I'm also guessing that the inversion of the words in the album titles may not be without significance too.

The tonal shift in the lyrics does not however mean that the music has veered into the middle of the road. Perhaps inspired by similar feelings as Neil Young who once said of that part of the musical highway "..travelling there soon became a bore, so I headed for the ditch. A rougher ride, but I saw more interesting people", King of the Alps have always seemed to eschew the comfort zone on their musical journey and their songs usually shift & evolve in unconventional and unexpected ways, unsettling the listener at times and thereby forcing them to really pay attention while at the same time mirroring the less comfortable aspects of the stories being told.

"Happy Christmas, All Will Be Fine" was probably the zenith of this approach and in reviewing it, the best description I could come up with was comparing it to experimental jazz. "Wonderful Day" is by no means that far out on the sonic spectrum (probably wisely) and its arrangement swings back towards the poppier end of their work generally with memorable guitar figures and Simon's trademark restless basslines propelling the tune into various directions throughout. The drum sound is actually to my ear quite dance orientated and despite the obvious differences in instrumentation etc, for some reason the track reminded me of some of New Order's lighter moments. However that said, the King of the Alps approach to arrangements is still there: and that's almost by itself why the song still has a slightly disconcerting edge to it: the necessary bite to elevate it to the levels we expect from the band. Part of this effect may simply be psychological on my part: the weight of their previous oeuvre compels me to expect shifts and surprises, but on close & repeated listening, the movements and skews are still there: often quite subtle, but the song is constantly morphing and I'm not sure even the parts of the structure which you might expect to repeat are precisely the same each time round. And that's without taking into account the usual unexpected changes and developments in the melody.

So there you have it: new King of the Alps: working at several levels: an attractive poppy summer song for the end (we hope) of restrictions (I can't help thinking that the selected release date is no coincidence) yet with plenty to keep the aficionados of the band licking their lips. I can't wait to see what directions the rest of the album will take. I'm expecting some of the unexpected.

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"Always Be Coventry" by Avidfan

Review

If you do not yet know the name of Simon Ward as well as you might do, then you could do worse than check out the credits on the various ‘Hot Music Live Presents' volumes as no-one else has appeared in the series as often as he has: with his current band King of the Alps plus former groups, Some Kinda Earthquake, Big Decision & Eight Miles High. You may also have seen him play with other bands not on those albums, perhaps most notably ska band Special Brew. In addition to his record role as a performer in the series to date, I find it hard to think of too many people as enthusiastic for supporting the project nor for supporting fellow musicians at gigs: you are as likely to find him in a local audience as you are on stage: so here's a chance to express my gratitude at least.

It's also a chance to recognise a landmark for him, as he has created his first solo single "Always Be Coventry", released today under the name of what he tells me has been his musical persona for many years without hitherto having had the occasion to use it for a release: Avidfan.

Not only did Simon create everything you hear, but he's also produced its accompanying video which you can see at:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=brEYees3qgA

 

An unashamed paean in words, music and images to his native city, Simon's motivation is very pure: to celebrate what he appreciates about Coventry and to inspire others to adopt his template in order to do the same from their own perspectives: in fact he is planning to work with his local school to produce their own to get the ball rolling: what an excellent example of true, passionate & grassroots culture and one I applaud.

It seems almost inappropriate to try to dissect the musicality of the single given what I've just said, but  "Always Be Coventry"  stands up as a piece of music. Simon is a bass player and there are few players of that instrument who issue solo singles which centre on their weapon of choice: most I can think of either swap for six strings themselves or bring in plenty of other players. The only other example which springs readily to mind is Horace Panter's solo "Goa Blues"/"Depleted Uranium Dub". However Simon plays to his strength and while you are watching his city travelogue and hearing him recite his "alphabetical ode", it's to a classy & groovy bass (and drum) tune: and it works really nicely. Simon is a tasteful player whose playing of ska, rockabilly, psychedelia and underpinning Paul Ingram's genre ignoring King of the Alps songs etc bear testament to his range: here he has free rein to indulge himself in something on the jazzier side of the dubwise, yet true to form it's not self indulgent: it serves the piece rather than showing off. Frankly Coventry is fortunate to have someone who loves it sufficiently to craft such a touching and tasteful tribute.

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"Totally Together" by Brothers From Another Mother featuring Kirsty Brewerton

Review

Fresh out today is the song "Totally Together" by Brothers From Another Mother featuring Kirsty Brewerton and recorded at 14 Records in Leamington.

It's particularly apt for it to be released today as Kirsty is not only one of the BBC Coventry and Warwickshire "21" (as is Hot Music Live Presents/Hot Music Live favourite Ace Ambrose) but she is one of the several Lady Godivas processing through the city of Coventry on what is shaping up to be a rather hot day it would seem. Best wishes for hydration to them all.

If you have heard "Slow Clap Back" by ‘Hot Music Live Presents Volume Six' featured artist Aaron Woodhouse then you'll certainly recognise her soulful vocal style which is so prominent on that excellent track.

However we can't concentrate purely on the vocal guest: Brothers From Another Mother are a most interesting project by Matt Waddell of 14 Records and Dave Williams ("Huggy") whose DJ skills and massive collection of vinyl provide samples for Matt to add fresh digital beats and to remix. You may remember their infectious take on "Walking on Sunshine" which they brought out in 2018 (described by a highly respected member of the "Hot Music Live" community as "..a summer banger").

I suppose what we could do with is another "summer banger" for 2021: I think we have earned one don't you? I completely understand the magnificent range of lockdown capturing songs which have reflected experiences over the past year, so why not now something which might do the same for any sense of release happening? Something we can listen to in ten years time & it will take us back to the summer of 2021 and bring back those happy memories we are about (I trust) to create?

Well Matt, Dave & Kirsty have certainly given it their very best shot & this certainly fits the bill. To be honest I can't remember the last time I described anything as an "anthem" (it's one of those words tragically over used & misused in reviews) let alone a "dance anthem". Well this is. No doubt about it.

It has all the elements we require, we need & what we might expect from this team. It's grounded in a timeless dance tradition which should ensure that it has a life beyond 2021 yet has been brought right up to date with contemporary touches so it doesn't sound passé. Kirsty's vocals are spot on: soulful, uplifting and putting across the message we need to hear. I'm not entirely sure where this society is going to go post-pandemic, nor what shape the immediate live music scene will take. While I find the anti-vaxxer and conspiracy theorist tendency somewhat alarming to be sure, I think that far more people have drawn the lesson from recent months that what we ought to do next is continue supporting each other and reinvigorate a sense of community which perhaps might have drifted until recently. Let's face it, music is good at promoting this, especially at live events (when they are possible) and through dance music especially. To that end, "Totally Together" has grasped the zeitgeist by the scruff of its neck and will certainly be part of the soundtrack of our summer.

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"Gloriana" by Paul Mccormack

Review

Today Paul Mccormack has a new release for us, "Gloriana", a follow up to "Thoughts" (which I advised you of last month) and which can be found at https://soundcloud.com/user-511434765/gloriana.

Like its predecessor, it has an ease and grace to it, which I think we can safely say is Paul's style. Perhaps a trifle more stately than "Thoughts", the song not only references Elizabeth I in title and lyric, but subtly in the tune. For a musician not unfamiliar with the music of Stratford-upon-Avon, he must like many of us, heard rather too much cod-Tudoring in his time: but don't worry: this is not full on tourist styling but as I say, something more nuanced: the odd touch of the madrigal in what is a pretty timeless folk tune. It's all a bit more English than "Thoughts" yet I was once again, as I was previously, drawn to the echoes of Neil Young: most obviously in this case the parallels with "Cortez the Killer": if the latter was a damning indictment of the Spanish colonisation of the American continent, then "Gloriana" in its way offers Paul's perspectives of the English heritage within the same context. Less angry sounding, it still makes its point effectively in perhaps a more English way: understated but just as powerful for that. The juxtaposition of sweet tune and chiding lyric is an effective one to add to the effectiveness (think Elvis Costello) and after a few listenings, I think Paul is also making some modern connections too: I may have to play it a few more times to make sure.

What's not to like: a track you have to play repeatedly to fully grasp, clever & detailed structure & once again in the finished form, Paul makes it all sound so simple. What an art. It's a shame it's taken him until now to record such excellent material, but it's been worth waiting for.

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Old and gold

'Leamington LAMP Album Volume 1'

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'Hot Music Live Presents Volume Six'

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"Addiction" by Aaron Woodhouse

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"Inflamed" by Dean MacDonald

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"Pensacola" by Jack Blackman & Chessi O'Dowd

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"I Want Your Blue Sky" by Lemon Boy

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"Faker" by Abz Winter

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"Thoughts" by Paul Mccormack

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"Peaceful Warrior" by Lemon Tones

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"Used To Be" by YNES

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"A Friend" by In Emerald Sea

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'Let's Have Another One' by Firedaze

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I have long enjoyed Firedaze  as a live act but I'm sorry to say have not reviewed any of their releases until now: I'm glad to repair ...

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"Loveable" by Kenzie Webley

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I'm delighted to report to you the release of a new single by Kenzie Webley on 21st May, namely "Loveable" .

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"The Coming of Age" by Ace Ambrose

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Any new release from Ace Ambrose must have the characteristics of creating anticipation & wonder in our minds: what on earth will she come up ...

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"Slice of Cake" by Danny Ansell

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Despite his skill at honing crowd pleasing anthems, the reality of Danny Ansell's songwriting is the subject matter he covers is actually very ...

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Chubby and the Gang - 40-date UK tour includes Coventry

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"Change" by Jonny Olley

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"Switchblade" by Massasauga

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"You Had It All" by The Rising

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'Coventry Cathedral - Easter '21' by Rob Halligan

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"Around This Town" by Ross Darby

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"Gimmie Some Space" by Shanghai Hostage

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"Oops" (Acoustic) by Ivy Ash

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