Monthly Archives: April 2014

Middle Cyclone

I completely forgot to mention the Neko Case concert in my Music Tidbits post last week! Well, rest assured it was amazing. I actually guessed correctly on a majority of songs (maybe 70-75%) and there were a few surprises! She talked to the audience and her band quite a bit, and her backup singer was a regular chatterbox. And Neko was sassy alright. She told someone to put their phone away just a few lines into her first song without missing a beat. The theater went crazy over that. And she did not one, but TWO encores, which no one was expecting. She gave us some sass for that too (everyone had begun to leave after the first one).

So overall, it was a fantastic concert, but I’m not going to talk about that. I’m going to review an album I didn’t realize how much I loved until after that concert: Middle Cyclone. It was always kind of just A-OK on my list, but now I think that it might be my favorites – lyrically at least. Blacklisted  is still my favorite soundwise, though without personal bias, I still admit Middle Cyclone is the stronger album.

Let’s start with the album cover:

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How badass is this album cover?!? It’s on equal footing with the cover for Meatloaf’s Bat Out of Hell for me. Seriously badass. It’s been my desktop background for awhile now. I decided yesterday I needed to get it as a poster. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find this specific picture, but I found a similar one!

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It doesn’t have the text, and it’s only 11×13, but I can’t wait to have it framed and on my wall. These two pictures make me feel like I can do anything. I want them forever.

But enough about these amazing pictures! On to the album! As I mentioned before, the album opens with one of my FAVORITE Neko Case songs, “This Tornado Loves You.” I just love everything about this song. I’ve never experienced a tornado (not counting the Twister ride at Universal Studios Orlando anyway) but the opening guitar riffs sound like the closest interpretation to the spirit and sound of a tornado that I can imagine. Somehow, that guitar sounds like it’s spinning. And then those opening lyrics: “My love I am the speed of sound./I left them motherless, fatherless.” The whole song is just so metaphorical. I could post the entire song’s lyrics, I love them so much, but I’ll spare you. Other standout lyrics include “I carved your name across three counties/And ground it in with bloody hides.” Also “I have waited with a glacier’s patience.” And even “When I’d rake the springtime across your sheets.” The whole song, of course, is just one big metaphor, with Neko describing herself as a tornado wildly chasing after the person she still loves even after they’ve left her. (Neko did play this song in concert, but at a faster tempo than the album version. Which was a bit sad, because it felt like they were rushing through it and I wanted to savor it.) The whole song sounds like it’s being played inside a spinning tornado. It’s just brilliantly crafted, every bit of it.

“The Next Time You Say ‘Forever'” has the complete opposite message. In it, she wants nothing to do with this pathetic person who wants her to stay, well, “forever.” “The next time you say ‘forever,'” she sings “I will punch you in your face.” And in the end: “You never know when I’ll show you the never.” A great, great song. As someone who grew up moving a lot to have it result in some occasional wanderlust in my adulthood, I can feel for her in this song.

Next is the song I’m surprised wasn’t used in the movie Blackfish,considering it’s all about that sort of thing, “People Got a Lotta Nerve.”

I mean, you can’t hit it on the head any harder than

You know they call them “killer” whales?!

But you seemed surprised when it pinned you down

To the bottom of the tank

Where you can’t turn around

It took half your leg and both your lungs.

This song was actually written and released BEFORE the 2010 death of Seaworld trainer Dawn Brancheau, which makes it incredibly uncanny going back and listening to it.

Neko admitted she hadn’t played the next track in a long time: “Polar Nettles.” I usually skipped it before if it ever came up on my playlist, but after hearing it in concert I think it’s a song worth appreciating. It’s got this marching, contemplative, solemn sound to it. It’s appropriate considering it seems to be about death. Neko’s voice sounds downright creepy as she chants “Someday soon…Someday soon.”

“Vengeance Is Sleeping,” thematically, reminds me A LOT of Björk’s “Possibly Maybe.” Specifically in that it’s about someone who isn’t quite over an old flame and is wondering where they are and what they’re doing. Neko sings “If you’re not by now dead and buried/You are most certifiably married.” But my favorite part of this song comes later on:

My love has never lived indoors

I’ve had to drag it home by force

Hired hounds at both my wrists

Damp and bruised by stranger’s kisses on my lips.

It’s so visual and metaphorical at the same time. I just love the idea about her love never living indoors. Something about it speaks to me.

Next comes a very hippie-ish anthem, which is a cover, “Never Turn Your Back On Mother Earth.” It’s a very good choice, because the whole album has themes of nature throughout. And she sings it beautifully. Good choice, Neko! Good choice!

After that comes the title track, “Middle Cyclone,” which carries the main theme of the album: reconciling the fact that she needs love rather than continuing to live the way she grew up, with a stronger attachment to nature and animals than people. She shows what a brilliant songwriter she is with lines like “Can’t scrape together quite enough/To ride the bus to the outskirts of the fact that I need love.” My absolute favorite part though (and it might stand as one of my favorite lines/lyrics of all time) is this:

I lie across the path waiting

Just for a chance to be

A spider web trapped in your lashes

For that, I would trade you my empire for ashes

If you’ve ever felt that way about someone, then her hushed voice speaks volumes to you. It works as the title track, and being smack dab in the middle of the track list, it works for the entire album.

I love the opening imagery in “Fever”:

In an open field at dusk

To footfalls I awoke

Marching ants across my temple, oh

Their feet had no intention

They followed some magnetic drum

Prisoners of their destination

The wobbly opening notes and the rest of the lyrics that follow make this sound like a song you would hear in a fever dream (or maybe it was inspired by one), so the song was named rather appropriately.

“Magpie to the Morning” may have sneaked it’s way onto my Neko Case favorite songs list without me knowing…She didn’t play it at the concert, sadly, but I’ve still discovered a new found attachment to it. I think it’s the way she sings it combined with the theme of the song. I feel like there might be a little wordplay with the “Morning” in the song…Though it’s spelled one way, it could be heard as “mourning.” Later she sings about how a vulture “…Laughed under his breath/Because you thought that you could outrun sorrow.” It’s a lot about having to be encouraged by nature to dig herself out of the dark pit she’s buried herself in.

“I’m An Animal” goes on with the main theme of the album. When she sings “I love you this hour, this hour today,” I can’t help but think of Nelly Furtado’s “I’m Like A Bird.” Now that I think of it, these songs make a great pairing, thematically. I love when, speaking about her fears, Neko sings “But my courage is roaring like the sound of the sun/’Cause it’s vain about its mane and will reveal them to no one.”

“Prison Girls” is an odd song, in that I can’t figure out if Neko is really in prison or is just dreaming about it. It’s ambiguous like that (or maybe it’s just me). But it’s a fantastic song. I love it when she sings “I love your long shadows and your gun powder eyes.” I’m kind of waiting to see if they ever use it in Orange is the New Black, but it doesn’t seem like the kind of song that would show up there, somehow.

“Don’t Forget Me” is another cover song, and another great choice. I guess there’s not much to say about it, but I love the way she sings “I’ll miss you when I’m lonely/I’ll miss the alimony too.” She sings it very bluesy, but very sassy too. Very Neko.

The next track she played in concert, which was a surprise to me, and that was “The Pharaohs”! I just love love loooooove the way she croons “You said I was your blue, blue baby…and you were right.” It sounds so pained, but not in an overly dramatic emo way.

“Red Tide” is the final song on the album. It’s a rather cynical track to end with, but she played it at the concert too and it sounded amazing.

Actually, I lied. The final track is “Marais La Nuit,” which is just a 31-plus minute-long track consisting of the nighttime sounds around a pond on Neko Case’s farm in Vermont. It’s truly an appropriate ending to an album she recorded in a barn on her property (which explains its big, almost echoing sound throughout).

Looking back on my past reviews, I think I might have to change what I’ve said and recommend Middle Cyclone to first-time Neko Case listeners. The whole album is just so well produced and lyrically brilliant. It’s a real treat to listen to, and I mean really listen to, not just treat as background noise (unless we’re talking about “Marais La Nuit”). If you value good songwriters, give Neko Case and Middle Cyclone a go.

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Music Tidbits

I’ve decided I’m starting a new feature-type thing called “Music Tidbits” where I’ll just write about a hodgepodge of music-related things. This isn’t necessarily because I’ve procrastinated and couldn’t think of anything (ahem, not really anyway), but more because there’s a lot of recent music-related things I want to share.

For example. I was kind of holding off on posting, yet again, due to expectations of a new iamamiwhoami release, yet again. I should preface this by saying that I’ve been taking a month-long sabbatical from major social media, so I have no way of knowing what’s going on with my favorite artists unless they send something out on through their email lists or I Google it. So I woke up on Saturday morning and was checking to see if iamamiwhoami had released anything. I found this staring back at me. You guys, you should have seen me. I leapt out of bed and danced a mad, silent jig out of the room (because my fiancée was still sleeping) and all the way over to the office. Well, I opened my laptop and immediately pulled up their YouTube page to find…nothing new. They’re just teasing us. So cruel! And here I thought I’d missed it! Well, it didn’t drop today either, so maybe tomorrow? Or next week? Ugh, we’ll see.

I decided yesterday that I’d give listening to the radio a try again. It’s been awhile since I listened to it regularly. I do want to make it a regular thing again, though maybe just once or twice a week. I’m crotchety and prefer my own music, but I really want to hear what the latest noise out there is. KIIS FM is the big station for that out here in LA (I mean, we’ve got Ryan Seacrest on the radio for goodness’ sake), so I gave it a go. After several minutes of commercials and inane celebrity-related news (apparently more brunettes than blondes are making it onto the “sexiest women” lists), they finally played something…And it was OutKast’s “Hey Ya.” Which I love, don’t get me wrong! (Shake it like a Polaroid picture!) But I was expecting something more…recent? Anyway, they just played more commercials after that and I was beginning to remember why I stopped listening to the radio. So I changed the station, paused on Heidi and Frank for a bit before I remembered I was supposed to be listening to music, and kept going till I came across Lorde’s “Royals” (another song I love). I went back to KIIS when that was over and caught this song called “Turn Down For What” by Lil Jon or Lil Pete or Lil Wayne or some Lil. I don’t remember and I’m too lazy/don’t care enough to look it up. Anyway, the best part was that it was the last song I heard when I got to work, and when I was done, it was the first song I heard when I got back in my car after work and turned the radio on. I forgot KIIS has such a tight rotation, haha!

Anyway, I gave the radio another try on the commute home and was pleased that I’d come across a 90 minute music block (except for the announcer to periodically hawk tickets to Wango Tango). It didn’t last long though because I found myself just getting annoyed at all these songs I didn’t know that had really awful lyrics and boring melodies. So I changed it around again and got some Tears for Fears, Oasis (“Wonderwall” of course!), Imagine Dragons, the tail end of “Happy,” and maybe some Arcade Fire? I wasn’t sure about that last one. Not too successful a venture back into radio, but we’ll see. I need to program my radio buttons to the good stations and figure out their schedules.

Last but not least, I remembered this morning that I’m still signed up for the Lady Gaga mailing list and that they’d announced they’d be selling ARTPOP for $6.99. That’s a pretty good deal, so I went for it. I might do a full review another time, but so far I’m not blown away. I’m glad I only spent just shy of $7. It’s better than Born This Way, I’ll say that. Honestly, that album was a whimper compared to the roar that was The Fame Monster. I told myself forever that I liked it as much, but that was a lie. I just feel like Lady Gaga has a severe case of what I call Trying Too Hard, and that’s what was going on on that album. She’s still Trying Too Hard (yes, it deserves all those capital letters). I mean, SXSW, anybody? What the hell was that about. We get it. You’re “EDGY.” I will say after giving ARTPOP one listen-through so far, it actually feels more…natural. It’s got more of a club/discoteque sound to it. So it’s nice that she’s trying something newish.

Even though I don’t follow her as closely anymore, and my 25 year-old self would punch me in the face for saying this, it still feels like Lady Gaga has become a parody of herself. She’s become Ladonna from Regular Show (who IS a parody of Lady Gaga).

Every time she talks, all I hear is “It’s infused with the laughter of babies.” Man, I miss the Fame Monster days. I’m not saying she should do the same thing over and over again (though apparently that’s what Avril Lavigne does, and my fiancée likes her for that reason, which I guess I can see. It’s nice to have something constant to go back to while still getting something disguised as “new”). But Lady Gaga…Please stop Trying Too Hard. Not everybody loves you and that’s okay. Please stop randomly crying over it and having people throw up on you. Please. I’m getting Fremdscham over it. (This is a thing and you should Google it because you will understand when you do.)

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Neko Case

I’m going to see Neko Case on Thursday, you guys, and I’m so excited! I’ve been going over in my head which songs she’ll probably perform and which ones I hope she’ll perform. So here are my predictions, keeping in mind I’ve never seen her in concert before, so I don’t know what kind of songs she favors performing live.

It’ll be a lot of The Harder I Fight, of course. I think “Man” is guaranteed, which is good because I’m betting it sounds awesome live. It certainly sounds like it was meant to be performed live. I think we’ll probably get “Night Still Comes” which I actually really want to hear. The likelihood is fairly high — they’ve been playing it in the theaters at my local AMC before they start the pre-movie stuff (not the previews, but the commercials. If you’ve been to an AMC, you’ll know what I’m talking about).

“Bracing for Sunday,” “City Swan,” and “Local Girl” are likely. I wouldn’t mind hearing “Calling Cards.” I’m hopeful for “Ragtime” because I really like it as an album closer, though I don’t think it’ll be a concert closer. (That might just be “Man.”) And I really, really LOVE the dressed-down version of “Magpie to the Morning” on the deluxe version of The Harder I Fight. I’m really hoping she plays this version because I really like the way it sounds with the banjo and the guitar.

Moving chronologically backwards to Middle Cyclone, I would be THRILLED if she played “This Tornado Loves You.” It’s my favorite song off of that album, and one of my top five favorite Neko Case songs of all time.

I’d like to hear “The Pharaohs” but I don’t think it’s likely. However, “People Got A Lotta Nerve” is very likely. Possibly “Red Tide” and “Prison Girls” too.

Moving on to Fox Confessor Brings the Flood, I would absolutely LOVE to hear “Margaret Vs. Pauline” (another top 5 favorite) If she played that and “This Tornado Loves You” that would be wonderful. I’d like to hear “Hold On, Hold On,” and I think the odds of that are pretty good. “Lion’s Jaws” would be nice, but maybe not likely. I’d like “Maybe Sparrow” too, and I think that’s more likely. Other than that, I think the title track “Fox Confessor Brings the Flood” might be played, maybe.

Next up is my favorite (and first) Neko Case album, Blacklisted. If she played “Things That Scare Me”…Oh my goodness, if she played that one along with “Margaret Vs. Pauline” and “This Tornado Loves You” I think THAT might my perfect Neko concert. She can play anything else. I would just love love LOVE to hear “Things That Scare Me.” It was love at first listen for me. Instant favorite. I knew I was in for the long haul with Neko when I heard that song. Can’t say the likelihood of that one though…

Other than that one, “Deep Red Bells” just might be played — and that’s okay because I really like it! I love “Outro With Bees” but I’m not holding my breath. “Lady Pilot” is a maybe! “Stinging Velvet” would be lovely, and possible. Overall, the odds for anything on this album are pretty low. I’m guessing she’ll play very, very few songs from this album, if any.

If she plays anything else, it’ll be a puzzle to me! I don’t have any of the albums she made with Her Boyfriends, though I’ve been meaning to get them. In any case, I’m really looking forward to it! And I hope she’s a talker. (If she is, I’ll bet she’s sassy.) I love it when performers talk to their audience. I’d love the know the meaning behind “Nearly Midnight, Honolulu.” That song haunts me when I hear it.

In any case, I’m looking forward to her setlist, whatever it may be! And don’t worry, I’m not one of those people who shouts requests at the stage. I can’t stand those people. It’s like, I don’t know what hole-in-the-wall dive bar you go to see that band with the homeless, drunk drummer, but professional artists have setlists and they have them for a reason. Sheesh.

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Treats

Do not adjust your sound system. The distortion and heavy bass you’re hearing is the signature sound of Sleigh Bells’ Treats. I think I’d describe it as heavy pop-tronic. It’s like heavy metal and pop had a baby and named electronica the godmother. Wikipedia simply describes their music as noise pop. I guess that works too.

I’d also describe Treats as rowdy. It’s definitely got this “what the kids are listening to these days” feel about it. It feels youthful and vibrant. It’s hard to make out the lyrics because of the distortion and bass, and even when you can they don’t always make a lot of sense. In songs like “Straight A’s” and “A/B Machines” they even just consist of two lines repeated throughout the song.

But for me, Treats is about making me feel something. I like the rowdiness. It makes me want to party on the beach or in a club. That’s probably where this album is being played right now, seeing as how it’s summer in April here in LA. (It surprised me for a minute that the band is from Brooklyn, but then I realized that they do kind of have that Brooklynite hipster feel about them.)

Sleigh Bells was another one of my Last.fm discoveries, probably through M.I.A. considering she signed them to her label and even worked with them on her album /\/\ /\ Y /\. After giving Treats a good listen, I can see why.

Treats explodes on you from the first moment with “Tell ‘Em,” which sounds like it could be a very cynical anthem for the Millennial generation. Still, it’s a great intro considering everything Treats stands for (which is that rowdy youthfulness). M.I.A. herself stands for all of that, though some people may feel that the time has long since passed for her to put all that away as she approaches 40. Well, she has a certain finger (or two) for them anyway.

Sorry, getting way off track. I’m pretty sure “Crown on the Ground” was the first track I heard by Sleigh Bells. Listening to it now, I can see how it got me hooked. (For the reason why it took me so long to actually buy one of their albums, see this post.) The guitar riffs at the beginning are simple enough. Even the drums, vocals, and snaps could be seen as no big deal. But then about 22 seconds in, it throws it all up into the air, and you along with it. It doesn’t stop, even when it’s winding down, and then suddenly it’s over! I think it might be the best-produced song on the album.

You actually might have heard a Sleigh Bells song before and not realized it. That would be “Rill Rill” as heard in that one Apple commercial.

It’s actually the lightest song on the album, or easiest on the ears, however you want to call it. I love it, but “A/B Machine” is actually one of my favorite tracks on the album (and it’s not easy on the ears). Maybe because it’s the song I could dance the hardest to. It’s got this fantastic Dick Dale-esque guitar riff to it. It’s the rowdiest song for me — I guess you could argue “Straight A’s” is rowdier, but to me it’s just screamier. Let’s just say I would put “A/B Machines” on my proverbial girl gang soundtrack.

The title song “Treats” caught my attention because — there it is! — it’s the track that was born out of M.I.A.’s “Meds and Feds.” Or maybe M.I.A. sampled it. I’m not quite sure of the order, since there was a lot of mixing up going on at the time /\/\ /\ Y /\ was being produced/Treats was being recorded!

I think if you like M.I.A. (and if you didn’t hate the contentious /\/\ /\ Y /\) you will probably like Treats and, by extension, Sleigh Bells! If you’d describe yourself as having an “old soul” … ummm, skip Treats. It’ll make you want to shake your fist and curse those ungrateful young whippersnappers who just won’t stay off your lawn. If neither of those conditions apply to you but you thought that last one was pretty funny and somehow intriguing — GO FOR SLEIGH BELLS!

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Post

Anyone who knows me well knows that Björk is one of my favorite artists. Yet if you asked me what the first Björk album I bought was, I couldn’t be 100% sure. I think it must have been Post.

Which I think is a fantastic introductory album to Björk. (I’d actually first heard various songs of hers via a mix CD from a friend.) It’s got the broadest range of sounds and relatable themes, and, while she was still messily experimenting, this was the last album that came before her really experimental stages.

Let’s start with the opener:

“Army of Me” is one of my top (definitely top 5) Björk songs. The industrial sound is so fitting, and it’s such a departure from the pagan-pixie sounds of Debut, even if she hadn’t quite left her manic pixie phase. It’s so empowering, even though lyrically it seems to put you down (“You’re alright…There’s nothing wrong.”). It’s really just telling you to get over yourself and pull yourself up by the bootstraps. The video (which I also love) is a bit of an analogy of that idea, particularly the part where she goes to the gorilla dentist. She was so focused on her own self-perceived suffering, she didn’t realize the potential inside of her until someone else tried to steal and exploit it. It’s visually fantastic, thanks in part to the direction by the incredible Michel Gondry.

The transition into “Hyper-Ballad” is flawless, which is amazing since it’s a much quieter song. It’s a heavy, somber account of someone who stays in a relationship that holds no meaning for them anymore. It’s about doing and imagining the most horrible things so you don’t have to face the reality that’s even more horrible. According to Björk:

Basically, ‘Hyper-ballad’ is about having this kind of bag going on and three years have passed and you’re not high anymore. You have to make an effort consciously and nature’s not helping you anymore. So you wake up early in the morning and you sneak outside and you do something horrible and destructive, break whatever you can find, watch a horrible film, read a bit of William Burroughs, something really gross and come home and be like, ‘Hi honey, how are you?’

It’s so tragic and heart-wrenching. And Björk sings it with just the right amount of emotion.

“The Modern Things” is a funny little song, and it feels kind of like a bit of a leftover from Debut. Actually, along with “Army of Me,” it was written before Debut. Makes sense for the former, but it’s a surprise on the latter! Anyway, I remember reading somewhere that the song was like a little joke Björk made up. This idea that cars and machines had existed long before dinosaurs and people.(It’s hilarious to me that she would think this was a very funny joke.) I think it also comes from a feeling of frustration with people who dismiss electronic music. She has this fantastic quote about it, though I’m not sure where it comes from. It still gives me chills when I hear it though, because it’s such a good point.

If you ask people to name a Björk song, odds are they’ll name “It’s Oh So Quiet.” It’s probably Björk’s most accessible song for the reason that it’s an actual recognizable genre: big band/jazz. It’s also her most unoriginal (not a bad thing in this case!) considering she didn’t write it. It’s still loads of fun and she still manages to put her own signature style into it. And it’s got another awesome music video:

It just looks like she and everyone else is genuinely having fun, and I love that!

“Enjoy” and “Army of Me” are another hard-soft pairing. The album’s very scatterbrained like that, but it works. The diverse sounds give it such a wide range of emotion. Then we have “Isobel” which is such a great ballad song. It’s got one of my favorite lyrics of all time: “In a tower of steel, nature forges a deal to raise wonder hell like me, like me.” It’s so vivid and allegorical. I’ve always found the video a bore though, which is sad, considering it’s another Michel Gondry piece.

“Possibly Maybe” is, according to Björk, is the first unhappy song she ever wrote. And it feels like it. The song and video are so dark and obsessive, which is appropriate considering it’s about someone she just can’t get over.

She goes back and forth over her emotions. “Possibly maybe…probably, love.” The best part is at the end when she sings “Since we broke up, I’m wearing lipstick again” signalling that she’s finally ready to move on to other people, but then: “I suck my tongue in remembrance of you.” The recurring phone ringing sound is just perfect. It’s making you ask “Do I pick it up and seem desperate? Or do I ignore it and miss out on a potential opportunity?” Everything about this song (and video) is so so so good. (P.S. She’s bathing in milk.)

“I Miss You” is a great track to follow that. I’ve always loved how she’s so sure about what her perfect lover will be like, even though she hasn’t met them yet. And the video was done by John Kricfalusi! Of Ren & Stimpy fame! (Björk is apparently a big fan.) It’s a delightfully bizarre combination. It’s like she gave him free range and he took it and ran with it. And it works! Anyone else probably would have asked him to do it MUCH differently. I can picture Björk saying “Man, this is messed up…I love it!”

“Cover Me” is a quiet but eerie following track. There’s a rare early version that she recorded in a bat-infested cave that I have on her Family Tree collection. Even the album version sounds like it could have been recorded in a cave. Or maybe an abandoned space station, Alien-style.

Last but not least, the album’s closing track “Headphones” is a beautiful ode to music and even sound itself. (“My headphones saved my life” is practically my motto.) And yet sound is minimal on this track. It works wonderfully. Björk uses her voice as an instrument to great effect here. And in a way, the soft yet deep beats serve almost as a precursor to the beat-heavy Homogenic. What a wonderful closer…

If you have NEVER listened to Björk in you life, well, first of all, how dare you. But more importantly, start with Post. It gives you the widest range of her vocal and thematic abilities. Then you’ll be ready to experiment with new sounds right along with her.

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