Nothing But Thieves stealing my heart

Nothing But Thieves

Nothing But Thieves

Nothing But Thieves have popped up on my radar recently. Originating from Southend, Essex, this song, Graveyard Whistling, is from an EP of the same name and has me very interested in what these schoolmates are up to.

The first thing to hit me were the vocals of Conor Mason. This kid can sing. I’d put him in the league of Thom Yorke, Chet Faker, Erik Hassle, even Jeff Buckley. I don’t know how old he is – he barely looks out of his mid-teens – but he’s got a serious gift.

The band lists Buckley as a heavy influence. You can certainly hear that in this track, but what I like about it is that it’s not just a straight up, alt-rock song. It’s produced beautifully, with thought, allowing the song to build wonderfully to its ultimate crescendo. Lyrically, it’s interesting, too, which is not something you can often say about young bands. Tackling the futility of religion is a challenging sandpit to play in, but a line as simple as “if you don’t believe, it can’t hurt you” proves these guys are not afraid of questioning the world and all that lies within it.

For another listen at Mason’s lovely voice, here is a live track, Lover, Please Stay, showcasing his ability pre-production. Buckley reborn? I reckon so. His falsetto in particular it spine-chilling.

And here is another track demonstrating these kids’ ability to craft a cracking tune. This is Emergency, which was from another EP, If You Don’t Believe, It Can’t Hurt You, released in October last year. Recognise that line?

I’m looking forward to hearing more from these guys, and with an album in the works, it looks like we will later this year.

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alt-J is back, with Miley Cyrus?

alt-j

alt-j

Yes you read that right. alt-J has teamed up with Miley Cyrus, and released a track Hunger Of The Pine as it prepares to release a follow-up album to 2012′s An Awesome Wave, which created exactly that when it hit the mainstream later that year.

The upcoming album, This Is All Yours, is set for release in mid-September. While something special will be expected of the English wizards of chopped-up beats and melodies, a collaboration with the world’s most infamous twerker, Miley, was probably not on that list of expectations. But, fear not. It’s not strictly a collaboration. A sample of Miley’s 4×4 is all we hear through this track, a refrain of “I’m a female rebel”, the opening line from her banjo-driven hootenanny. Permission was sought from Miley herself by the band, and she said she was a fan so “go right ahead”.

Thankfully, alt-J’s use of the line is nothing short of brilliant. It works perfectly in the moody, dark, dub vibe of this new track. A cracking preview of what’s to come. Time to get excited I reckon, folks. September can’t come soon enough.

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The music of a World Cup

Zinedine Zidane - Vaudeville Smash

Zinedine Zidane, by Vaudeville Smash, wins the 2014 Musical World Cup for me.

Every time a FIFA World Cup comes around, the musical world jumps on the bandwagon. Some of the worst most uninspiring songs you’ve ever heard crawl out of the woodwork every four years, but some of the best most rousing tunes also rise up like the hand of god, and score a vital winner in our hearts and minds. Here’s a look at just a small selection of 2014′s efforts ahead of the tournament in Brazil, and a prediction on where they might end up in a World Cup tournament of their own.

Zinedine Zidane
Vaudeville Smash feat. Les Murray

All bias aside, this is your musical World Cup Winner!!! Vaudeville Smash has, indeed, smashed this one straight into the top corner from 30 yards. What a track. It would make Georgio Moroder proud, and could even have Daft Punk throwing off their helmets in wild celebration. It’s just awesome, and celebrates one of the true heroes of the world game in France’s Zizou, among many others, all read out in tones only my magnificent colleague Les Murray can deliver. None of this rubbish about coming together and raising your flags. Let’s celebrate a star of the game, and one that ended his World Cup career by head-butting an Italian opponent on the biggest stage of all. Big, ballsy, bright, bloody brilliant! This is 2014′s World In Motion, and a joy to behold.

Bass Like Home
Lily Allen

Unlike England at too many World Cups past, Lily Allen is a certain contender for the musical World Cup final with this track, which she has called her “unofficial World Cup song”. It’s as patriotic as they come, and everyone with three lions on their shirt will undoubtedly dig the lyrics. “Who gave you Shakespeare, who gave you Lennon, who gave you Gazza, twistin’ your melon,” she sings in her inimitable London accent. “God save the Queen with a pint of lager.” Hear hear. There is also mention of “Rule Britannia, Britannia rules the waves. We’ve been doing it since way back in the day.” Added to a thumping club beat, it’s all a quality celebration of two of England’s greatest loves: football and music. The call of “move your feet” through the song might come in handy for Rooney and his pals in Brazil, too. Bravo, Lily. Encore.

We Are One (Ole Ola)
Pitbull feat. Jennifer Lopez and Claudia Leitte

It’s got that predictable Brazilian beat to kick things off, this one. Then Pitbull starts pouring the lyrical wax, rapping about how the World Cup brings us all together. It’s all about waving flags, loving each other, and when J-Lo chimes in, Australia’s Tim Cahill gets a grab in the video. And no, not a grab of J-Lo. This one doesn’t make it out of the group stages for me. It’s stale, and it’s all been done before. We Are One, but we are bored by this. Lucky for Pitbull, he might get mistaken as David Basheer on his travels and earn back some of the respect he’ll lose for producing this ordinary tune. Hang on. Did he have any respect in the first instance? Who knows?

La La La (Brazil 2014)
Shakira feat. Carlinhos Brown

Calling in the help of her hubby’s professional footballing pals, Shakira embarks on her second World Cup journey after the smash hit of 2010 Waka Waka (This Time For Africa). Colombian countryman Radamel Falcao is missing Brazil 2014, perhaps as a result of the embarrassment caused by featuring in this video. Having said that, he’s not alone. Lionel Messi, Neymar, Sergio Aguero, Cesc Fabregas and Mr Shakira himself, Gerard Pique, all stand and look awkward at some point in this clip. The song is all about the game and how it’s played, which is good and a change from the norm, and Shakira shows her own chesting-down chops without a single mention of “small and humble breasts”. Good enough for the Round of 16, but certainly likely to lose in extra-time through a lack of stamina from there. This track is, though, contributing to a good cause, with some of the profits going to the World Food Programme’s School Meals programme. So that’s nice.

The World Is Ours
Gaby Amarantos/David Correy/ Wisin feat. Paty Cantú and David Correy

This is the official FIFA World Cup 2014 Brazil song, sponsored by Coca-Cola. But you might want to mix that black liquid with something stronger to get through listening to it. Peppered throughout with lively Brazilian beats, that’s about as good as it gets. It’s got a rousing clip of World Cup action, fans having fun and looking unrealistically happy, but the auto-tuned lyrics are nothing short of woeful, and it’s all far too poptastic to be remotely fantastic, like the tournament it stands for. Standing tall, seven billion stars, coming together, bla bla bla … (that last bit was mine, by the way) it’s just got no attacking impetus and fails to score. It probably only qualified as a result of some dodgy deals, and is found out horribly in the group stages. No wins, no draws, no points. Or should that just be, no point.

Vida
Ricky Martin

Given the time he spends in Australia as a judge on The Voice these days, Ricky Martin would have to be a Socceroos fan by now. His World Cup ditty is about the same level as Ange Postecoglou’s team: seemingly full of promise to the faithful, but unlikely to produce a long-lasting memory and short of impact to those that know better. It’s all happy and smiley, sunsets on Copacabana Beach in the video, everyone dancing around. He sings about us all coming together, raising our banners to the sky. It’s that same old story of togetherness that singers waffle on about when it comes to World Cup time. We get it, guys. Enough already. Write us something that will get us pumped for a game, not something we’d dance to on wobbly limbs in the dying embers of a wedding reception. You’ve done it before, Ricky. Cup Of Life was a belter in its time. A possible quarter-final contender, but only through a lucky break in a penalty shootout. From there, it’s all downhill. Sorry Ricky, but Go Socceroos, because Puerto Rico aint qualifying for a World Cup anytime soon.

Greatest Day
Gary Barlow and Gary Lineker

Former Take That frontman Gary Barlow has teamed up with former England captain Gary Lineker for this one, England’s official World Cup song. It’s a good “laff”, features players past and present, pop stars married/divorced from players (hello, Cheryl Cole, or is it Tweedy again now?), a couple of Spice Girls not married to players in Geri Halliwell and Mel C, and even England’s 1966 hero Sir Geoff Hurst, among others. The song was originally a Take That song, and doesn’t sound half bad, but it’s a bit of a sop-fest. It’s more useful for staring wistfully through rain-soaked windows than it is for getting the blood pumping for a World Cup game. It’s got a triumphant chorus, though, and England fans might get goosebumps when the commentary overlays come in. A classy semi-finalist maybe, but not up to a place in the final. All star power without the penetration. Sounds a bit familiar as an England fan.

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Jetta is taking off

Jetta

Jetta is flying high.

Born in Liverpool and now based in London, 23-year-old Jetta is starting to make a name for herself. And, believe it or not, Jetta is her actual name. She’s done a fair bit for someone of her few years, including playing the role of backing singer for Paloma Faith and Cee Lo Green. But through all that time, she’s also been writing her own music.

It’s started to surface over the past 12 months and it’s very very good. It’s pop, essentially, but it’s got an edge that really appeals to me. It’s heavy on the electronics, but also features some terrific beats and, of course, vocals.

Jetta was given a computer as a kid with the music production software Logic installed on it, and from that day forward, she’s been composing. Her family is a musical one – her mother was in an acapella group and her father was a sound engineer. Early influences included The Police, David Bowie and Marc Bolan. She soon got turned on to Destiny’s Child and other artists of today. She fancied the Backstreet Boys as a kid – hey. nobody’s perfect – but all of that has given her a great base from which to write her own tunes, not least an obsession with Annie Lennox in her Eurythmics days. You can certainly here that through some of her songs.

This week she released Operators to the public as a free download, probably the best of the tracks I’ve heard so far. If I’ve got one criticism of it, it’s not long enough and needs another chorus at its end. It’s such a catchy segment of the song, I just want to hear it over and over again. See what you think. Personally, I’m obsessed with it.

Her 2013 tune Feels Like Coming Home was featured on Google’s Zeitgeist clip celebrating the same year. At time of writing, that clip had been viewed more than 31 million views. Chalk up another one by watching it here:

You can hear the full song here, and it’s an absolute cracker.

And while we’re on the subject of videos, check out Jetta’s clip for Start A Riot, which is also pretty sweet.

Crescendo is the name of the EP Jetta is planning to release on 24 June this year featuring that title track and all those featured in this post. The excitement of that, of course, begs the question: when are we going to get full album? With such a great mix of soul, pop, rock and other genres all tangled up in her tunes, whenever that day comes it’s sure to be a good one. She’s working on writing it all right now with Jim Eliot, who’s done stuff with MIA and Ellie Goulding in the past. I reckon this, though, will trump all that for him. Jetta will take off and she’ll fly pretty high, I reckon.

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Is the White Sea worth surfing on?

Morgan Kibby

Morgan Kibby, on stage with M83 in 2012.

Many of you may have heard and even seen Morgan Kibby in her role as M83′s female vocalist and keyboard player. She’s been helping Anthony Gonzalez bring his epic electronica to life since the Saturdays=Youth album. Hell, she co-wrote Midnight City with the Frenchman, among other big tunes, the big hit from M83′s most recent album, the 2011 release Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming.

So, naturally, I’ve been keen to hear what her solo project, White Sea, has been up to of late. The good news is there is a new album set for release in the coming months, called In Cold Blood. Here are a couple of tracks cut from it.

The first, They Don’t Know, is reasonably anthemic in an M83 kind of way, and the second, Prague, is also pretty sweet and has a heavy M83 flavour. But while the instrumentation and arrangement is along the lines of her work with Gonzalez, vocally she’s gone of in a slightly different direction, showing much more subtlety at times, particularly in the second track, which has an air of School Of Seven Bells about it. That’s perhaps not a surprise given Kibby has remixed for the New Yorkers as well as other other electronic-indie rock crossover acts like New Zealand’s The Naked And Famous.

There is a lot to like about both tracks from this particular Californian girl, and with an album-full to come, I reckon White Sea could be one release to look forward to in 2014, and we might even hear a few tracks accompanying some TV or movie projects, because these tracks would certainly compliment quality moving pictures, in my opinion.

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The Jezabels live at the Sydney Opera House

The Jezabels Live At The House

The Jezabels Live At The House

Having shared a rehearsal space with The Jezabels, I was so excited to hear they’d made it to the stage of the Sydney Opera House to headline some shows. What a rise for a band full of great people. Luckily the Opera House recorded it for its Live At The House series, so i thought I’d quickly throw it up as a small tribute and to say congratulations to a band I have massive respect for. There is a lot of emotion in this performance, and it’s clear how special a night it was for the band. Bravo.

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REVIEW: Highasakite – Silent Treatment

Highasakite - Silent Treatment

Highasakite – Silent Treatment.

We have another contender for Light+Shade‘s Album Of The Year already, and we’re not even halfway through 2014. I’ve got a feeling it’s going to be a good musical vintage.

Highasakite might not be a familiar name to some of you, but I’ve been reasonably in love with these Norwegians since hearing their self-titled 2012 EP. I caught them live at Iceland Airwaves that same year, sung along whole-heartedly to the best track from that EP, Indian Summer, and left in hope of hearing a whole lot more. Thankfully, just a few weeks ago, they delivered, and they delivered in spades.

Silent Treatment is the band’s first long-playerand while it has that certain Scandinavian air about it that so pleases me, it’s also pretty unique, largely because of Ingrid Helene Håvik’s unfailing ability to sing a song with breathtaking beauty. The compositions are excellent, too. Some are heavy on the electronics, others more on folksy banjos and accordions. Some are bright, some are sombre. There is country, jazz and pop. The rhythms vary delightfully from song to song. It’s a sweet collection, ordered perfectly, which isn’t something we often say about records in the digital age.

Highasakite formed out of the Trondheim Jazz Conservatory, like Emilie Nicolas, who I also wrote glowingly about recently. It seems to be a good place to learn the craft.

Håvik’s opening lines “Lover, where do you live?” ooze from the speakers with such breathy seduction that you’re immediately hooked. A sweeping and aching ballad follows. It’s an almost perfect start. “It would be nice to come home to a couch, and a stove, and a backyard,” she adds before calling out the song’s title again, Lover, Where Do You Live?

From this we transition into bouncier sounds. Drummer Trond Bersu’s influence becomes clearer the more you listen, too. As the co-founder and writer of the band’s music, he creates some sensational beats upon which Håvik’s vocals can bounce effortlessly. Since Last Wednesday proves the point, with a tribal flare somehow matched with folk overtones. It’s a bit Of Monsters And Men, but somehow more mature. Leaving No Traces follows a similar theme but with a Middle Eastern flavour. But it’s from track four where things really start to ripen.

Hiroshima, by far my pick of the album’s 12 tracks, is a marvellous tune. It builds gradually from what sounds like an air-powered organ into a driving, hypnotic rhythms. Brighter blips come in as we move deeper into the track, Håvik singing about carelessly walking around in Heaven having lost the Earth she so loved to human folly of the type Hiroshima became so infamous for. To that end, the wall of sound that takes the track to its conclusion is just superb. There is a stack of layers to the music by this point and it’s all quite overwhelming. But as if to save us from exploding like an atomic bomb ourselves, the blinding sounds dissipate and we’re left only with Håvik’s haunting “nanananas”.

My Only Crime follows, a lullaby or sorts, before we enter electronic-indie territory again for a rather dark track I, The Hand Grenade. Another rhythmic intro launches us into Darth Vader, a song that will certainly have crowds bouncing and singing along when this record is toured.

Iran is a cracker, very tribal again, almost like the soundtrack to an old Western, with Native American overtones throughout. Quite what it’s about is beyond me, but “I’d bring some booze, and go on a bender” is an inspired line in the context of a strict Muslim country, especially when it’s followed by “and I’ll befriend a married man”. Influences like Kate Bush pop out here, too. There are some extreme vocal gymnastics to admire.

Indians, as they became known in American, get a mention in The Man On The Ferry as we near the album’s denouement. Science And Blood Tests is another sensational demonstration of Håvik’s abilities. She almost yodels through the outro, but not in a cheesy Sound Of Music hills way. It’s more like morning birdsong. Really lovely and soothing.

We hit raw country on the penultimate When You Have Gone before the jazz that brought Håvik and Bersu together closes things out in the form of God Is A Banquet. You can imagine hearing this in a smokey club while sipping on a single malt, pained expressions on the musicians before you.

I really love this album. While only one song clearly stands out for me, the others prop it up with real strength. Listen, and enjoy. There are few bands out there with the versatility of Highasakite.

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Emilie Nicolas is Norway’s latest charm

Emilie Nicolas

Emilie Nicolas.

I’ve been beguiled once again by music from Scandinavia. Emilie Nicolas popped up on my Spotify recommendations, and upon further investigation, I’ve found some cracking little tunes. Grown Up appears to be the latest of them, and you can enjoy it right here.

The track is, she says, a tribute to her father and the video is all footage from her own youth. Not that she’s old now. Emilie is just 24, and a hell of a talent if these few tracks are anything to go by.

Here’s a track called Nobody Knows, which is a beautiful little electronica ditty with a real jazzy vibe, which is no coincidence as Emilie graduated recently from a degree in jazz performance in Trondheim, Norway.

And finally, the song that got me hooked was on Spotify. It’s called Pstereo, and is actually a cover of a track from 1990 by fellow Norwegians Dum Dum Boys. And it’s the type of cover I love, because it’s very different to the original.

I’m certainly looking forward to hearing more from this young lady, because so far all she’s done is produce excellence.

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A love affair with album covers

If the record industry was smart, it would have saved the demise of vinyl by playing up the fact that there is nothing quite as wonderful as a full-sized album cover. Personally, album art in general was always one of the greatest things about buying some new vinyl when I was a kid.

Having recently rekindled my love affair with vinyl, I’m beginning also to realise what a grossly underrated aspect of record production the album cover has been over the years. I guess the reason for that is that not everyone took it seriously. Thankfully, the bands I was into did, and spent time commissioning some sensational artists or photographers to come up with some wonderful work.

Take Iron Maiden, for instance, who created their very own character, Eddie The Head, with a little help from artist Derek Riggs. Eddie has featured on every album the band released, starting with Killers, a number of single covers and, of course on stage with the band and on other merchandise in various guises.

Then you’ve got the great photographic efforts, like The Beatles’ Abbey Road cover, which any tourist in London tries to replicate when on tour in London. Ian MacMillan took the shot from a step ladder while a policeman held up traffic behind him. Paul McCartney’s bare feet, and opposite step to his band-mates, was deliberate, as was the lack of any writing on the cover. No band name, and no album name. Apple Records creative director at the time, Kosh, knew it wasn’t needed since The Beatles was the most famous band in the world and knew it would sell anyway.

Both those covers have been “reversed” by Flickr identity Harvezt recently in his terrific little series The Dark Side Of The Covers. And yes, he’s also done that famous Pink Floyd cover for Dark Side Of The Moon. He’s also done Joy Divisions Unknown Pleasures, a brilliant one for Led Zeppelin IV, Computer World by Kraftwerk, Metallica’s Master Of Puppets and King Crimson’s In The Court Of The Crimson King. These are all albums I own, and I love Harvezt’s imagination in creating these reverse views. The Abbey Road one is particularly great for including that policeman in its story. The Killers one is awesome, too.

Abbey Road - Harvezt

Abbey Road – Harvezt

Killers - Harvezt

Killers – Harvezt

I’ve noticed a few album cover things happening over the past few weeks. The Guardian’s series of shots placing album covers in Google Street View was a good one too.

Original Pirate Material by the Streets

Original Pirate Material by The Streets, as it would be on Google Street View.

And last but not least, if you’re on Facebook, no doubt one or more of your friends has shared something about “sleeveface”, whereby people use album covers to replace real heads and faces in photographs. Always a source of amusement and fun.

Sleeveface - Freddie Mercury

Sleeveface – Freddie Mercury

But the fact is with all this digital music around, we’re in danger of losing the meaning and joy of album art because in large part, the consumption of music in the digital age is purely a purely sonic experience. It’s not longer visual, nor physical, as it was when I was growing up with 12-inch vinyl records. That’s a shame, I reckon, and I’d encourage any young music fan to pick up some of their favourites on vinyl if they get the chance. I’d also encourage record companies to

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Ten things I’ve been listening to

Once again I find myself apologising for the massive gap between this post and the last. If only I could do this full-time and not the job that actually pays me money to survive in this dig eat dog world. Ho hum.

Anyway, I thought I’d keep it simple by posting a bunch of songs I’ve heard over the past few weeks I haven’t been writing. Hope you’ve all got Spotify. If not, now is a good time to sign up, because it just launched a redesign which is pretty sweet.

1. Porter Robinson – Sea Of Voices
This one surprised me a little. Porter Robinson is perhaps better know for his dancefloor fillers like Unison and Language. But with this one, he gone all atmospheric and anthemic. It’s got a fair does of M83 about it, and is apparently the new direction he wants to go in. Good on him. He’s ageing, like the rest of us, and appears to have chose to do so gracefully. I heard this one while away on a long weekend in Mornington.

2. deadmau5 – Ghosts ‘n’ Stuff (Nero Remix) feat Rob Swire
Nothing like a bit of dubstep to blow your mind, especially when it’s in a snowboard movie, as this track is. In the amazing film Art Of Flight, which I watched on Blu-ray in awe a few weeks back, this track accompanies some quite breathtaking super-slow-mo footage of some of the world’s best boarders in powder we can only dream of riding.

3. Elbow – Fly Boy Blue/Lunette
A song I raved about when I reviewed Elbow’s latest album The Take Off And Landing Of Everything, last month. Read more there, I guess. A cracking tune, especially the Lunette half.

4. Erik Hassle – Somebody’s Party EP
Sweden’s Erik Hassle is, for me, one of the best soul voices I’ve ever heard. Seriously, I know that’s a big call, but he is blissfully gifted. He hit me hard a few years back with an extraordinary cover of Sam Cooke’s Nothing Can Ever Change This Love For You, and I’ve loved him ever since. He’s recently released an EP, and it’s a beauty, full of heartfelt lyrics and eclectic arrangements that break the mould. The guy is awesome. Listen, in particular, to Innocence Lost, which features Tinashe.

5. Embrace – Refugees EP
Yorkshire rockers Embrace haven’t done anything for a very long time. This EP, released last year, came to my attention via some sort of music discovery app. Just when I thought they were dead and buried, they slapped me in the face and demanded my attention again. This EP is the forerunner to a sixth album, due out this month and self-titled. If this collection is anything to go by, it sounds like it might be good.

6. Beck – Morning Phase
Not much to say about this other than it is still my early contender for album of the year. Beck took my breath away when he released this earlier in 2014. Every listen melts me. A truly magnificent musical compendium.

7. The Preatures – Better Than It Ever Could Be
Another band I spruiked back in February, largely as a result of this song getting a bit of airplay. Read more here, and listen below. A cracking little summer song, and while summer may be over, the song still rings in my ears.

8. Lykke Li – No Rest For The Wicked
I like Lykke Li, quite fancy her, actually. She’s Scandinavian (tick), sexy (tick), has an awesome voice (tick), and sings my kind of songs. No Rest For The Wicked has popped out of her forthcoming album I Never Learn. It’s in no way a new direction for her musically, but so what? I like her style, and I’ve been spinning this one a fair bit.

9. Broken Bells – Perfect World
One half Shins singer/guitarist James Mercer, the other musical genius Brian Burton (aka Danger Mouse), Broken Bells is such a great little project: two guys that just have fun with sounds and produce some sensational tunes. It was a big secret for a while, but now they’re open about their brilliance, thank goodness. After The Disco is the duo’s second album and came out in February. No doubt you’ve heard Holding On To Life, but the one I keep playing over and over is Perfect World. It just feels like one when you’re listening to these boys.

10. The Alan Parsons Project – Time
Yeh, this is an old one, but I found a copy of The Turn Of A Friendly Card on vinyl at a market so got listening to it again. That album was released in 1980, and I was pretty obsessed with it at the age of nine or 10. Incredible really when I think about it. I still love it, especially this track. Sit back, headphones on loud, and let it sweep over you. It’s a stunner.

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