Category Archives: Album Reviews

Nordic Giants // A Séance Of Dark Delusions – Review

Live shows don’t come more spectacular, immersive and awe-inspiring than when Nordic Giants take the stage. Their performances have been captivating fans across the continent for a while now, and the release of their first full length record is sure to stir a great deal of excitement among those who know just what these guys are capable of. Nordic Giants’ unique and inventive sound lends itself to a phenomenal live show, but how will ‘A Séance Of Dark Delusions’ compare when they have already set the bar so high?

‘Elysian Skies’ opens the record, and is immediately recognisable to those who have heard anything from Nordic Giants before. Their use of drawn out atmospheric synth and string sounds combine with heavenly vocals to mesmerise the listener into a splendid state of calm and curiosity about what they have got in store. Building slowly, introducing some brilliantly synced brass, before disappearing into silence, the opener sets the scene gloriously.

Our curiosity is somewhat satisfied when ‘Evolve Or Perish’ commences. Elegant noise plays in the background of some empirical electronic sounds, before Nordic Giants’ characteristic soaring piano comes into play along with burgeoning drums, immediately showing that their live sound can be converted on to a record and still have the same goose-bump inducing effect. A brief interlude for a poignant sample of a speech – perfectly resonating with the tracks title – eventually plays along with the instrumental backing to fully engage the listener on all fronts.

Image courtesy of http://musicalmathematics.co.uk/

Rapture‘ introduces the first of a number of featured artists on the album, with Beth Cannon’s delicate voice adding further depth to a slightly more vibrant track than the last, which marches on with crashing snare-symbol combinations. Layered vocals race unrelentingly right through till the end, before track four commences with intriguing and captivating echoes. ‘Give Flight To The Imagination’ featuring more guest vocals from Freyja, is a gentle atmospheric number, bringing the tempo and tone of the album down dramatically from its forceful beginnings.

This slower pace does not last however, as we are again thrown into the majestic ambience of Nordic Giants’ vivid sound on ‘Dissolve’. This time a male voice can be heard via Saturday Sun, though it materialises in a similarly angelic style to the previous vocals. They accompany a sound of real vigour and prowess, with a slower tempo contributing towards a fierce and heavy tone; while always maintaining the trademark four-stroke piano riff throughout. ‘Illuminate’ uses an interesting new stimulus to keep things fresh, steering the record clear of any potential monotony expertly. Plucked sounds flirt with pulsating vocals, before an imposing burst breaches the middle of the track. Further interesting electronic sounds persist along with the lyric-less vocals, until another distinctive piano led burst, gaining volume and intensity before another abrupt end.

Nordic Giants

A very rare photo that I actually took myself at ArcTanGent Festival 2014

‘Futures Dark’ featuring Nadine Wild Palmer is yet another Nordic Giants barnstormer. If you didn’t know what Nordic Giants sounded like before now, you certainly won’t forget them for a long time after this mammoth four minutes. The short penultimate track ‘Black Folds’ again builds slowly and persistently, until the spine tingling brass echoes audible inspiration as only brass can do in this thoroughly satisfying short piece.

Closing with a seven minute titan, ‘A Thousand Lost Dreams’ builds excruciatingly, quietening down just as you feel like you can’t take the suspense any longer. Exploding into colossal life after what feels like an eternity, tearing through the suspense into something biblical. Apocalyptic roars of pure Nordic Giants perfection engulf the listener and finalise what has been a truly astonishing séance. No doubt this track, and album as a whole will be phenomenal to see live, with their ingenious use of relatively basic instruments, unparalleled use of the visual arts, and unmistakable attire, Nordic Giants will simply never disappoint.

A Séance Of Dark Delusions is released in the UK on 04/05/2015

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Vessels // Dilate – Review

Listening to music featuring little or no traditional instruments can prove understandably challenging for many, with some perhaps immediately disregarding it as background music, or losing patience with an apparent lack of substance, or reward for the perpetual build. Progressive electronica is fairly easy to promote to the die hard fans, but infinitely more difficult to make accessible to the masses. Whether Vessels intend to attempt this with their new record ‘Dilate’ remains to be seen, but I’d wager I’ll be hard pressed to use the words ‘generic’ or ‘predictable’ when describing it.

Eight quite lengthy tracks are introduced by ‘Vertical’, with looped percussion and distant bass sounds gently guiding us into the first thirty seconds of the record, before the bass intensifies and it’s melody carries us along for a while. Building magnificently slowly, chopping helicopter-like sounds brew ominously until a hugely nod-able beat bears down, eventually making way for some starry blends that take over for the close out of the song. Following on seamlessly into ‘Elliptic’, where bass is once again the driving force, yet beautifully controlled and far from overpowering. Repetitive sounding hooks are ever-present, but are kept fresh brilliantly through the constant addition of new elements, percussion especially during this track, while the beat remains un-phased by it’s changeable compatriots in sound.

‘Echo In’ alters the tone slightly with a more soothing bass sound, contrasted by a solid drum beat, meticulously built around a sharp snare. Enchanting melodies are layered upon a bubbling background, which lasts throughout this relatively short track, although given the overlapping merging of tracks, song length doesn’t really play a part in an album that is evidently designed to be listened to from start to finish. Vocals are heard clearly for the first time on ‘As You Are’, and play a seminal role in this subdued dream of a track, although the percussion backing once again provides something else for the listener to think about.

Intriguing futuristic sounds beckon is into track five ‘Attica’, which features a much bigger sound than has been heard before. Intense synth builds at an oddly enticing rate, and there is no pronounced ‘drop’ like you may find in other similar tracks, instead you simply find yourself soaring through huge sounds almost without you realising. ‘On Monos’ catches a breath before breaking back into a thudding drum beat while almost incomprehensible vocals echo sporadically. The very occasional use of vocals reminds us these sounds are made by human beings, not by some superior AI from the future.

Back to the basic bass and beats for ‘Glass Lake’, making way for a raving mid-section that could effortlessly get a room full of revellers moving, though it really would need to be very loud indeed, as it just doesn’t pack the same punch when listening at a regular volume. The final track ‘On Your Own Ten Toes’ then starts in much the same way as the others, though one can’t help but hope for something spectacular to close out a hugely enjoyable record. The humming bass acts as an ominous, yet upbeat foundation, while a quickly fluctuating sparkle of sound leads the way for the beat that follows. ‘Vessels’ likely never intended on this track reaching the size of the sounds heard on ‘Attica’, but I for one would have enjoyed perhaps something a little more spectacular to close out what is a fascinatingly modern record.

The sound of this record could potentially be described as something of a relay race of sound, with different elements and features taking their turn, then passing each track on to a different hook to carry for a while. It is executed extremely well, never becoming difficult to follow and always giving the listener something new to engage with, without ever becoming overwhelmed with too many different things going on.

Dilate is out Monday 02/03/2015

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Kodaline // Coming Up For Air – Review

Irish 4-piece Kodaline release their all important second album ‘Coming Up For Air’, which brings with it the unenviable task of bettering their breakthrough record ‘In A Perfect World’, an album that saw them gain widespread popularity in an increasingly difficult musical climate.

The opening track and lead single from the album ‘Honest’, gets things off to a prompt start, and immediately introduces us to the echoing synth sounds and “wooaah’s” that play a vital role in the composition of this record. Huge synth bass carries the poignant chorus, with Steve Garrigan asking “Is it in you to be honest?” Switching between relatively intense sounds and more solemn vocal parts makes this opening track an engaging and effortlessly catchy start. ‘The One’ follows on pleasantly with a gentle introduction featuring piano and Garrigan’s reflective vocals. This shamelessly gushing love song is made all the more enjoyable by well controlled strings and inventive synth sounds skulking behind the echoing guitars.

‘Auto Pilot’ begins with gentle percussion, followed by subtle guitar, smooth vocals and some sensitive harmonies. The percussive backing remains throughout, while the vocals build and the backing choir adds satisfying depth to what is instrumentally a relatively simple song. The alarming guitar and synth sounds wake us up promptly in ‘Human Again’. “I got a pain in my heart and a pain in my chest, I wanna be human again” rings out over a contrastingly upbeat sound, powered by a stamping snare drum. Raising the vocals an octave further emphasises the desire for positive change that screams from this track. ‘Unclear’ almost sounds like it’s been recorded underwater, with only whispering vocals and bass guiding us initially, before the ever present ‘wooaah’s’ again come into play. The choir of young voices is brilliantly used to once again hammer us into an unavoidably positive mood.

The sixth track, which bares an immense resemblance to Coldplay’s ‘Hurts Like Heaven’, features yet more wooing along with simple but hugely effective guitar riffs that explode into Garrigan’s “coming alive!”. Altering the riffs slightly each time keeps the track fresh and interesting, and staunchly maintains the records obdurately optimistic feel. ‘Lost’ is a track that wouldn’t be out of place on a recent ‘Muse’ album, with futuristic sounds fluctuating behind the rest of the track, in a similar vein to the heavily adjusted guitars that play a key role in the following track ‘Ready’. Very simple structurally, but effortlessly catchy, the piercing high notes towards the end of the song work surprisingly well and make up for the regrettably lazy lyrics of the chorus.

Acoustic guitar is used prominently for the first time on track nine ‘Better’, which is a turning point in the album, moving from relentless positivity to inconsolable sorrow in the blink of an eye. “It doesn’t feel right” saps the good feeling that has been built up for the duration of the album thus far, but gloriously delivered vocals in the chorus rouse this impossibly beautiful track into something of a show piece, with building strings accompanying the vocals superbly. “Cause it’s making me worse” aptly brings the song to an end, and leaves the listener wondering what an earth happened between tracks eight and nine to warrant such pristine melancholia. Mercifully though, spotting the title of the next track will settle the bottom lip of any potentially blubbering listeners. ‘Everything Works Out In The End’ is a contemplative track which returns to a positive tone, with soothing vocal accompaniment and prominent piano helping to build us back up again.

The penultimate track cracks off suddenly, with some ‘ooing’, and what may well be a kazoo in the mix. “Nobody’s gonna carry you” is a fitting lyric in this uplifting and motivating song that utilises a huge array of different instruments. ‘Love Will Set You Free’ closes out the record perfectly, persevering with the reflective tone “This ain’t no sad song, life has to go on”. The piano, drums and acoustic guitar are fortified with brass and a large choir of woah-ers, all while Garrigan majestically serenades us into a delightfully happy place.

‘Coming Up For Air’ then is a record that will likely satisfy those listeners who have wanted something new from the alt-rock/pop scene. It’s hugely accessible lyrics, uplifting and – for the most part – positive tone, combined with the modern feel of the album make it difficult to dislike, and with heavenly tracks like ‘Better’, I can see them outdoing their first release with ease.

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Lonely The Brave, Sam Duckworth & Bloody Knees – Live Review

Cambridge may not have as diverse a musical heritage as other towns and cities across the UK, but that doesn’t mean it can’t make you feel like a proud father of five (despite being a resident for barely 6 months) when it’s most exciting sons ‘Lonely The Brave’ return home to show off their prowess that was nurtured in Cambridge not so long ago. Anticipation was in the air, anticipation for what was inevitably going to be an exceptional night, and one that Cambridge could feel rightly chuffed about.

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Bloody Knees

Lonely The Brave may have established themselves as Cambridge’s most well supported act on the scene at the moment, but Bloody Knees are without question the most exciting new act to come out of Cambridge since LTB themselves, and were a no brainer to open for them this evening. Grunge at it’s modern finest comes billowing from the stage along with the rasping vocals and thunderous drums that only intensify as their set progresses.

‘Bones’ is a particularly tight number that forced at least a nod out of the majority of the crowd, and was followed shortly thereafter by ‘Never Change’, the slowest song of their set by someway, and in my opinion the strongest. Vast growling guitar sounds and perfectly matched vocals made this a real spine tingling spectacle, worthy of the almost stunned applause it garnered from the now transfixed audience. ‘Stitches’ is another barnstormer, and the title of their latest record released earlier this year. “I’m covered in blood, but at least I’m having fun” is a snippet gifted to us in amongst the largely fuzzy lyrics, but this takes nothing away from the appropriately volatile delivery of the vocals from Brad Griffiths.

Sam Duckworth

Taking on the unenviable task of filling the gap between two Cambridge favourites was ex ‘Get Cape, Wear Cape, Fly’ frontman Sam Duckworth. His mix of straight talking lyrics and impressive acoustic guitar work was a drastic contrast to the aforementioned grunge extravaganza, and as a result struggled to captivate the audience. Every song was clearly sung from the heart, but the fact that it was his well informed and delivered political rant on immigration and tax evasion that received the biggest cheer of the set proved that this audience were more than ready for their homecoming headliners.

Lonely The Brave

Come 9:30, the Junction was utterly rammed with expectant friends and fans, and come the lowering of the lights, the noise must have reassured any fears the band might have had that no one would turn up to witness their return to where it all began. ‘Call Of Horses’ is a pucker choice for an opener, easing us into their sound perfectly. Beckoned on by guitarist Mark Trotter, the crowd obligingly joins in with the incredibly singalong-able ‘Trick of the Light’, and even by the second song of the set you feel they have shown exactly why they evoked such excitement and expectation on their return to Cambridge.

Despite Trotters apparent confidence on stage, the band as a whole don’t emanate confidence in the same way that ‘Bloody Knees’ or many other bands on the scene seem to, particularly vocalist David Jakes, who often stands side on to the audience, slightly hunched over, clutching the front of his t shirt with an odd sort of gurn on his face. It’s unique and actually refreshing, especially when compared to the vast majority of frontmen who harass the audience into joining them in song. That said, what’s also refreshing is just how impeccably powerful and magnificently controlled his voice is, sounding if anything even better live than on ‘The Days War’, their album from which all but a couple of the nights set is taken from.

‘Kings of the Mountain’ is a track that deserves even more recognition than it is likely to get, with my other half stating “I could totally hear that song in the charts if it had a dance-y backing”, a statement which I can’t help but agree with (but think would be a tragedy and discredit to the band if it happened), and one that could easily apply to their entire discography. Soaring vocals and guitar work in perfect harmony to seduce the audience into a comfortable state of ecstasy, ready for an alluringly slow rendition of ‘Islands’, and then thrust into their most lively offering ‘Black Saucers’. Even the more elderly members of an incredibly diverse audience found themselves compelled into movement.

The set managed to maintain it’s intensity and authenticity with ease, thanks in no small part to the array of exceptionally well written songs that were immaculately performed by 5 men who can only be destined for even greater things. Leaving their two biggest crowd pleasers till the end, ‘Backroads’ goes down an absolute storm, with Jakes’ “I’ll be the sky and you’ll be the bird” proposal being raucously roared back at him. ‘The Blue, The Green’ finishes the set in bloody brilliant fashion, Jakes tears apart huge vocals before the climax, when Brad Griffiths reappears to leap into the crowd for a great big Cambridge love-in.

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Girlpool – EP Review

Los Angeles duo ‘Girlpool’ are uncompromising and undeterred by the prospect of being shunned by the mainstream in the wake of their occasionally provocative and blunt lyrics. The two piece use nothing more than a guitar (Cleo Tucker), bass (Harmony Tividad), and their voices. They do so precariously, yet proficiently, and I say precariously having remembered how I felt upon hearing the first track on the EP – ‘Blah Blah Blah’, and really struggling not to rip my headphones from my ears – but the more time one gives this record, the more one understands it is not designed to be a treat for the ears, at least I hope not.

We are immediately introduced to the strong female foundation that is pivotal to the entire EP. ‘Blah Blah Blah’ sets the lyrical tone of the record and tells of a girl who is no longer willing to be used by her partner. Accompanied by stripped back and appropriately simple instrumentation (featuring a quirky guitar solo), this track is a real test that you’d do well to pass.

‘Paint Me Colours’ sees the tempo diminish and the tone become desperately melancholy, and borders on being a sadcore anthem. Although the tempo does pick up nearer the tracks conclusion, the bleak bass riff that sets the song off does an excellent job of lowering morale through it’s compelling monotony. Vocal harmonies give depth to a track that would otherwise struggle to keep the listener awake.

Moving on, the record does gain some momentum, with ‘Plants and Worms’ comprising of some decidedly pleasant chords and acoustic sounds. Lyrically however, we are greeted by yet more gloomy commentary – “I’m uncomfortable looking in the mirror”. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for dreariness here and there – Radiohead have worked wonders with it – but relentlessly dreary lyrics combined with equally sombre music I find challenging to get my head around.

‘Jane’ however is refreshing in its relative positivity, telling the story of a girl who stood up to her tormentor named Tommy. The theme of women veering from their societal norms is continued in ‘Slutmouth’, which is sung from the point of view of a girl who is not comfortable conforming or doing what is expected of her – “I go to school every day just to be made a housewife one day”, an appropriate statement given current public issues surrounding gender equality.

The final track entitled ‘American Beauty’ is a welcome stimulation, and is the only track likely to stick in the mind of the listener, thanks largely to it’s chorus, “It’s not enough to watch a movie, eat me out to American Beauty” is a line not easily forgotten. The repetitive chords continue throughout and we are again reminded that the protagonist of this song is not the suppressed and weak woman that she feels she is expected to be, “If you’re lucky I’ll hold you tight”.

Despite ending on a high, this record struggles to stimulate any musical fire inside the listener, or make many groundbreaking and thought provoking statements on women or the lives of young people, BUT I can say with confidence that this strangled outcry is exactly what Girlpool intended when they put the record together.

Girlpool EP Cover

Girlpool EP Cover

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Will Robert – ‘Transitions’

The male singer-songwriter has been something of a challenge for both artists and listeners in recent years. People with undeniable talent, producing incredibly pleasing music have largely been getting nowhere, in most cases because they missed the bus that Ed Sheeran drove off to Radio 1 on, and took any remaining hope for the male soloist with him. But while talent perseveres, there will always be a chance that someone else can gain the recognition they rightfully deserve. Will Robert is a Cambridge based artist striving for just that.
 
Robert’s new EP ‘Transitions’ showcases his vocal and instrumental talents with charming modesty, as well as displaying his laudable songwriting ability. This aptly named record tells a story of change  both lyrically, and musically, all while treating the listener to some of the most serene acoustic sounds they’re likely to hear in their lifetime.
 
The opening track ‘City Lights’ idyllically introduces us to Robert’s sleek voice, setting the lyrical tone poignantly; “You seem so bold but a cold wind blows inside of you”. The contemplative and seemingly upbeat feel of this track is complimented by subtle percussion, which is maintained throughout ‘Transitions’, and adds an organic depth to the record.
 
Raising the tempo slightly on ‘Best Laid Plans’, we are treated to some of Robert’s smart guitar work, featuring Newton Faulkner-esque percussive playing as can also be heard on ‘Easy Way Out’. Alluring vocal harmonies gently bring about the chorus and again show Robert’s knack of using understated elements to create something stunningly simple yet engaging.
 
The transitional nature of this record is a testament to the amount of thought Robert has clearly put into it. We encounter lyrical and musical peaks, with a clear positive tone in ‘Castles’ and ‘Easy Way Out’ all after the more melancholic tone of ‘Hide Away’, in which Robert laments “sitting in the dark won’t keep you safe”. By the middle of the record, the tone becomes melancholic once again, with beautifully tempered electric guitar being introduced to display a further impressive range of musical knowledge and appreciation, and to also keep us guessing on how the transition will pan out.
 
Come track nine ‘Sleight Of Hand’, the saga appears to be coming to it’s conclusion, and the rousing chorus has an air of acceptance in it’s lyrical tone along with ‘Another Life’. Inventive guitar work  and a more intensive use of percussion really captivates the listener in this latest chapter. ‘Roads’ is another flawless example of simplistic songwriting at it’s humble best, with nothing but Robert, his guitar, and the faintest whisper of piano producing a gratifying penultimate track.
 
‘Open Sea’ is the final, and probably strongest track on the record. Majestically combining all the elements found throughout, this track is a triumph and a perfect closing song on a record that I sincerely hope gets the recognition it deserves.

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Coldplay – Midnight

Today Coldplay released the video for ‘Midnight‘, a totally unanticipated new song. Beyonce did it with her latest album and everyone seemed to think it was a masterstroke. I’m all for surprises, but I’m also struggling to see the advantage, apart from rewarding fan’s patience with a few pleasurable minutes of realising their favoured artist hasn’t just been swilling Gout de Diamants for a couple of years.

I’m writing this after one listen, and as I like to think everyone knows, opinions of songs can change quite drastically the more they are listened to, but there’s no harm in chucking out some first impressions and early musings.

‘Midnight’ opens with an enchanting electronic aroma, which remains throughout, and is soon joined by some quite heavily modified vocal harmonies. Layers of simple electronic noise are built up over the next couple of minutes, though not so much that we begin to expect a classic Coldplay climax. That never really happens, and I almost wish it did. It continues with some largely inaudible vocals and builds a little bit more, but runs out of gas before anything memorable can happen.

Coldplay is made up of four proven talented musicians, listen to any of their previous albums (especially the first four) and you’ll realise that, but I can’t help but feel they’re trying too hard to be different, all while retaining their humongous popularity, which really isn’t going to happen after five albums without sacrificing an awful lot. Fair enough the piano and bass are audible, but that’s about as far as the showcase of instrumental ability goes, which I think is a complete waste.

The song doesn’t feel like a single to me, I can’t see it being released, it’s too forgettable, largely down to the absence of any lyrical substance. Chris Martin has an unprecedented knack for writing a lyric or a song that you will never forget. EVERYONE can sing a bit of Yellow, EVERYONE can sing a bit of The Scientist, EVERYONE can sing a bit of Fix You, EVERYONE can sing a bit of Viva La Vida, and EVERYONE can definitely sing a bit of PARADISE, they are (as much as some may wish they weren’t) incredibly well written and unforgettable. ‘Midnight’ does not stick in my head one bit.

When you’re a band as unquestionably massive as Coldplay, you can do pretty much whatever you want, so I can’t fault them for doing just that. But it pains me to see them throwing away some of their well-earned integrity just to keep up with the times. As I said earlier, this could well just be a one off release to make people aware they are still going, and as a legitimately obsessive Coldplay fan, I really fucking hope that’s all it is.

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The Most Productive Evening Of My Current Life

Having toyed with the idea of writing something for no reason other than to wonder why anyone would ever read it, I’ve come to the liberating conclusion that it doesn’t matter either way. I’ve been encouraged by one person I know, and another I don’t, that writing a blog would be a good idea. Perhaps even a GREAT idea, and as the title suggests, I’m feeling productive and anxious not to waste anymore evening. Right, to the point.

A couple of months ago I reviewed Jamie Lenman’s 22 track album ‘Muscle Memory’. When I say reviewed, I in fact mean grotesquely adorned it with praise of the most excessive nature, as you can see:

The sadness of Reuben’s ending in 2008 has painfully intensified over the years, but now we can brace ourselves for another lesson in pristine songwriting, courtesy of one of the most under-appreciated musical masterminds much of the world has tragically never known, Jamie Lenman. The 22 track double album entitled ‘Muscle Memory’ erupts with 40 minutes of bowel-bursting bass and riffs that will rip you in half. ‘No News Is Good News’ is a showcase of what Lenman can do, combining Meshuggah-like force with his unmistakable growl and unwaveringly frank and authentic lyrics. ‘Shower Of Scorn’ perhaps struggles to keep up with the rest, but ‘Muscle’ sees us off in a colossal and beautiful fury. Suddenly we’re safe and sound in the second half ‘Memory’, the diversity of which serves to show why fans were so justifiably excited for Lenman’s return. ‘If You Have To Ask You’ll Never Know’ is a true demonstration of intense natural songwriting ability, and immense banjo playing, while the sneaky key change in ‘Pretty Please’ raises eyebrows and further widen smiles. The album’s accompanying artwork is worth a good chunk of your time, and re-enforces the feeling that Lenman has enthusiastically shared something deeply personal with you

If you ever manage to wipe that cringe off your face, you can listen to the album itself and then write a vastly more accurate review than mine. It’s great fun.

Can’t help but feel I’ve got the tone of this ‘blog’ completely wrong, so it’s time to fuck off. I’ll leave you with this piece of instrumental mastery from an old pal I haven’t seen in years whose talent I haven’t seen mirrored.

The fact I’ve only just noticed the music I was listening to when I started this has turned to silence, suggests I’ve been concentrating too hard. All the best.

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