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Tag: psychedelia

Album Review: Beady Eye – Different Gear, Still Speeding [Dangerbird]

Oasis was a band borne out of an extreme passion for The Beatles. Noel and Liam Gallagher worshipped at the altar of the Fab Four, and their goal was to snuggle up next to them in the pantheon of the greatest bands of all time. That never wound up happening, though Oasis certainly did make an impact on music that will be felt for quite awhile. It’s just there was never an “Oasismania” or obsessive posters of Noel and Liam on the walls of teenage girls. Among the myriad of reasons that Oasis never fully succeeded at their mission of becoming one of the Greatest Bands of All Time were the ever-changing musical landscape and two brothers that just couldn’t seem to stand one another for extended periods of time. Both Noel and Liam’s influence in the band was felt though, and it was their combined strength that pushed them into the realm of becoming highly successful. The reasons why “Definitely Maybe” and “(What’s the Story) Morning Glory?” were landmark albums was because Noel took Liam’s 60s and 70s-heavy vibes and updated them with a few modern bits that worked quite well in the musical landscape at the time. As the years went by though, the fighting and constant threats of break-ups (and even legitimate break-ups for periods of time) stole more headlines than the band’s music did. Times and trends changed as well, leaving Oasis as something of a musical dinosaur, crafting ultimately very good records that not many people heard because it wasn’t the 90s and their sound was no longer novel. Still, their last two albums rest on the better half of their catalogue, though their ultimate breakup in 2009 seemed to leave little to nobody in mourning. Perhaps that’s because it was a long time coming, and the only surprise was that they stayed together for as long as they did.

Formed out of the ashes of Oasis is Beady Eye, and the only person missing from the new band is Noel Gallagher. Yes, Gem Archer, Andy Bell and Chris Sharrock, all Oasis vets, are calling Liam Gallagher their frontman and going under a different name. The move is smart, not only for the sake of getting a fresh start but also because while a lot of the qualities between the two bands are the same, there’s definitely differences that would be disingenuous to the Oasis name were they released under that guise. That’s not to say Beady Eye’s debut record “Different Gear, Still Speeding” is of a poorer quality than a lot of the crap Oasis shoved at us during their troubled “middle” period, or even some of their better days. The point is that there are some aspects to Beady Eye’s sound that would make Oasis seem like a completely different band were that name still being used. Specifically, without Noel to keep him in check, Liam seems set on completely indulging his 60s and 70s rock influences. The result is an album that definitely sounds like it comes from another era, though in this day and age with so many bands propped up by the sounds of their ancestors you can’t really call it dated. If you’re not going to innovate and try something new though, your first prerogative should be to craft songs that are vital and strong enough to be distinctive on their own.

“Nothing ever lasts forever,” Liam repeats multiple times on album opener “Four Letter Word”. Surely he’s not intending to reference either the end of Oasis or the general impermanence of music/musical styles, but it’s really easy to interpret it that way. What’s really interesting though is how the song itself comes off as very “in the moment” and vibrant. It’s a rather thrilling introduction to the band, a huge arena rocker with an even bigger swagger that almost dares you to try and ignore it. Such attitude is expected from a Gallagher, and if you were hoping that with a new band Liam would have himself a slice of humble pie you’d best adjust those expectations. The upbeat acoustic strums of “Millionaire” recalls folk pop of bands like Andy Bell’s early years as part of Ride or even The Charlatans UK. Liam’s obsession with all things Beatles and the similarity of his voice to John Lennon’s leads to “The Roller”, the first official single on the record and what feels like a blatant rip off of Lennon’s “Instant Karma”. It may not have the uplifting charm or the super catchiness of the track it’s trying to be, but there’s not a ton of wrong you can do with that bouncy piano melody.

“I’m gonna stand the test of time, like Beatles and Stones”, Gallagher says in the appropriately titled “Beatles and Stones”. Actually instead of sounding like either of those bands, the song sounds a lot like The Who’s “My Generation”. The irony in that is the song features the lyric “I hope I die before I get old,” which is just about the antithesis of standing the test of time. Whether or not Oasis or Beady Eye will legitimately go down as legendary will be determined in the decades to come of course, but it’s probably safe to say neither band will reach the pinnacles that the Beatles and Rolling Stones did. Still, as to the merits of the song itself, it’s got a whole lot of great qualities to it despite the obvious debts it owes and makes up for any shortcomings by being pretty fun. The same could be said of much of the first third of the record.

“It’s just a wind-up dream, so don’t wake me up,” is one of the main hooks in “Wind Up Dream”, and that’s funny because the track is so plain and ordinary that it comes across more as a nightmare. Even-handed and ordinary is a good way of describing it as it really doesn’t go anywhere, to the point where you’d like to be woken up as soon as possible. Courtesy of “Bring the Light”, a Jerry Lee Lews piano melody meets some bluesy Rolling Stones guitar in what sounds like a winning combination on paper. After a couple verses though and not even halfway through the song, things completely devolve into the constant repetition of the phrase “Baby come on” ad nauseum. You hear it said so many times that it sticks in your head just because of that reason and none other. The track feels more like a showcase for banging around on instruments than it is actual lyrics and hooks, which is probably a mistake. The sunny folk-pop of “For Anyone” is nice and pleasant, and has that heart-on-your-sleeve lyrics that has been done a million times over in the 60s and 70s. This time around it doesn’t distinguish itself from those versions, and the song might be better titled as “By Anyone”. And then there’s “Standing on the Edge of the Noise”, which naturally cranks the guitars up and does less standing and more jumping off the ledge into a big pool of formless noise. It probably went just a little too far.

The recovery begins almost immediately on “Wigwam”, a 6.5 minute song that swirls and soars and steps into the sunlight that in one of the first times on the album actually feels earned. It carries the memories of Oasis classics such as “D’You Know What I Mean?” and “Slide Away” inside of its notes, leaving you with the belief that Beady Eye might actually amount to something as good as what came before it. The spiky energy of “Three Ring Circus” and the earnestness of “The Beat Goes On” make for winning late album songs that once again don’t carry the torch of originality with them but do come off as playful and without a hint of parody. The lazy acoustic strumming of “The Morning Son” feels fitting for a 6-minute album closing ballad. What begins as a pretty sparse song actually expands out into something majestic and gorgeous the more it progresses, until in the final minute the swirls of noise build up to a peak and then drop off into the calm waters of the ocean below. The song title might be a play on words intended to be speaking of that bright orange ball of fire in the sky, but the way this thing closes out, it feels more like a sunset than a sunrise.

So what are we supposed to make out of Beady Eye and their debut album “Different Gear, Still Speeding”? Well, the comparisons to Oasis stick here and will probably always stick with these guys because that was their other band. The difference in their gear this time around is that they’re packing less guitars because Noel isn’t around anymore. But they’re still the utmost professional musicians that clearly still have a lot of creative juice left in them. Yeah, this record is a lot more influence-heavy than just about anything Oasis ever did, and it’s also not quite on par with the best parts of Oasis’ catalogue, but there’s a lot to like and maybe even love here. Prior to its release, Liam Gallagher was going around telling everyone that “Different Gear, Still Speeding” would blow minds in a similar way to how the legendary Oasis debut “Definitely Maybe” did nearly 17 years ago. As he is apt to do, and because he’s egotistical blowhard, that statement was a bit of an overreaction. Times are different, and these days you need to be making something wholly original to get the sort of raves that will keep people talking about you for years to come. This 60s and 70s-heavy stuff is nowhere near original, but it is largely done well. Because of that reason, and that reason alone, it is worth your time and money. Hopefully on the next record Beady Eye will amount to more than just a really smart and crafty cover band.

Buy “Different Gear, Still Speeding” from Amazon

Album Review: Warpaint – The Fool [Rough Trade]

Topics that tend to come up when talking about the band Warpaint: 1) Wow, their drummer is really, really good. 2) Shannyn Sossamon used to be in the band, along with her sister Jenny Lee Lindberg, but is no longer in the band. 3) They have an interesting sound, and one you wouldn’t expect from a group of women. Please keep in mind that those are not things I personally have said about Warpaint, but in the handful of conversations I’ve had with people about them, those three topics seem to be universally mentioned. In the last few months, hype surrounding Warpaint has hit a fever pitch, and they became even more buzzed about for their set at Lollapalooza. They played a show the night before opening for The Walkmen that I attended, and having only heard a couple tracks from them beforehand, I walked away moderately impressed. Not nearly as excited as many others have been, but enough that their debut album “The Fool” seemed like it’d make for an interesting listen when it came out. Well, we’ve finally hit release week, and support for the band continues at a steady, if not frenzied pace.

Assuming you’ve caught wind of the Warpaint buzz, perhaps you’re now wondering if all the talk is backed up by a great debut album. A short while ago, the band toured with The xx, and naturally that exposed them to a whole other world of fans that could appreciate the dark and feminine songs they make. Many have tried to define exactly what Warpaint sounds like, and labels like shoegaze and dream pop have been thrown around a lot. The thing is, with a lack of fuzz on the guitars and generally sparse melodies, Warpaint lacks the waves of noise that typically define those genres of music. They have more in common with psychedelia largely thanks to the serpentine way their songs bob and weave for an average length of 4-6 minutes. Another interesting thing about the band is how few chords they use, choosing instead to craft most of their melodies by individual string picking, with bass and drums equally prominent in the mix. The equality of instruments brings all of them into closer focus, making standout performances that much more apparent. Now’s a good time to mention what a prize Warpaint has in drummer Stella Mozgawa, another great female percussionist in a long line of great female percussionists. Drummers aren’t always the most noticeable members of any band, but Mozgawa holds her own court in Warpaint. Nowhere is that more apparent than in the band’s live show, though in dealing exclusively with this album you still get a pretty good idea of what kind of force she is. And while the drumming may get its fair share of attention, all of these women are strong presences in their own rights.

“The Fool” is largely a record based around mystic energies, the sort of telepathical bonds some people share with one another. To many people such concepts are utter loads of crap, but we’ve all experienced those moments of deep connections, whether it’s saying the exact same thing at the exact same time as somebody else or trying to negotiate a small hallway with someone walking straight at you from the opposite direction. Yes, most of these things last but a second, but in Warpaint’s case it’s like these women work through their songs via brain waves. One part compliments another in just the right fashion, and it’s enough to turn these compositions from feeling like they’re drifting without purpose to ones that are intentionally directionless because they’ll find their own path anyways. Call it the natural course of things. Another purpose such a style serves is to create a bit of tension, the lucidity of it all hovering so close to the edge that you’re constantly worried things will come off the tracks suddenly and without warning. There’s a similar sense to the vocals, but that’s far more reliant on tonal inflections that dictate the eerieness of it all. There are lyrics that deserve a very harsh and angry vocal that simply float by in a disaffected manner, and the confounding of expectations is disturbing like a guy quietly sitting in a corner sharpening his knife. There’s no direct indication this guy is going to stab you, but at any second he might just leap to his feet and attack, right when you let your guard down. Songs like “Baby” and “Undertow” rely on these vocal and instrumental combos to creep you out in just the right way, and that’s something both unique and cool about Warpaint.

The thing about “The Fool”, and at this point Warpaint in general, is that as interesting as their sound might be, it can be both draining and lightly boring after awhile. There’s enough variation on the album’s 9 tracks to give each song its own identity, but you’re left wondering how long they can keep such a thing going. Their “Exquisite Corpse” EP mined the same sort of material as well, and with so much tension building and little to no release, listeners are bound to become frustrated with it sooner rather than later. That this isn’t an outwardly pop-oriented record hurts it too, as the lack of song structure and catchy verse/chorus payoff can make for problems when it comes to memorability. Outside of a whole bunch of listens that involve memorizing lyrics, if someone asks you to recall a specific Warpaint song it might prove difficult as your brain might register it as one big amorphous blob. That said, there aren’t enough amorphous blob bands making music these days, and these women have the talent to make it work for them. “The Fool” is a good start, but not quite the incredible surprise of 2010 many hype-peddlers might have been hoping for. At the very least it’s an overly solid introduction to a challenging band that certainly has the potential to one day become the toast of the indie world. For now though, maybe test the waters a little bit with this album should it strike your fancy even a little. Above all else though, should you have the ability, be sure to see them perform live, as they move from an intensity on record to pure transcendence on stage.

Warpaint – Undertow

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Album Review: Clinic – Bubblegum [Domino]

Six albums and just more than ten years in, Clinic have come a long way from the glory days of their 2000 debut “Internal Wrangler”. That and 2002’s “Walking With Thee” established the medical scrubs-wearing band as heavily indebted to 60s and 70s psychedelia, though their modern twist was often far more experimental and anti-pop. Most people probably discovered the band through one of those two records, which created what qualified as “buzz” in an era when the mp3 was just getting legs as a distribution method for music. Without the benefit of a million music blogs, the band truly earned their stripes the old fashioned way, only to slowly lose them with a string of records that failed to expand much on their “groovy” initial splash. There have been subtle changes over the course of records like “Winchester Cathedral”, “Visitations” and “Do It!”, but with the advent of other sharply psych-pop leaning groups such as Animal Collective, Clinic has fallen largely by the wayside. Despite this, there’s no other group making music today that quite captures what Clinic have going for them, and they prove it again sufficiently on their latest release “Bubblegum”.

Kicking off with the mid-tempo “I’m Aware”, right away things sound a bit different from your standard Clinic fare. There’s a briskly strummed acoustic guitar that leads into strings and a mellow but overtly firm vocals from Ade Blackburn. The sound has an almost Troggs vibe to it, and the surprisingly heartfelt lyrics about the greatness of love differ from the vaguer, darker things the band has explored previously. Also interesting is the title track, which makes ample use of wah-wah guitars to the point where it comes off like the soundtrack to a lost blaxploitation film from the 70s. That’s an arena the band hasn’t explored much, if at all, and it’s just too bad they don’t try more of it. Then again, excessive use of wah-wah guitars can get a little cliched after awhile. For fans of what might best be described as “classic Clinic”, i.e. the type of songs they’ve done a lot of before, take comfort in a track like “Lion Tamer”, which is heavy on the guitars and distortion. The track’s brisk pace and acid rock stylings act as something of a breath of fresh air on the surprising amount of ballad-esque tracks that surround it on either side. “Milk & Honey” is another one that looks back to the band’s earlier days, and Blackburn gets all mumbley and mushmouthed as he’s done so many times before. But in the spirit of mixing things up, a song like “Radiostory” comes along, which pairs a very bass and organ-heavy instrumental with a spoken word tale. For a brief moment it resembles something The Clientele would do (have done…see “Losing Haringey”), but the backing music isn’t quite as gorgeous though the story is relatively meaningful. What is pretty beautiful is “Forever (Demis Blues)”, which actually incorporates a banjo as one of the main instruments next to the percussion that keeps things at the pace of a steady shuffle. Additionally pleasant-sounding is the instrumental track “Una Astronauta En Cielo”, which mixes acoustic guitars, drum machines and just a little bit of keyboards. This all comes before what winds up being one of Clinic’s best songs to date in the album-closing “Orangutan”. The wah-wah guitars make a return, but there’s plenty of heavy electrics and a psychedelic stomp that’s probably the grooviest and most solid thing the band can offer.

Despite what feels like more than a handful of sonic experiments, virtually everything on “Bubblegum” sounds exactly like Clinic. That’s not to suggest a lack of diversity in the band’s approach, but more that there’s so many ways you can skin a cat. Whether it’s Ade Blackburn’s often overly calm vocal performance or just the simple fact that much of what Clinic does carries with it the tones of 60s and 70s psychedelia, something is giving this record inescapable roots. Given that the band does tend to have a sound all their own (ostensibly speaking), nobody can fault them for staying inside the same bubble for six records. Were they to shove out an 80s synth pop or a 90s grunge album, it’d more than likely be regarded as a huge mistake and a blemish on their careers. As it stands, much of their catalogue ranges from great to pretty good, with only perhaps one small misstep. “Bubblegum” probably ranks somewhere towards the middle of their discography when arranged according to overall quality. There’s a bunch of good songs here, enough challenging material to satisfy long-time fans, and it also happens to be the most beautiful thing they’ve ever done. It may not be the revitalizing shot Clinic needs to get back on the “buzz band” trail, but for those that know and love the band, it delivers in the exact way needed to ensure you keep a close eye on them until next time.

Clinic – I’m Aware

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Album Review: Women – Public Strain [Jagjaguwar]

Finding information about the band Women on the internet is tremendously difficult thanks to their name. Do a simple search and you’re more likely to find pornography than these guys. And that’s the other irony – with a band named Women, every member is male. But if you’ve been following the band since their 2008 self-titled debut album, these are things you probably already knew. What you may not have known, given the surprisingly high number of album releases from prolific artists in the past couple weeks, is that Women have quietly released their sophmore record “Public Strain”. It is yet another lo-fi psych-rock affair from the boys produced by their friend Chad VanGaalen, but there are a few changes made this time around that take the band into more fascinating territory than they’ve ever been in before.

On their debut, Women tried to balance dark, psychedelic instrumentals with lo-fi lyrical guitar pop, and they managed it surprisingly well. Their ability to push everything into a distorted fuzz no matter the approach was in part what helped it succeed. On “Public Strain”, the band’s two halves blend far more easily and effortlessly, and it makes for even more positive strides in the right direction. While none of the record is exactly easy on the ears, there are more thrills and more chills than ever before. Speaking specifically to the “chill” part of that, many of the songs on this album are slower than on the last one, and the overall mood is not just cold but frozen. The band recorded this album over a lengthy period of time, but most notably during an especially harsh Canadian winter. The album cover seems to echo that sentiment, with what looks like a massive amount of snow falling from the sky with just a light dusting on the ground. Of course instead of snow it could just be an old photograph that is massively distorted due to wear and tear. But the wintry tone speaks well to the material, as does the idea of fuzzed-out distortion. It may be tough to warm up to a record such as this, but what it lacks in warmth it more than makes up for in creative approaches to the material. There are less lyrical chorus-bound hooks here (though there are some), but more immediately compelling guitar work that sticks in your head just as well. The instrumentals have all but gone away, but in their place are a couple songs that barely any lyrics. The way they approach each track appears to be angular, starting from what feels like comfortable and familiar territory and then diverting from that in a hurry. It’s a very smart move, because not only are the songs unpredictable, but they’re also damn good.

“Public Strain” progresses in such a way that lends it well to repeat listens. “Can’t You See” starts the record almost completely adrift with nothing holding it together, but by the time “Eyesore” punches in for the final 6 minutes of the album everything feels like its in the right place. The quicker, more pop-driven songs are front-loaded to establish dominance early, but somewhere in “China Steps” there’s a spiral into dark and disturbing territory. Not that the first half of the album is light and cheery, but there are moments in later tracks like “Drag Open” and “Venice Lockjaw” that prove to be more difficult and creepy than much of what came before it. Put it this way – it’s like the difference between going to a funeral and entering a haunted house – one is sad and depressing while the other is excessively morbid to the point of scaring you. Yes, Women go for the jugular, but they’re all the better for it. Between the intensely addictive guitar work and the vocal harmonies that are gorgeously asymmetrical, there’s something about “Public Strain” that defies comparison. The best words to describe it might be to call it a “lo-fi 60’s psych-pop record that wasn’t released until today”. This might not quite reach the heights of “Album of the Year” status, nor is it as smartly crafted as similar band Deerhunter’s latest “Halcyon Digest”, but it strongly proves that Women are a force to be reckoned with. As the weather gets colder and terrible snowstorms begin to head in our direction, this record makes for a great mood-setting soundtrack. While it may very well match frozen tundra conditions outdoors, underneath its threatening and harsh exterior is an album that rewards careful and studied listens with unexpected warmth and comfort. There’s shelter and hot cocoa all set out for you, the challenge is hammering through the thick layers of ice to get it.

Women – Eyesore
Women – Narrow With the Hall

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Album Review: Deerhunter – Halcyon Digest [4AD]

It has gotten to the point where a year without new material from the brains of Bradford Cox or Lockett Pundt feels genuinely out of place. The boys of Deerhunter have been consistently hammering away with more new music than most bands compose across their lifetimes, and they’ve really been pushing hard for only the past four years or so. That was when “Cryptograms” caught the attention of many an ear and brought Deerhunter to the forefront of psychedelic indie rock. Since then, there’s been the single-but-unofficially-double album known as “Microcastle” with its companion piece “Weird Era Cont.” in 2008. Last year saw Pundt’s side project Lotus Plaza release a record, while Cox’s solo project Atlas Sound put out a great sophmore record as well. During that time, Deerhunter was “taking a break”, which for most bands means a couple years off. Yet here we are, 2010 and with all the touring they’ve done Deerhunter has been on break for well under a year. Now comes the new record “Halcyon Digest” and this sort of progress makes you wonder what other bands are wasting their time doing. Not that an album a year is a problem, especially when the music is so great, but there is always the risk of oversaturation aka too much of a good thing. Of course the band also isn’t quite at the pinnacle of what The Beatles did, releasing multiple records filled to the brim with hit singles over the course of a single year. Still, the band’s prolific streak has been impressive, and this new record only continues it further.

Album opener “Earthquake” is a remarkably steady and subdued way to start the record, piecing together a looped guitar, slowly flowing electronic elements, and Bradford Cox’s calming, echoed vocals. The track draws you in with gorgeously psychedelic fever dream and holds your interest without ever feeling the need to expand into something overtly catchy. Accessible has never been Deerhunter’s forte, but mood and atmosphere are their specialty. “Halcyon Digest” keeps that theme going, but there are moments of pure throwback pop goodness. “Don’t Cry” feels like a 50’s ballad filtered through a plume of smoke and gentle fuzz. Chosen as a first single, “Revival” hits all the right notes in that department, with a nice bit of jangly acoustics that stick with you long after the song is over. The purpose of “Memory Boy” seems to be exactly what the title suggests, an energetic 60’s pop tune that holds your brain hostage. “Desire Lines” fills the void needed in a 7-minute electric guitar psych-out that feels most like “old school” (three years ago) Deerhunter, for those that aren’t the biggest fans of some of the stylistic advances the band has made recently. Almost as if purposely trying to echo The Everly Brothers classic “All I Have To Do Is Dream”, Bradford Cox’s extended plea of “dreeeam” throughout the track is almost an update, but with some modern technology and paranoia thrown into the mix. That dream turns from something sweet into what more closely resembles a nightmare. The guitars on “Helicopter” shimmer like the sun reflecting off a wind-swept lake and the plinks of synths mixed with watery electronics make for one of “Halcyon Digest”‘s most gorgeous and memorable compositions. If there’s one track that’s perfect evidence of how Deerhunter has evolved over the last couple years, “Coronado” is it, taking what would otherwise be a simple piano and guitar song and throwing some blaring saxophone in like spice in an already good sauce. The sax is most definitely a good thing, and it was smart of the band to save it for something close to the end of the record as an almost last minute curveball. Provided they don’t overdo it in the future, a little saxophone now and then could really make for a strong addition to the tools already in Deerhunter’s toolchest. Closing out the record is “He Would Have Laughed”, a 7.5 minute tribute song to Jay Reatard. Not only are the lyrics odd and mysterious, but there’s also humor in the idea that the band has put together this epic song for a guy who seemed to prefer plainspoken 2 minute hard rock songs.

If there’s a singular dud on “Halcyon Digest”, it comes from “Sailing”, which is about as boring as doing the actual activity on the most placid lake without a single breeze. It drifts but mostly aimlessly and without purpose, which is pretty much why you might be left questioning its placement on the record. Really though, it fits in for the most part with Deerhunter’s sonic palette, but not necessarily well with everything that comes before and after it. Even without subtracting that song, “Halcyon Digest” remains a drool-inducing amazing record. While it won’t really work if played at a party, giving it a handful of studied listens in your bedroom with headphones will reveal the amazing depths it travels to. This band continues to evolve at an alarming pace, and with the addition of throwing a couple new instruments into the mix and an increased sense of pop accessibility, Deerhunter show they’re not content with simply staying the course. Should they continue the pace they’re on with the same exploratory sensibilities, there could be another handful of brilliant records in their future. Because of their more psychedelic and decidedly un-pop-like tendencies, Deerhunter seems to have avoided the insane level of respect and love that some of the most popular indie artists today are getting. Hey, if Animal Collective can reach that pinnacle with a record like “Merriweather Post Pavilion”, Deerhunter should be able to do the same with “Halcyon Digest”. It might not quite hit that fever pitch where people get diarrhea of the mouth and proclaim things like “album of the year”, but honestly it’s pretty damn close. One of the ten best of 2010 so far? You can put money on it (and you should).

Deerhunter – Revival (ZIP)

Buy “Halcyon Digest” from Amazon

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