albums: are they overrated?

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Obviously there are great albums.
And some artists are great at making albums.
But its probably true that most albums are not great 'albums'. And that most artists are not good at them. And that most supposedly great albums, are actually really just a handful of great songs, surrounded by so so ones.
Streaming has predictably made me more aware of this, or perhaps less likely to want to spend that long on an album.
But even so, it has made me appreciate singles more, as well as EPs. This is prob related to the thread about feeling too old to be that obsessive about music anymore, but I really dont have the patience now to spend that long on an average album, waiting for it to reveal itself to me, sadly.

candyman, Saturday, 9 January 2021 14:42 (two weeks ago) link

Tracks are overrated.

pomenitul, Saturday, 9 January 2021 14:44 (two weeks ago) link

yes

Uptown Top Scamping (Noodle Vague), Saturday, 9 January 2021 14:44 (two weeks ago) link

Albums - that's where I'm a viking

Looking for Cape Penis house (Neanderthal), Saturday, 9 January 2021 14:46 (two weeks ago) link

And that most supposedly great albums, are actually really just a handful of great songs, surrounded by so so ones.

I like the recent trend of shorter albums (as opposed to 1hr+ being common in the CD era). "EP" seems reserved for when the artist just wants to designate the project as something lower stakes.

Then again some people are doing longer albums just because (let's put out all we got and call it a "playlist"!). It's not like it involves pressing up a lot more physical media, unless it's that serious of a project that it's going on vinyl.

It's all pretty up in the air. I'm still an album guy and I'm enjoying.

maf you one two (maffew12), Saturday, 9 January 2021 14:51 (two weeks ago) link

i feel like the best way to express my disdain for albums is to FP candyman, especially cos i assume you're not named after the Christina song

Uptown Top Scamping (Noodle Vague), Saturday, 9 January 2021 14:51 (two weeks ago) link

screaming has predictably made me more aware of this

Uptown Top Scamping (Noodle Vague), Saturday, 9 January 2021 14:56 (two weeks ago) link

i mean obviously Candyman is one of the worst records of all time but it's better than this thread

Uptown Top Scamping (Noodle Vague), Saturday, 9 January 2021 14:58 (two weeks ago) link

I like the recent trend of shorter albums (as opposed to 1hr+ being common in the CD era).

if anything album lengths have recently seemed to trend longer, back to an hour-plus being more common, due to it being more advantageous for streaming royalties & the charts.

ufo, Saturday, 9 January 2021 15:11 (two weeks ago) link

Album lengths are only trending longer for an extremely small bunch of hyper-popular artists

imago, Saturday, 9 January 2021 15:15 (two weeks ago) link

look kids i can only FP so many of you at a time

Uptown Top Scamping (Noodle Vague), Saturday, 9 January 2021 15:16 (two weeks ago) link

I listen to more albums all the way through than I did during the CD era for reasons mentioned above. sometimes I want more from someone than a track but less than an 80 min cd or 3 hr playlist. the cult of the great album is dud of course but it's a dead horse at this point

album lengths have been trending both ways at once ime I just tend to ignore the longer ones. main thing is without physical media means an album can just be whatever

as#d,.F:ddz;,c#,;;,;,;,sdf' (Left), Saturday, 9 January 2021 15:16 (two weeks ago) link

look i've just told you

Uptown Top Scamping (Noodle Vague), Saturday, 9 January 2021 15:17 (two weeks ago) link

it's all over the place

i've always wondered what it would feel like to be fpd

+1, "500 greatest albums of all time": Dud

maf you one two (maffew12), Saturday, 9 January 2021 15:17 (two weeks ago) link

The assumption that what is true for pop music is true for all music is maybe the single most annoying thing about this board.

but also fuck you (unperson), Saturday, 9 January 2021 15:18 (two weeks ago) link

otfm

pomenitul, Saturday, 9 January 2021 15:20 (two weeks ago) link

In the streaming era I think I've actually become even more album-centered than I was before it, though I take advantage of playlists like the ones generated for ILM polls.

eatandoph (Neue Jesse Schule), Saturday, 9 January 2021 15:46 (two weeks ago) link

I think you've got to judge each album on its merits really

paolo, Saturday, 9 January 2021 15:54 (two weeks ago) link

Streaming era means for some artists and genres singles and eps work, for others albums.

Albums are worthless if there’s not a style or a concept tying the whole thing together, but they’re not overrated.

✖✖✖ (Moka), Saturday, 9 January 2021 16:13 (two weeks ago) link

i meant to say that apart from the mainstream charting albums i was talking about, there doesn't seem to be any sort of discernable trend in album lengths, making the longer pop records
the only really noticeable trend but i guess i got distracted

ufo, Saturday, 9 January 2021 16:14 (two weeks ago) link

For most pop they are in fact overrated

✖✖✖ (Moka), Saturday, 9 January 2021 16:24 (two weeks ago) link

pop are rubbish it's true

Uptown Top Scamping (Noodle Vague), Saturday, 9 January 2021 16:26 (two weeks ago) link

Has any legacy musician successfully made the transition to releasing all their new songs in a non-album format? I know that both Rundgren and Billy Corgan tried, and basically found themselves ignored.

Halfway there but for you, Saturday, 9 January 2021 16:31 (two weeks ago) link

I guess this is an accurate brief:

https://spinnup.com/blog/singles-vs-eps-whats-the-best-release-strategy/

✖✖✖ (Moka), Saturday, 9 January 2021 17:46 (two weeks ago) link

I feel like the thread is more about our behavior / preferences as listeners
I have just spent the last five years largely with tracks, after maybe ten years of spending time largely with albums, so I definitely know the feeling, but whatever ratio I find ideal will be just for me.
With that said, one trend I'm very suspicious of is people who only stick to album genres, chain up a gazillion albums, with obviously minimal revisits. You see it a lot on RYM. It's like walking with an eye-patch, it's a huge blindspot to something fundamental and eternal about music - the song. If often goes together with a solipsistic taste - back turned to any notion of something collective / popular.

Nabozo, Saturday, 9 January 2021 17:47 (two weeks ago) link

The drip-fed singles that form an EP is definitely a trend I’ve noticed, and is apparently fueled by time on the “new releases” for most streaming platforms. If you missed the first single in the previous weeks, you get a second or third chance for people to notice it.

✖✖✖ (Moka), Saturday, 9 January 2021 17:50 (two weeks ago) link

Also music is being consumed in playlist form so the audience itself is microdosing and killing the purpose for albums in most genres.

✖✖✖ (Moka), Saturday, 9 January 2021 17:53 (two weeks ago) link

I like the idea of the artist as a tastemaker. I’ve seen artists that have playlists on spotify with thousands of followers, but I haven’t seen many that uses them to promote their own material. The idea of one playlist per single where the artist shares idk 10/20+ songs that inspired a single via samples/moods/production/lyrics/whatever sounds like it would be a good strategy for me. Some fans and critics are always curious about what music do musicians listen to.

✖✖✖ (Moka), Saturday, 9 January 2021 18:05 (two weeks ago) link

They are underrated.

Sharp! Distance! (Sund4r), Saturday, 9 January 2021 18:09 (two weeks ago) link

My listening has also become much more album-oriented in the post-streaming era. I appreciate their conciseness and cohesiveness relative to the horrorshow of hours-long algorithmically-generated playlists and they are so easy to acquire or stream via Bandcamp. Never really been more than an awkward fit for classical music, though.

Sharp! Distance! (Sund4r), Saturday, 9 January 2021 18:13 (two weeks ago) link

Even curated playlists for that matter. Give me a 40-minute collection any day. LP-length albums > CD-length albums tho.

Sharp! Distance! (Sund4r), Saturday, 9 January 2021 18:14 (two weeks ago) link

100% with you on that, obv.

There is an art to sequencing a classical album, however, which some performers/producers master, others less so. But it's not a 'natural' process, that much is certain.

pomenitul, Saturday, 9 January 2021 18:18 (two weeks ago) link

albums are definitely rated too often

rob, Saturday, 9 January 2021 18:19 (two weeks ago) link

wtf

brimstead, Saturday, 9 January 2021 18:29 (two weeks ago) link

I love music

brimstead, Saturday, 9 January 2021 18:29 (two weeks ago) link

albums were only very recently codified as the defacto art object for pop musical expression, it was like only 50-60 years ago right? the importance of the format is def overemphasized by fans of rock music at the expense of genres that are more singles- and tracks-oriented. but as someone who loves to not make decisions every three minutes and who loves to sink into moods from 30-80 minutes at a time, albums are freaking great. a lot of cool things can happen narratively and a lot of clever and thoughtful juxtapositions can happen in the album space. i feel like even ppl who make dj mixes know this bc mixes are sort of the intersection of the album/playlist and criticism imo. in fact i think dance artists get the purpose of the full-length more than most as they often use it to explore ideas that hover just beyond the site of the dancefloor, much as i feel like this phenomenon results in things like the name of the ilx thread "thread for great house and techno albums for people who are doing it wrong" lol

mellon collie and the infinite bradness (BradNelson), Saturday, 9 January 2021 18:50 (two weeks ago) link

i do think people complain about overlong albums too much

mellon collie and the infinite bradness (BradNelson), Saturday, 9 January 2021 18:54 (two weeks ago) link

xp yeah - even though the traditional album length (40-70 mins.) may be an arbitrary artifact of older technologies, I think the format is pretty great for matching a "natural" attention span; allowing an artist to make a coherent statement; etc. I do find myself listening to a lot of individual tracks and EPs/"projects" these days, but they still don't hit or sustain like a great album.

Four Jacks and a Jill (morrisp), Saturday, 9 January 2021 18:59 (two weeks ago) link

Yeah, only since the mid-60s, and even after that, AM radio (and eventually FM radio) remained singles-oriented, while clubs were more mix- and track-oriented, while classical music is mostly built around the score and performance. I don't think anyone is arguing for some kind of objective historical primacy of the album as medium, though; I just happen to like them. If we want to take a long historical view, recorded music tout court is a relatively recent medium whose importance is overemphasized. xp

Sharp! Distance! (Sund4r), Saturday, 9 January 2021 19:02 (two weeks ago) link

call me rockist but I still love to be dazzled by great sequencing

stylish but illegal (Simon H.), Saturday, 9 January 2021 19:02 (two weeks ago) link

If we want to take a long historical view, recorded music tout court is a relatively recent medium whose importance is overemphasized

otm

mellon collie and the infinite bradness (BradNelson), Saturday, 9 January 2021 19:03 (two weeks ago) link

i mean honestly i was bringing up the age of the album format not bc i was out to undermine the album lovers but bc it feels weird to me to find a format both so young and so arbitrarily settled on "overrated"

rob is right however that they are rated too often

mellon collie and the infinite bradness (BradNelson), Saturday, 9 January 2021 19:07 (two weeks ago) link

though now i'm thinking about my post more and... it is true to some degree that EPs totally get shafted press-wise for being short. feel like great EPs are even more precious than good albums in a way

mellon collie and the infinite bradness (BradNelson), Saturday, 9 January 2021 19:09 (two weeks ago) link

a lot of acts should be told to stick to EPs

stylish but illegal (Simon H.), Saturday, 9 January 2021 19:12 (two weeks ago) link

metal bands especially

stylish but illegal (Simon H.), Saturday, 9 January 2021 19:13 (two weeks ago) link

I’ll admit that I tend to not be into techno/house/electro full lengths that just seem like compilations of “tracks that didn’t make it onto singles/EPs” + ambient intro :-/

brimstead, Saturday, 9 January 2021 19:16 (two weeks ago) link

no

Oor Neechy, Saturday, 9 January 2021 19:40 (two weeks ago) link

albums? terrific
songs? fantastic

swing out sister: live in new donk city (geoffreyess), Saturday, 9 January 2021 20:24 (two weeks ago) link

I like mushy peas

Uptown Top Scamping (Noodle Vague), Saturday, 9 January 2021 20:25 (two weeks ago) link

Mushy peas are fantastic

Fenners' Pen (jim in vancouver), Saturday, 9 January 2021 20:25 (two weeks ago) link

What's the best way to learn about mushy peas?

Podcasts.

Noel Emits, Saturday, 9 January 2021 20:31 (two weeks ago) link

I think you have to see mushy peas live tbh

Uptown Top Scamping (Noodle Vague), Saturday, 9 January 2021 20:32 (two weeks ago) link

I think by definition they are very dead tho.

Noel Emits, Saturday, 9 January 2021 20:33 (two weeks ago) link

Can't make a mush without killing a few peas as the aphorism goes.

Noel Emits, Saturday, 9 January 2021 20:33 (two weeks ago) link

brad otm

ufo, Sunday, 10 January 2021 01:46 (two weeks ago) link

I think album sequencing is a beautiful and amazing thing. The way that songs can influence each other and a narrative can coalesce and come into existence just from a particular arrangement of tracks is an unending marvel to me.

Lily Dale, Sunday, 10 January 2021 03:57 (two weeks ago) link

i like albums sometimes but frankly i'm astonished at how many you all are able to find that you seem to enjoy. many people here nominate more albums for the year-end poll than i think i bothered to even listen to all year, and i wouldn't even say i particularly enjoyed many of the ones i did hear

dyl, Sunday, 10 January 2021 04:13 (two weeks ago) link

Astonishing Adventures On ILM

brimstead, Sunday, 10 January 2021 04:48 (two weeks ago) link

I don’t know but your mom sure is!

map, Sunday, 10 January 2021 05:16 (two weeks ago) link

I think album sequencing is a beautiful and amazing thing. The way that songs can influence each other and a narrative can coalesce and come into existence just from a particular arrangement of tracks is an unending marvel to me.

― Lily Dale, Sunday, 10 January 2021 03:57 (eight hours ago) bookmarkflaglink

a lot of my favourite albums of all time - Silent Shout, Ten Love Songs, No Way Down - make me think of that Kodwo Eshun quote on Drexciya: "an object from the world it releases." An album that creates its own world, one that I as a listener didn't previously belong to, and seems to exist on its own terms as a fully-formed product resulting from that world, yet able to invite me in through pleasure and intrigue. This new place I didn't know existed but I want to be part of - that's what I think can elevate an album from a mere collection of songs into an artistic statement.

boxedjoy, Sunday, 10 January 2021 12:28 (two weeks ago) link

next we need to ask: are tracks overrated?

ufo, Sunday, 10 January 2021 12:36 (two weeks ago) link

I think album sequencing is a beautiful and amazing thing. The way that songs can influence each other and a narrative can coalesce and come into existence just from a particular arrangement of tracks is an unending marvel to me.

― Lily Dale, Sunday, January 10, 2021 4:57 AM (seven hours ago) bookmarkflaglink

I don't think I ever experienced the pleasure of "great sequencing". How does a song influence the next one / respond to the previous one ?
I do appreciate contrasts, atmosphere, consistency, diversity, returning themes, but sequencing / narrative ? Probably because I'm not looking for it.
The way boxedjoy puts it, an encapsulated world, speaks more to me.

Nabozo, Sunday, 10 January 2021 12:59 (two weeks ago) link

Maybe narrative isn't quite the right word - "arc" would cover more ground, maybe.

The album I always think of as having perfect sequencing is Springsteen's Nebraska, in that I think almost all the songs have less impact on their own and would have less impact in any other order; it feels to me like each song sets up the conditions for me to want to listen to the next one. I would never listen to "Used Cars" on my own, but by the time it shows up in the sequence, I feel like it's the exact thing I want to hear at that moment.

Thinking about examples of narrative, though - one of my favorite albums is Common Sense by John Prine. The first few songs are character-based, bitterly funny, sometimes angry, focused on people trying to make it in America and failing. Then there's a descent into surrealist depression, kicked off by the song "Wedding Day in Funeralville" and reaching peak intensity with "Way Down," a first-person about a state of depression so deep it's bordering on psychosis. That takes us halfway through the album, then we climb back up - not all the way, but enough that there are other people in the picture: friends, lovers. The lyrics on this side of the album are mostly confessional, first-person, empathetic - still darkly funny, but the humor is gentler, more wry, less angry. Then there's a lovely song of pure mourning, "He was in Heaven Before He Died," and then the album ends with a fun cover of "You Never Can Tell," as if to say, "Yes, every wedding day is in funeralville, that's just the way life is, what can you do?"

To me, there's a narrative that takes shape there. It's not a concept album, there's no explicit through-line, and yet I come away with a sense of someone moving from reflexive, defensive bitterness at the fucked-upness of the world to self-awareness, empathy and some kind of acceptance; by the end, the world is still fucked up, it's always wedding day in funeralville, but there's a sense that we've figured out how to live with it.

Lily Dale, Sunday, 10 January 2021 17:07 (two weeks ago) link

I do appreciate contrasts, atmosphere, consistency, diversity, returning themes, but sequencing / narrative ?

fwiw, everything you just mentioned = sequencing and narrative to me

mellon collie and the infinite bradness (BradNelson), Sunday, 10 January 2021 17:08 (two weeks ago) link

I was going to say!

Sharp! Distance! (Sund4r), Sunday, 10 January 2021 17:12 (two weeks ago) link

I also like noticing the "cliches" of album sequencing (first single = opening track, epic length closer, penultimate song often the weakest, "side closers" etc) and seeing how acts toy with them or lean into them. I think a little less of album-oriented artists who don't think long and hard about this (Lana del Rey outside of Ultraviolence is a good example)

stylish but illegal (Simon H.), Sunday, 10 January 2021 17:47 (two weeks ago) link

(example of someone who is careless about sequencing, I mean)

stylish but illegal (Simon H.), Sunday, 10 January 2021 17:47 (two weeks ago) link

From that excellent description of "the arc" of Common Sense, you might be describing Nebraska as well! Compare He Was in Heaven to My Father's House for example.

My assumption is that "album-oriented artists" all care about the sequencing on their releases, they are just going for different effects than I might prefer. For instance, Kid A was obviously sequenced to confound the rock audience off the top, and when I listen to it I combine it with the Amnesiac tracks to make a mix I prefer. Songs of Love and Hate by Leonard Cohen is another collection of eight good-to-great songs that I can't make it though in their original running order.

Lana Del Ray doesn't seem to me to be particularly perverse or willful in her sequencing. NFR! was about as well paced as a collection of almost all down-tempo songs could be.

Halfway there but for you, Sunday, 10 January 2021 18:18 (two weeks ago) link

Kid A was obviously sequenced to confound the rock audience off the top

This isn't obvious to me at all fwiw. Not that I think they were trying to cater to a rock audience per se but I think the sequencing is really effective in its own right and has never struck me as trying to make some kind of provocative or audience-baiting statement.

Sharp! Distance! (Sund4r), Sunday, 10 January 2021 18:38 (two weeks ago) link

I suspect Thom got a kick out of keeping his "normal" voice cloaked or in some way altered for that entire opening stretch but otherwise I agree

stylish but illegal (Simon H.), Sunday, 10 January 2021 18:45 (two weeks ago) link

xxp What's the first track on your Kid Amnesiac playlist?

maf you one two (maffew12), Sunday, 10 January 2021 18:46 (two weeks ago) link

I made this mix which starts off with a more damped-down "reasonable man" mood. Side two is rhythmic/atmospheric, side three is the weird side bookended with instrumentals, side four is the big climax with a quiet coda. I love Pyramid Song best of all, but as track 2 on Amnesiac it makes the record way too top-heavy.

SIDE ONE
Packt Like Sardines...
Knives Out
Kid A
National Anthem
You and Whose Army

SIDE TWO
I Might Be Wrong
Morning Bell/Amnesiac
Dollars and Cents
How to Disappear
Everything in its Right Place

SIDE THREE
Hunting Bears
Life in a Glasshouse
Optimistic
In Limbo
Pulk/Pull
Treefingers

SIDE FOUR
Idioteque
Morning Bell
Like Spinning Plates
Pyramid Song
Motion Picture Soundtrack

Halfway there but for you, Sunday, 10 January 2021 20:09 (two weeks ago) link

Many great albums from 2016 to the present. The problem isn't the quality of the records -- it's that most people who review records are recommending LPs that are not solid and don't hold up over the years, while the solid records that still sound great today get buried and forgotten.

billstevejim, Sunday, 10 January 2021 20:17 (two weeks ago) link

A lot of the bloated major label 21-26 track rap albums from the 2010s could have been more solid if they were 10 songs, but I'm sure that in all of those instances the more interesting tracks that I like the best would have been cut out.

billstevejim, Sunday, 10 January 2021 20:26 (two weeks ago) link

I like the idea of the artist as a tastemaker. I’ve seen artists that have playlists on spotify with thousands of followers, but I haven’t seen many that uses them to promote their own material. The idea of one playlist per single where the artist shares idk 10/20+ songs that inspired a single via samples/moods/production/lyrics/whatever sounds like it would be a good strategy for me. Some fans and critics are always curious about what music do musicians listen to.

― ✖✖✖ (Moka), Saturday, 9 January 2021 18:05 (two days ago)

Dirty Projectors did this last year with 5 EPs! Each of the EPs was released alongside an accompanying playlist, weaving the four songs from the EP together with inspirations/influences, as well as material from the DPs back catalog exploring similar styles.

Selfie Stick Stickly (bernard snowy), Monday, 11 January 2021 02:26 (two weeks ago) link

YES!

daavid, Monday, 11 January 2021 02:30 (two weeks ago) link

Are bums overrated

Looking for Cape Penis house (Neanderthal), Monday, 11 January 2021 02:45 (two weeks ago) link

I've been called "very album-oriented" myself, as in I tend to express a lot of enthusiasm for specific records (whether singles, ep's or whatever) but no particular artist loyalty. "Artist-oriented" does seem to be the default orientation and I'm gonna say hugely overrated. As is talking about art in degrees of "greatness". Also audio and mixing engineers are very much underrated and under-recognized imo, as far as people who are largely responsible for creating the immersive little album-worlds. And people who design the instruments etc.

I think album-orientation makes sense for someone who grew up with albums as the dominant music "product", and that part of what a preference for albums signifies is exclusionary- an illusion of choice, that you can select, control or filter what you listen to (which of course you can't), define personal taste... that engagement with music is (or even should be) elective. And it's interesting that the album format has survived in the abstract. Part of what it means to make an "album" now surely has a lot to do with inviting this kind of investment, a desire to exert this powerful... whatever. It's asking for a commitment.

Buying singles, i mean the 'idea' of buying singles though not necessarily the reality, might represent making something repeatable that you happened to encounter.

Adoration of the Mogwai (Deflatormouse), Monday, 11 January 2021 21:14 (two weeks ago) link

Classical music notwithstanding, I'd go with: albums > artists > tracks.

pomenitul, Monday, 11 January 2021 21:16 (two weeks ago) link

xp I mean, you don't really get to choose your influences, you're influenced by everything you encounter.

Adoration of the Mogwai (Deflatormouse), Monday, 11 January 2021 21:21 (two weeks ago) link

an exceptional take with great value

"The truth is that albums worked as a medium only because everyone was a captive. When you look back at your favorite older albums now, I’m sure you see the weak spots that you’d happily have programmed out if you had the technology then." https://t.co/YJzrFw4oEv

— New York Times Music (@nytimesmusic) January 3, 2021

billstevejim, Tuesday, 12 January 2021 19:31 (two weeks ago) link

if only...

Four Jacks and a Jill (morrisp), Tuesday, 12 January 2021 19:34 (two weeks ago) link

11 Love Songs

billstevejim, Tuesday, 12 January 2021 19:54 (two weeks ago) link

10 Golden Country Greats

oh wait

billstevejim, Tuesday, 12 January 2021 19:54 (two weeks ago) link

When you think about it...an album is like an artist making a playlist out of their own tracks *galaxy brain*

change display name (Jordan), Tuesday, 12 January 2021 19:59 (two weeks ago) link

I have not read the thread yet but my take is that because there is no money in music anymore, or being able to take decent amount of time to just tour/practise/work on ideas, the album format is fucked because people who should be given enough time to come up with 10-15 great, cohesive songs together are busy paying the rent, and come up with their one killer idea idea or two in their spare time, making the album obsolete for many who could have wowed with the format or time to grow.

a hoy hoy, Tuesday, 12 January 2021 20:13 (two weeks ago) link

Weirdly enough, having the technology to listen to a whole bunch of albums is actually making me more likely to listen to albums. I used to just download individual tracks (or, to be more exact, ask my brother to download them for me because I am a luddite), or buy them from itunes, and so it was cheaper and easier to just put a bunch of individual tracks on my ipod and make playlists or hit shuffle.

I finally got Spotify a little over a year ago, and it feels like such a luxury to just be able to listen to albums all the way through, the way I did when I was a kid. It's so much richer and more immersive, I have a context for what I'm hearing, I have more to think about because of the way the songs interact with each other, and I'm not as likely to burn myself out on individual songs. I still make playlists, but I would say that at least 70% of the time I'm listening to albums.

Lily Dale, Tuesday, 12 January 2021 20:33 (two weeks ago) link


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