Tag Archives: gorillaz

Monthly Playlist: Aug. 2022

6 Sep

Our playlist for August 2022 is an eclectic mix of artists you definitely know about and those that you probably should know about. Come along with us for a spin of the top five tracks last month – read on below!

“STEPMOM” by DACEY

DACEY is a Canadian duo consisting of the eponymous lead singer Dacey Andrada and instrumentalist Justin Tecson. The duo has had a few minor hits in the flavor of indie / R&B, including “Sidewalks” (2019) and the mellower “Broccoli’s Keeper” (2020), culminating in a short album including those two songs in 2021 called Satin’s Keeper. They’ve had a few tracks since then, but “STEPMOM” immediately stands out with its Hot Chip-esque opening beats and frantic pace. The tempo hardly slows down for the rest of the fun three-minute track, showcasing Dacey’s expressive vocals and the drum machine-like beats in particular.

“strawberry chainsaw” by JAWNY

Indie pop singer-songwriter JAWNY first gained prominence with 2019’s “Honeypie” – one of those inherently catchy pop songs that you’ve likely heard on one of countless Spotify-created playlists. He parlayed that track into a signing with Interscope Records and a major label debut (2020’s mixtape For Abby) which saw moderate success as well. Now he’s back with “strawberry chainsaw”, a jangly, feel-good pop track that immediately evokes summery nostalgia. Imagine this song on the soundtrack for the Gen Z coming-of-age teenage movie like Juno, and you’ll have a good idea of the vibes on these two-and-a-half minutes. 

“New Gold” by Gorillaz feat. Tame Impala and Bootie Brown

We already loved the first new Gorillaz track “Cracker Island” back when it came out in June. Last month, Gorillaz announced that the song was actually the starting point for an entire album (also called Cracker Island) which is expected to be released in Feb. 2023. As part of the announcement, the virtual band released “New Gold” featuring psychedelic rock act Tame Impala and longtime Gorillaz collaborator, American rapper Bootie Brown. “New Gold” is an old-school Gorillaz song with equal measures of deft beats, peppy rap verses, and an air of psychedelia – naturally helped along by the masterful Kevin Parker. We’ll see whether Cracker Island matches the brilliance of 2020’s Song Machine – but with a track like this, signs sure are positive.

“SEX APPEAL” by BLACKSTARKIDS

BLACKSTARKIDS are an alternative hip-hop trio from Kansas City consisting of TheBabeGabe, TyFaizon, and Deiondre. They gained some prominence with the more pop-rock track “FRANKIE MUNIZ” on their third mixtape Whatever, Man (2020), but the sounds on their new “SEX APPEAL” blow that previous song out of the water. The track starts off with a bouncy, fun intro that’s almost reminiscent of Black Eyed Peas, and the siren-based beats and jagged rap verses remind the listener of The Neptunes – in a great way. Take it from us: BLACKSTARKIDS are about to make it big.

“Sweet Tooth” by Maya Hawke

Actor Maya Hawke is not just your favorite member of the older kid crew on Stranger Things. She’s also a singer-songwriter with decent indie pop credentials to her name – and she showcases that beautifully on the lilting, gentle “Sweet Tooth”. Maya’s vocals may be radio-ready, but the lyrics on closer inspection are wackier than your typical pop song. They center around teeth, as the title suggests, but there are plastic teeth, cherries replacing the gap where her molar used to be, and all sorts of other stream-of-consciousness thoughts. The fact that all this weirdness seems endearing is a testament to the sweetness of her voice and jangly guitars. 

Monthly Playlist: Jun. 2022

11 Jul

Hello, and welcome to the Monthly Playlist for June 2022! We are halfway through the year and have had some big album releases already. Kendrick Lamar dropped his much-awaited new album, as did Bad Bunny. There were big albums from Radiohead-side project The Smile, superstar The Weeknd and hyped newcomers Wet Leg. For now, read on for our top picks for the sixth month of the year – and look for a mid-year list soon!

“BRAND NEW BITCH” by COBRAH

COBRAH is a Swedish musician specializing in the genre of hyperpop. If that makes you think of Charli XCX (side note: check out our album review of Charli’s latest!), you’re spot-on – COBRAH’s music falls in the same vein of pulsing, club-ready bangers that blur the line between pop and EDM. “BRAND NEW BITCH” is a party track about COBRAH’s ability to switch between fashionable looks – whether it’s Mugler or Versace – but always looking new, shiny, polished and (use your imagination) slimy. Of course the lyrics don’t really matter because ultimately this song is about the beat and how COBRAH’s vocal-fry pronouncements add a layer of freneticism that perfectly suits the post-COVID club scene. 

“<maybe> it’s my fault” by WILLOW

We’ll be honest – we haven’t been giving WILLOW her musical due. The singer-songwriter (and daughter of a famous and dare we say infamous couple) has been steadily coming into her own, especially over the past year or so. She had a feature from resurgent pop-princess Avril Lavigne on last year’s Lately I Feel Everything, and also put together a great track (“psychofreak”) with Camila Cabello earlier this year. With “<maybe> it’s my fault”, WILLOW has expertly combined a few of those elements, and the result is a pop-punk track about the confusion and angst of early-adulthood relationships. “It’s all in my mind, it’s all in my mind, I try to rewind and all of the while / I’m hurtin’ inside, it’s your fault, Maybe it’s my fault,” she sings, in between surprisingly heavy guitar riffs. Definitely a track that will put WILLOW on your radar if she isn’t there already.

“BREAK MY SOUL” by Beyonce

From the first 10 seconds of “BREAK MY SOUL”, you can instantly tell that this isn’t your father’s (or mother’s) Beyonce track. Afropop house music segues smoothly into Queen Bey intoning the title phrase a few times – apparently with the intention of soundtracking the Great Resignation. “Now, I just fell in love and I just quit my job / I’m gonna find new drive, Damn, they work me so damn hard,” she says and honestly – same. It’s a surprising, new sound for Beyonce, and one that makes us excited for the July 29th release of her new album Renaissance.

“Cracker Island” by Gorillaz feat. Thundercat

After a fantastic album in 2020, Gorillaz are back with another track, just in time for the summer / fall leg of their worldwide tour (and hopefully the release of Song Machine Vol. 2). “Cracker Island” features the jazzy bassist Thundercat on a track seemingly about a cult that sets up shop on their own island (?). In true Gorillaz fashion, the famously multimedia band announced “Cracker Island” in a press release where they have also encouraged fans to join “The Last Cult” – whatever that may be. Mysterious lyrics aside, the song itself is pitch-perfect Gorillaz, with catchy synths, Damon Albarn’s filtered vocals, and beautifully crisp production – with the added bonus of Thundercat’s irresistibly funky bass. Here’s hoping for a lot more soon from everyone’s favorite virtual band.

“Betty (Get Money)” by Yung Gravy

Who knew that the old Internet meme-slash-80s-hit “Never Gonna Give You Up” would work so well as a rap track sample? Not us, but apparently Yung Gravy did. “Betty (Get Money)” is a ridiculously catchy track that starts off with the chorus and unmistakable synth-violins of Rick Astley’s iconic hit, and it only gets better from there. Yung Gravy shines throughout the whole fun track with cool verses and clever flipped lines (try it yourself: sing “Never take a L no more, never take a damn thing slow / All I know is chase this dough And get money” to the original chorus). We hadn’t heard of Yung Gravy until this track, but he’s certainly on our radar now!

Monthly Playlist: Aug. 2021

7 Sep

Better late than never, we always say. We may be a little late with our Monthly Playlist for August 2021, but we now have the goods for you below. Check out our top five picks below!

5. “Walking at a Downtown Pace” by Parquet Courts

Parquet Courts is a four-piece hailing from New York City by way of Texas, where Andrew Savage met Austin Brown. The two share lead vocals and guitar duties in the band, with Andrew’s brother Max on the drums and Sean Yeaton on bass rounding out the group. In the past, we favorably compared their third album Sunbathing Animal to the Strokes’ debut album (albeit edgier), and this new track from the band has the same NYC effortless-cool that enthralled us then. “Walking at a Downtown Pace” has a driving guitars that reminded us of Led Zep’s “When the Levee Breaks”, and a sing-along chorus that is going to do wonders in trendy venues in Brooklyn and around the world. This is the second track from the band’s upcoming seventh (!) album Sympathy for Life, scheduled to release on October 22nd.

4. “Meanwhile” by Gorillaz feat. Jelani Blackman & Barrington Levy

Three-quarters of a year after the near-perfect Song Machine, Damon Albarn is back with his virtual band and canny artist features with a new, three-song Gorillaz EP entitled Meanwhile. As we found out over the course of the Song Machine tracklist, Albarn is turning into a premier launchpad of talented British rappers to audiences outside of the UK; and that trend continues on the title track from this mini-album. London-based up-and-coming rapper Jelani Blackman’s catchy, sing-song style gels well with the dancehall stylings of Jamaican legend Barrington Levy. Throughout it all, Albarn lends his aloof vocals and his unique ability to meld all the disparate pieces into a great new track. If this is gearing up to Song Machine Vol. 2, we’re all for it. And if you liked this, check out “Jimmy Jimmy” from the same EP!

3. “Rumors” by Lizzo feat. Cardi B

“They don’t know, I do it for the culture, goddamn / They say I should watch the shit I post, oh goddamn / Say I’m turning big girls into hoes, oh goddamn / They say I get groupies at my shows, oh goddamn,” intones Lizzo at the start of her new track “Rumors”, listing out all the supposedly bad things that she’s been rumored to do. Nothing beats the humor of the first time you listen to the track, where she immediately follows up this verse with “All the rumors are true, yeah / What ya’ heard, that’s true, yeah”. This is a larger-than-life, catchy as hell track from two of pop culture’s reigning hit-masters that speaks to the incessant rumors at that level of public spotlight. Cardi B joins in with her own set: “Fake ass, fake boobs, yeah / Made a million at [strip club] Sue’s, yeah,” and the general vibe of the song is that these ladies just don’t care anymore about what’s being said of them on social media or gossip rags. Musically, “Rumors” is peak Lizzo, complete with funky synths and a rollicking horn section. One last thing: the music video is a modern take on the Disney movie Hercules, with Lizzo and a very pregnant Cardi, and should belong in an art museum somewhere for its extremely high production values alone.

2. “Oxytocin” by Billie Eilish

Technically, this song came out in the very last hours of July 2021 and hence didn’t make it into our July playlist, but we couldn’t not include it in this one. “Oxytocin” is one of the non-single tracks that were released as part of Billie’s highly-anticipated sophomore album Happier Than Ever. We’ll have the full album review out for you shortly, but this electro-pop song is definitely one of the highlights from the track-list. Finneas (Billie’s brother-slash-producer extraordinaire) really knocks it out of the park with this one. The lone beat at the start builds into a cornucopia of bits and beeps that adds a manic energy to the track – fittingly, for lyrics that lay bare her addictive relationship to her partner. Speaking of Billie’s lyrics, the singer takes the risqué factor from her debut album to a different level on this track about toxic addiction: for example, “’Cause as long as you’re still breathing / Don’t you even think of leaving” in the verses and the repeated “I wanna do bad things to you / I wanna make you yell” in the outro. “Oxytocin” is the kind of track that hooks you from the first second of the first listen, but it’s Billie’s creepy lyrics (in both delivery and meaning) that keep you hooked.

1. “Take My Breath” by The Weeknd

A couple of months ago at the Billboard Music Awards, The Weeknd accepted yet another popular music award with a somewhat cryptic message: “I just want to say, the After Hours are done and the dawn is coming”. In early August, the Canadian R&B phenomenon released the electro-dance record “Take My Breath”, signifying what he’s taken to calling The Dawn era. We have some clues about what this is going to be like, and boy it’s good. “Take My Breath” is a non-stop dance party that has the potential to be remixed into a million other dance tracks. A week after this song was released, The Weeknd compiled a list of songs that inspired “the new Dawn era” on his Apple podcast / radio show Memento Mori (yes, he has an Apple show) and readers – the list included not one but two Britney Spears songs. Here’s hoping that “Take My Breath” was our introduction into an upcoming electronic music-inspired 90s-throwback pop record from the Weekend!

Top Five Albums of 2020 – Neeharika’s List

30 Dec

End-of-year introspection has an entirely new depth in 2020. There was profound sadness, disappointment, discomfort, dismay – but also hope. Hope in the vaccines that have arrived at breakneck speed, hope in the stronger relationships that emerged out of quarantine, and hope in continuing to keep up whatever gave you joy in this hellish year. For me, the year was made better by the presence of the following five albums, plus a few others that I’ve highlighted below. Read on for my take of the Top Five Albums of 2020.

Honorable mentions

  • What’s Your Pleasure? by Jessie Ware: Ridiculously fun, dance-worthy disco jam. (Full review here)
  • RTJ4 by Run the Jewels: Powerful, well-penned and a perfect soundtrack to the racial turmoil this year. (Full review here)

5. A Hero’s Death by Fontaines D.C.

Irish punk band Fontaines D.C. debuted in 2019 with the spectacular Dogrel (which also made it to my list last year), and followed it up in 2020 with a deeper sophomore album – A Hero’s Death. The album was written while the band was on a whirlwind global tour for Dogrel, and consequently highlights their thoughts on fame, identity, America and so much more. With mainstream success comes mainstream expectations; A Hero’s Death sees the band rebelling on tracks like “I Don’t Belong” and “I Was Not Born”. “Living in America” dissects the reality of the United States of America from the mythical land-of-the-free in Irish minds while “Televised Mind” comes back to the theme of the stilted thoughts in today’s consumerist world – a favorite theme of Fontaines D.C. (and punk rock bands everywhere). All in all, this is a great record that proves there’s a lot more to come from Fontaines D.C.

Read our full review here.

4. The New Abnormal by The Strokes

Few records have ever been as perfectly titled as The Strokes’ sixth studio album The New Abnormal. The album was announced in February – pre-pandemic – and by the time it came out in April, the whole world was in an entirely different place. In the wilderness years between their fifth album Comedown Machine (2013) and this one, the band released a sum total of three songs (plus a remix). Most of the members used the seven years to work on side projects and there were rumors that the Strokes were done for. Happily though, the situation now seems as far from that as it has ever been, because The New Abnormal sounds like a perfectly-curated playlist of the Strokes’ creative output – together and apart. There are of course the classic “Strokes-y” songs like “The Adults Are Talking” that could do pretty well on their earlier records; but there’s also tracks like the melancholy “At The Door” with its clear Voidz edge and “Brooklyn Bridge to Chorus” with its touches of Albert Hammond Jr.’s solo work. On The New Abnormal, the Strokes sound like they’re working well together and having fun again, and that shows in the music.

Read our full review here.

3. Future Nostalgia by Dua Lipa

If you’re a pop / R&B star not named Billie Eilish, chances are you’ve tried your hand at dance-pop / disco this year. We had 80s-inspired music from Kylie Minogue, Jessie Ware, The Weeknd and so many others, but none can come close to the disco perfection on Future Nostalgia. The album is pretty much just straight hits from top to bottom. The metaphorical strobe lights start flashing right from the opening beats of the bouncy, irrepressible title track; and it’s a full-blown dance party by the time we get to the massive hit singles like “Don’t Start Now”, “Physical” and “Break My Heart”. Dua has also excelled in live shows this year (of all years), taking and running with any opportunity she gets – see her stripped-back Tiny Desk session or her magnetic AMAs performance of “Levitating”. Future Nostalgia is fresh, fun, timeless and an instant mood booster at a time when we all needed it the most.

Read our full review here.

2. SAWAYAMA by Rina Sawayama

SAWAYAMA by Japanese-English singer-songwriter Rina Sawayama is, in my mind, undoubtedly the debut album of the year. Imagine a mixtape of all the music you illegally downloaded off Napster in the 90s and early 00s; but somehow all the tracks have magically mashed up across genre lines – that’s more or less what SAWAYAMA is. For example, “STFU!” sounds exactly like a Britney Spears cover of a Korn song, while “Dynasty” has all the harmonized pop extravagance of NSYNC or the Backstreet Boys, with a hint of Evanescence-style elven vocals. If those come off as odd mash-ups, it’s purely a testament to how well this album has been visualized, produced, mixed and implemented. Songs like “XS” and “Comme des Garcons” are crisp, campy, catchy and everything that good pop music ought to be. Rina’s confidence and integrity of artistic vision belie her discography length, and a legion of fans now eagerly await her next move.

Read our full review here.

1. Song Machine, Season One: Strange Timez by Gorillaz

Until about late November, when we in the music review hobby start charting out our end-of-year lists, I honestly did not think of the new Gorillaz album on this list. Indeed, Song Machine, Season One: Strange Timez was just released a few weeks ago, and although they have been steadily releasing great singles all year, I didn’t think the combined package would hold up. However, the more I started running through Song Machine, the more I was certain that this was the album of the year.

On Song Machine, Damon Albarn has turned the traditional album-single release tradition on its head. Every song is a single in its own right, and has been more or less treated as such, each with a separate release date, music video, accompanying snippets and so on. Release mechanics aside, the music holds up too: every single song on the 11-track album is worthy of the listener’s attention. Moreover, one must applaud the sheer audacity of throwing together musicians across genres – for example, Elton John with rapper 6LACK on “Pink Phantom” – and creating something totally unique and magical. From the opening notes of the otherworldly title track (“Strange Timez” feat. The Cure’s Robert Smith) to the high-energy closing track (“Momentary Bliss” feat. British rapper slowthai and punk band Slaves), Song Machine is the closest we’ll get to an eclectic and electric music festival this year. Virtually of course – what else could it be in 2020?

Read our full review here.

Monthly Playlist: Oct. 2020

2 Nov

As 2020 draws to a close, and we start making the first drafts of our end of year lists, we took a look back at some of the best songs in October 2020. Read on for a quick spin through everything from dance-rock to synth-pop – to whatever Gorillaz is…

5. “I Love It” by Kylie Minogue

The firs of our big-name artists to feature on the list this month is Aussie pop legend Kylie Minogue, who blessed us this month with the 1970s disco-throwback gem called “I Love It”. Readers of Top Five Records will note that this particular aesthetic is rather chic among female pop singers this year, whether it’s Dua Lipa or Jessie Ware or Gaga herself. Kylie carries forward this year’s trend with this bouncy, Technicolor soundtrack to all the parties you wish you’d had this year.

4. “Straight to the Morning” by Hot Chip feat. Jarvis Cocker

Dovetailing right into Kylie’s above track is “Straight to the Morning” by British dance/synth-pop outfit Hot Chip, featuring none other than Pulp’s Jarvis Cocker. As you may expect from this combination of artists, “Straight to the Morning” is a classic heartbeat-speed of a dance track, supported by Cocker’s irreverent drawl. Hot Chip are, of course, famously known for making great music videos, so be sure to check out the one for this track.

3. “Intercontinental Radio Waves” by TRAAMS

British indie rock three-piece TRAAMS is #3 on our list this with their catchy jam, “Intercontinental Radio Waves”. You simply can’t ignore the bluesy, sludgy bassline that hits you right at the start – and before you know it, you’re nodding along to lead singer Stuart Hopkins’ sharp, staccato pronouncements. The band last released an album a few years ago (2015’s Modern Dancing), so perhaps this is a sign of new music to come. If so, they’ve got new fans here at Top Five Records.

1. (Tie) “The Valley of the Pagans” by Gorillaz feat. Beck & “The Pink Phantom” by Gorillaz feat. Elton John and 6LACK

Over the course of this year, Gorillaz have been releasing a song every few months, including the recent ScHoolboy Q collab that we covered here at Top Five. All this new music from the virtual band was a lead-up to October’s Song Machine, Season One: Strange Timez. All tracks on this perfectly-titled album (for, after all, these are indeed strange timez) are collaborations between Gorillaz and an eclectic mix of artists, from niche (e.g. CHAI) to arena-filling (e.g. Elton John). Naturally, such a mix has resulted in a number of possible picks for a stand-out track this month, but we decided to go with two, both of which we’d rank as some of the best songs this month.

With its slick, dance-rock embellishments and playful pacing, “The Valley of the Pagans” is reminiscent of the golden Demon Dayz-era Gorillaz. “The Pink Phantom” features the one and only Elton John, whose vocals shine on this slowed-down, melancholy track. Elton’s voice is impressively – and surprisingly – complemented by American rapper 6LACK’s Auto-tuned, R&B-tinged verses. Props to Gorillaz’s Damon Albarn for putting all the pieces together!

Have you started thinking about your Albums of the Year and Songs of the Year? Let us know in the comments below!

Monthly Playlist: Jul. 2020

2 Aug

This month in music, we saw everything from surprise albums, to much-awaited sophomore albums, to some unexpectedly good remixes. Read on below for a quick breakdown of our top five songs this month – plus, a bonus track!

5. “SWAG” by YG

With its bouncy, summer-ready beats and the titular use of the 2010s-peak slang word, “SWAG” is almost a blissful blast-from-the-past, before the hellscape that is 2020. Compton-based rapper YG’s lyrics on this track are definitely nothing to write home about – the chorus is largely a repetition of the word “swag” – but damn, is it catchy. The best part about this song, however, is the music video. Aside from the 90s style visuals (think “Drop It Like It’s Hot”), the clip features an homage to Colin Kaepernick and cameos from two very special fellow Compton natives (check out around the 1:17 mark below).

4. “Night Garden” by BENEE feat. Kenny Beats & Bakar)

20-year-old New Zealand singer-songwriter BENEE has been blowing up for a few months now. In 2019, she released not one but two EPs, Fire on Marzz and Stella & Steve, the latter of which featured the TikTok viral mega-hit “Supalonely”. Her laidback vocals and relaxed vibe – like a Kiwi Corinne Bailey Rae – prove especially alluring in today’s times. New track “Night Garden” features producer Kenny Beats’ slick arrangements, as well as a choice verse from young London singer Bakar, whose cool vocals fit quite well with the entire ethos. BENEE is surely one to watch, because “Night Garden” really does evoke a nocturnal, wistful stroll. Check out the animated music video below:

3. “Televised Mind” by Fontaines D.C.

We have yet to fully absorb Irish punk band Fontaines D.C.’s sophomore album A Hero’s Death – released just two days ago – but the single “Televised Mind” has been top-of-mind for us since its release at the start of July. Like many other of this band’s songs, the track features uneven guitar sounds, steady drums, and lead singer Grian Chatten’s magnetic, poetic Dublin-drawl vocals. “All your laughter pissed away / All your sadness pissed away / Now you don’t care what they say,” describes he of the ostensible televised mind, before ending with the kicker: “Nor do I”. We’re looking forward to taking in the rest of the album; let’s hope it lives up to their spectacular 2019 debut Dogrel.

2. “Psychonaut” by Mr. Gnome

The excellently named Mr. Gnome is a husband-wife duo with a floaty, psychedelic vibe to their tunes. Singer-songwriter Nicole Barille and drummer / pianist Sam Meister have released a quartet of albums over the past twelve years or so, followed by July’s single “Psychonaut”. The song’s pulsing, memorable intro section sounds a bit like the famous laser scene in Ocean’s Twelve, and the entire song does have a similar air of nonchalant coolness. Special props to Barille’s spindly, dreamy vocals here, for making the listener want to do nothing less than walk on the moon, as the lyrics suggest. “Psychonaut” will be featured on the band’s upcoming double-LP The Day You Flew Away, out in October.

1. “Pac-Man” by Gorillaz feat. ScHoolboy Q

Since the start of the year, Gorillaz have released a song every month or so as part of the Song Machine series – a deconstructed take on the traditional album format that, to be honest, better fits today’s social media-driven world. In July, the band released the series’ fifth song “Pac-Man” featuring LA rapper ScHoolboy Q.

The song starts off with a tinny, MIDI-esque riff, in line with the theme of being like Pac-Man stuck in his little maze. Damon Albarn’s mantra-like vocals (“I’m stressing out, I’m stressing out..”) mesmerize like a high with malignant undertones – until you’re shaken awake by ScHoolboy Q’s sharp flow. Incongruous as they may seem, the pieces fit; and the result is a track that you can’t help but replay. Also, if you are a fan of the classic “Feel Good Inc.”, you may be happy to know that “Pac-Man” is probably the closest that Gorillaz have sounded like that in a long time.

As with all Gorillaz songs, one is meant to enjoy the music in a complete multi-media sense through the music video – after all, it is at its core a collaboration between Damon Albarn and artist / illustrator Jamie Hewlett. So, without further ado, enjoy:

Bonus:

We typically don’t include remixes on our Monthly Playlist – there’s enough great music every month to not need repeats – but we must make special mention of the Tensnake remix of Dua Lipa’s “Hurricane” from this year’s astounding Future Nostalgia. The ramped up bassline and Giorgio Moroder-esque synth breaks give the song a decidedly Daft Punk edge to the already-flamboyant disco vibes.

Listen to these songs along with all of our other 2020 Monthly Playlists on Spotify:

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