Sunday, 18 June 2017

In Color - A Review

Somebody That Wants To Love You

Who are you?
When I first heard this song in “The Making of In Color” stream, I knew it reminded me of something. A famous song from the 1980s...another soft-rock anthem. Finally, it came to me: it was Berlin’s "Take My Breath Away", only slowed down. Try and sing the verse from one song to the other’s melody and it almost fits perfectly. (Don't call your copyright lawyer though: by the time the chorus starts, STWTLY is a totally different song.)

This 80s pop/rock vibe has become Hanson’s predominant style in the last 3 EPs - Loud, Play and In Color: it’s upbeat, it makes for catchy songs and the fans’ reception has been consistently positive. STWTL could almost be a companion to "Stop Me in My Tracks" from last year’s Loud EP, with its powerful guitar riffs and sing-along-able chorus, not to mention the universally pleasing Taylor vocals.

Let’s delve into the lyrics now:

Long before the spotlight
You were part of my life
more than just a girl next door
standing on the front porch
singing God only knows
dreaming that the crowd would roar

At a first glance, the lyrics could be about a girl who is now “in the limelight” and who is “heading to a sold out” but has got ‘yes men in the corner” acting like they own her. "Who are you?’ asks the narrator, echoing that famous song by The Who. But the narrator could equally be a man, talking about himself and about the girl who was part of his life long before the spotlight, presenting two points of views: his, and the girl’s.

But after all of the frenzy
Of red carpet envy
I'd be the one to take you home

As usual, Hanson lyrics are never 100% transparent - and that’s a very good thing in my book, because when you know a song is clearly about a certain person, it becomes less universal and harder to identify with.

My verdict? STWTLY is an upbeat song and it sounds great live. It might not have the depth of other recent songs like ‘No Rest for the Weary’ or ‘Feeling Alive’ but I have a feeling that it’s going to become a fan favourite.

Play or Skip? - Play



Bop bop bop, doo dee doo, hey

When fragments of this song were first aired during the first ‘Making of In Color’ stream, the verdict was unanimous: this is a very Beatles-esque song. “Lady Madonna” was an obvious comparison and the song just screams Beatles influences all round. A lot of Zac songs tend to be like that, with a prominent piano that Zac mercilessly bashes as if it's a drumkit. 

This is Zac’s second foray into the analysis of a profession - after “White Collar Crime” which took a swipe at the dream (of delusion) of startup entrepreneurs. For a home-schooled, former child star who has never had to hold a ‘real’ job in his life, Zac certainly has his finger firmly on the pulse when it comes to the working world, as in both WCC and now GW exploitation and shattered illusions feature as main themes. But why focus on a profession as obscure as ghostwriter, fans asked? The answer may lie in a rumour that has been floating around for quite a while, i.e. that Zac is actually an in-demand songwriter for other artists, writing under a pen name that, so far, has remained secret even among the best-informed fans.

Selling your words under someone else’s name
they will get all the wealth and fame

Is that a familiar scenario to Zac? It’s only speculation, of course, but if there is one thing I’ve learnt about Zac Hanson over the years is that his lyrics are not as random as he’d want us to believe. So...anyway - over to you to speculate.

My verdict? While GW isn’t the kind of song that I would listen to over and over again - I’m not hugely keen on Zac’s trademark use of the piano as a drum substitute - something in the execution of “Ghost Writer” keeps me interested - be it the ‘Bop bop bop, doo dee doo, hey’ or the possible conspiracy theory implications contained within the song. Either way:

Play or Skip? - Play doo dee doo, hey!


Won't Get Fooled Again!

First things first: dear Hanson, this time you didn’t fool us. Nope. We did not fall for it at all.

I’m talking about yet another series ‘Making of’ stream in which Hanson tried to have us believe that Isaac had no lead in the EP. When the segment on “Reach Out for My Hand” was screened, it showed Taylor recording the guide vocals. A collective ‘I won’t get fooled again’ (spot another Who reference) was heard on Twitter that night: we’d been there before in 2015 when they sprung "Grace Unknown" on us without any warning, in 2016 when they didn’t play "Freak Out" in Tulsa, leading us all to believe that there would be no Isaac lead on "Play". Hanson, we’ve wised up to your mind games by now - and anyway, the song totally screamed ‘Isaac lead'. We were right.

ROFMH is very much in the style of “Nothing on Me”, a song which, by Isaac’s own admission, payed homage to masters of R&B like Booker T & the M.G.s (check out “Green Onions” and “Time is Tight” and you’ll hear the similarities). It’s the kind of song that within a few notes will have you bust those retro dance moves like an extra in Austin Powers.

On a similar note to “Nothing on Me”, “ROFMH” lyrics are rhyme heavy, but unlike NOM, this time a little more thought went into the writing other than a good use of a rhyming dictionary. So if at first this song may seem a bit of dance floor fluff, a closer look to the lyrics shows unexpected depth: 

I’m a true believer
You can’t fight what the Lord has planned
I’m not your soul redeemer
I am just a mortal man
I’m a firm believer, the worst can come from best laid plans
I’m your last reliever, offering a helping hand

Sounds familiar? If you have been paying attention to the Isaac’s podcasts, there is definitely a recurring theme going on here - faith, finding strength in yourself and those around you, asking for help. Serious stuff, once again hidden within an infectious groove in that typical Hanson way of sneaking meaningful lyrics in the most unexpected places.

When I realised that, like‘Freak Out’ in “Play”, RoFMH is actually a shared lead, my first instinct was to put in a formal complaint to HNET.  But I soon had to admit that while the song has Isaac's name written all over it, the bridge, with its high notes, belongs to Taylor; the switch in vocals midpoint keeps you interested in a tune that would offer little opportunity for Isaac to really belt it out. Add the Beatles-like harmonies layered throughout and you’ve got yourself a pretty fine song. 

It might be derivative in style and destined to be confined to Members Only live sets, but ROFMH is a better-rounded song than a straight-up Marvin Gaye rip-off like “What’s Your Name” - Isaac’s lead from 2014’s "Music Made for Humans" EP. So, although I will always tend to prefer Isaac’s ‘rock’ singing style, ROFMH will not have me banging at 3CG’s door demanding my money back.
Play or Skip? Play, it baby!


They're gonna love this one!
We always say that Hanson knows their fans and this song is a perfect case in point. Anyone who has been to a Hanson event or followed the band on a bunch of tour dates will have said, or thought, at one point, ‘I don’t want to go home’. You know when you’re immersed in a parallel world, completely detached from reality - a world without day-to-day worries, other than how to survive lining up on the pavement in the freezing cold or blistering heat. These occasions are a break from the daily grind, a breath of fresh air, when all that matters is music and friends. So trust those pesky brothers to write a song about it, and a really good one too.

IDWTGH starts with such a familiar theme - you know when you’re almost delirious with tiredness but at the same time, you’re really ‘in the moment’ and think, ‘I want to remember all of this’? Well.

Six hours 'til I'm at work
Four hours 'til I'm in bed
Trying to capture each moment
Like a picture in my head

And for all those who have travelled for these events:

God only knows all the places I'll see

(If anyone had told me a few years back that I would go to Jamaica…)

I don't want to go home
I don't want to go
All my friends are here

These guys know us. They know that the draw of these trips is not just to see them - it’s meeting up with our fanbase friends - i.e. the only people who really understand us. You can imagine Hanson watching us from backstage on a tropical beach, or from the blacked out windows of the tour bus in the middle of a busy city: they must have seen us exchange hugs and hellos - friends from different continents and hemispheres reunited for a few days a year in the name of music.
Hanson knows that every event is a reunion, where seeing friends counts as much as a selfie with the band, as anyone who has witnessed the tearful goodbyes of checkout day at BTTI will agree. And now they've put it into a song, and sold it to us. I swear, these guys are clever.

It ain't no secret where we've come from
So we wear our history
Like a badge of honor

I feel that these three lines pay homage to the 1997-era fans, who have been there since the very beginning and who have stuck by the band through thick and thin. Through these lyrics, Hanson is honouring the people who are not ashamed of being Hanson fans - the fans with the vintage merch, who can tell epic tales of shows that happened so long ago, they have now entered the Hanson lore. These are the fans who never gave up on Hanson, even when became painfully uncool to like them (I am not one of those early fans but I can certainly relate to that).

To me, IDWGH is almost like a continuation of "Musical Ride" - remember how it went?

Come
On this musical ride
With me
It might just change the life you think you're gonna lead

And now, let’s switch to the current song:

Who can say all the choices I'll make
I don't want to go home

Since becoming a fan of the band, I have made choices I didn’t expect to make. I’m not just talking about flying to countries that were never on my list; being a Hanson fan has meant no longer being afraid of being myself. Back in April 2012, by signing up to the fanclub, I also signed a declaration to the world in which I said, you know what, I like what I like, I’m uncool, and I don’t give a damn. 

When we heard IDWGH during the Making of In Color stream, the Twitter consensus was unanimous: we had another “Best of Times” (BTTI’s unofficial anthem) in our hands. And if Best of Times was originally a song about three brothers making music together for 20 years (my interpretation, and the only interpretation of the song I will ever accept), "I Don’t Want To Go Home" was absolutely, unquestionably and unequivocally written with fans in mind.

Lyrics aside and from a musical point of view, IDWGH picks up from where YCSUN left off - a guitar heavy, crowd pleasing anthem with an 80’s sound. Allow fans enough time to give the EP a few spins and I’ll bet you anything that at the next BTTI show we’ll all be raising our fists, ‘Born in the USA’ era Springsteen style, raising our glasses and saying, ‘I don’t want to go home.
If there ever was a Hanson fan anthem, “I Don’t Want To Go Home” is it. 
Play or Skip: do you really need to ask?

Recording I Lift You Up
Confession: when I first heard this song on the Making of In Color stream, I mentally switched off. Some of Zac’s slow songs can sound very samey, such as last year’s “Sirens Call” which had left me unimpressed until Zac shed light on its meaning during his solo set at this year’s BTTI. But when Hanson performed ILYU on Hanson Day 2017, I found it fascinating to hear how the song was constructed, using an iPhone app that looped the sound of Taylor and Zac’s breathing. Watching a performance in which Isaac held his phone to the microphone while Zac and Taylor shared the piano was quite ...unique. 

But I digress. What do I make of the song? Once again, I’m having to go back to the lyrics - as sounds-wise, this is never going to be my kind of thing as it’s too synth-based and artificial.
So here goes it: unless I'm delusional, this is a song about God - in the tradition of “I Am” and “Fire on the Mountain”. It shouldn’t come as a surprise, as it’s a Zac lead and his lyrics are often very spiritual - that is, when he’s not making up songs about robots and bacon.

Don't run from me now
I know you're scared like a lamb
But I'll never regret who you are
You've grown so much
To come so far
And now you're standing at the edge

To me, this is a God figure,  looking at his creation who is now ‘standing at the edge” - the edge of what? I’d say a precipice - considering how well humanity is behaving these days.

I made you all that you are
No matter how far you roam

Zac has been quoted by fans talking about redemption even for people who committed evil. Is this a nod to the possibility of salvation even for people who have strayed far from the source?
I lift you up
From the bottom of my heartache
And I, I wish you well
From the top of every summit
I weep for you

Who is weeping here? God? As someone who was brought up in the Catholic tradition, I have come across my fair share of weeping Jesus, Mary and assorted Saints. Without wanting to take this image too literally, this line could be about a Creator who is feeling the pain his creations are feeling - rather than a God sitting on a cloud, punishing humanity for their sins. I’m not religious, but a compassionate God is a God I could certainly get behind.

And if we’re going for the God interpretation, suddenly the breathing loop makes sense - didn’t the biblical God bring Adam to life by breathing on him? I rest my case.

Lyrics interpretation aside, I think ILYU is an interesting oddity, and those of us who heard it live at Hanson Day witnessed something special, which I fear will not happen again for a long time - if ever. It’s fair to say that this song’s introspective, ethereal quality does not translate well on stage - only repeat listens and a close attention to the lyrics made me truly appreciate it. Maybe Hanson will share it with us again at next year’s BTTI instead of locking it in the vault with "Grace Unknown" and other ‘difficult to perform’ EP song: I’d love to hear Zac give us some background on what inspired it and possibly find out that my interpretation is totally off the mark and that this song is actually about his favourite food.
Play or Skip? - against all odds, Play.

The Final Verdict


Although "In Color" contains no 'skips' for me (a rarity), this EP is still no “Sound of Light”, and is not going to replace “Loud” or “Play” in the contender for no. 2 or 3 of in my ‘Best Fan Club EPs Chart’. Out of five songs, there really are just two that I can see myself play over and over again - “Somebody That Wants to Love You” and “I Don’t Want To Go Home” - i.e. songs that sound like Hanson being Hanson, rather than Hanson paying homage to a different era or artist. But what sets it apart from previous EPs is that the three remaining tracks, however derivative or experimental, are still songs that I’ll enjoy listening to from time to time, especially live. No "What's Your Name" or "Show Me The Way" for me this time: I can listen to the whole thing and not have to go "lalala" when a song I don't like comes on.

Since joining in 2012, I’ve come to expect the unexpected with every fan club EP: from the eclectic, sleep-deprived quality of "No Sleep For Banditos", to the beautifully cohesive feel of "Sound of Light". I found one of my favourite Hanson songs in "Music Made for Humans" with "On The Road" but paid the price with my least favourite Isaac lead of all time in "What’s Your Name". " Inside the Box" caught us all by surprise with "Grace Unknown" and got us up on our feet with "Dance Like You Don’t Care" - a silly dance song that has since become a staple at BTTI. "Loud" was as close as it got to post-SOL perfection and its little brother "Play", although technically not a fan club EP, showed a lot of potential with great songs that could have done with a little more polishing and a little less of the Tulsa Orphanage Choir

Every EP is an opportunity for the band to try different things, and whether we like every single song or not, I love the fact that, every year, Hanson effectively says ‘here’s 5 new songs. They might not be what you expect from us, and they might be a little bit weird, but we trust you with them.’ 
Weird songs for weird people - that's what we get with every Fan Club EP, and why not? After all, we’re all a little bit weird, sometimes.


In Color is available as part of the 2017 membership to Hanson.net.

14 comments:

  1. I agree with so much of this! I definitely think of "Somebody that Wants To Love You" as 2017's version of "Stop Me In My Tracks." I didn't catch that the perspective in the song can be ambiguous, but now that you point it out, I can see it. It's very subtle and I'm not even sure intentional, but I like that it adds another layer of possibility to the song. Thanks for pointing it out!

    I actually completely agree with your assessment of "I Lift You Up" as well, despite the fact that it sounds different from mine. Someone messaged me after I posted my review and shared with me their interpretation of the song being about God. It was like a giant lightbulb went off in my head and it seemed so obvious and fitting with every line. I told myself I wouldn't go back and edit my review because it wasn't MY revelation, and I think the way I interpreted it still works in a more vague way for those that may not appreciate religious influences in Hanson's music. I do think your interpretation is spot-on, though, and I love that the song that seems the most "boring" or like a skip song at surface level actually has so much more going on when you take a closer look.

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    1. Wait wait: I totally missed your review. I see from the date that you posted it while I was at the shows - so I must catch up and then cross check your comment with the one I'll write on yours (nerd).

      I'm glad my God interpretation doesn't sound crazy. For someone who is not religious, I see God references pretty much everywhere. Maybe someone is trying to tell me something...

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    2. If you're seeing God references everywhere...well, the "Something Going Round" lyrics might be a fitting addition to your growing list ;-)

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  2. This was a great review. I agree with you, as often I do. The last track has taken more plays than most slow songs to get me on board, but I am now.

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    1. It's a sleeper, isn't it? It will never be a favourite of mine because of the music style but it's not a throwaway song. It's really beautiful in its own way.

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  3. To begin with, this is a great review. One of my favorite elements of the Hanson fan community is this little contingent of us that feels compelled to dig into songs and lyrics to try and analyze their context and meaning, and talk about how they make us feel. Thank you for taking the time to compile your thoughts and post them for discussion!! #nerds4lyfe

    Some of these songs I don't really have much more to say about than has been said: for example, I agree with the practically universal interpretation of "I Don't Want to Go Home" as an anthem for the fans. I really like how you framed it as something Hanson might have written from the perspective of watching us build friendships/bonds/memories, and put it out as a signal to us that they "get it." Awww. How could we not love that?? I don't have anything to add re: "Reach Out for My Hand" except that I think your observation about it reflecting Isaac's podcast themes is right on target. And in terms of "I Lift You Up," the theory that it is about a God figure certainly holds water, especially if Zac is as devout as the fan rumor mill suggests. For me, as a person who is actively *not* religious, Holly's interpretation of it as a song about watching a loved one struggle with depression is more relatable and meaningful. But this is a situation where I'm grateful that they kept the lyrics vague enough to work either way. We get to choose :)

    But those other 2 songs...I have thoughts on...

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    1. I'm going to read Holly's post next (she posted it during our tour here) but from what you're saying here, that explanation also makes sense. I'm an agnostic who sees God everywhere...I might need help.

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  4. Soooooo, re: "Ghostwriter." I like that you related it to "White Collar Crime" because it also reminds me of that song: Zac takes a jab at corporate phoniness. And while obviously he's never had to hold such a job, his level of familiarity with Silicon Valley hucksters and image manipulation at the executive level suggests that he has definitely been exposed to this world. Maybe he's drawing on their IDJ days, maybe as business owners they've gotten a glimpse of it, or maybe he watches Billions. And while you're not the first person I've seen suggest that "Ghostwriter" is about Hanson writing songs for other artists, I have a different theory/perspective for a couple of reasons:

    1) Writing songs for other people is a pretty common practice in the music world. There's a whole industry around it, and it's not a secret--songwriters don't typically talk about what they do as "ghostwriting." I listen to a podcast called "And The Writer Is" where songwriters for Top 40 artists talk openly about who wrote whose songs (it's great, BTW). So if Hanson/Zac have written songs for other people, it probably wasn't done under the cloak of secrecy that "Ghostwriter" implies: "hold your tongue like the man without a face/" "discretion to acquire our revenue." Maybe people have asked them to work on songs and not given them credit, I don't know, but I don't think this song is about that, because...

    2) ..."Ghostwriter" is *REALLY* spot-on in terms of describing the profession that the word "ghostwriter" really refers to: a writer who writes material for someone else who is the named author. A ghostwriter goes into an assignment knowing that part of the deal is "selling your words under someone else's name." You work closely with your client, and part of your job is to learn a lot about them/kind of get into their head so you can write believably in their voice. If you're interviewing somebody to write a book about them, or articles from their perspective, you're going to learn some things they don't want to see in print.

    And what I love most about the song is that it subtly implies a hidden agenda: "cause learning their secrets is your aim." This ghostwriter is happy to watch his/her client walk away with the "wealth and fame" -- but he/she is gathering intel to use later ("skeletons are currency"). Which is why the cheerful, upbeat sound of the song is so great/ironic--behind the bop bop bops and doo doo doo's, the ghostwriter is plotting something kind of dark and sneaky. And last but not least: the line "every story hides it secrets in our points of view" is brilliant.

    TL;DR: I'm not quite sure where Zac got this idea or how he is so familiar with the concept, but he nailed it in too much detail for me to believe any other interpretation of the song.

    I have thoughts on "Somebody That Wants to Love You" as well...but I'll save them for another time so as not to hijack this entire post...

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    1. I demand that you hijack! That's the whole point of these blog posts - to discuss!
      Your interpretation makes sense. The reason why I went for the song writing theory is that the rumour has been going round for ages. I know that writing for other artists is common, but somehow I can totally believe that Hanson would keep that secret. And also, the other artists themselves might want to keep it secret, as Hanson are not exactly well respected outside our fanbase.

      But ....hmmm yes. I think your theory wins for the reasons you highlighted in your post.

      Now, hijack, or else.

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  5. Love your review.
    My fave is IDWTGH, I'm already in pain cause I have no idea when I'm gonna listen to this song live again.
    I've been skipping ILYU, but it was a totally different experience hearing it live. It was beautiful!
    I have a feeling Zac is gonna play it in January. I hope someone records the performance, cause I really wanna see it being played live again.
    Overall, it's a great EP and it's been looping since I arrived from Tulsa 💙

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    1. I really hope he'll play ILYU in Jamaica. I'm sure someone will record it (I'm terrible with video recording but I'll ask Kait). You'll hear these songs soon- I'm sure! They might even sneak one or two into the main set at NOLA or Nashville.
      We can also ask him to via PM ;)

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  6. I really liked your review, Paola. I didn't know there were rumours about Zac being a ghostwriter - ha! My favourite songs off the EP are Somebody That Wants To Love You and I Don't Want To Go Home - just like you, I see myself playing them over and over again. As for I Lift You Up - it is unusual and not really to my liking. But perhaps you are right about the God interpretation. Whether I like some of the songs or all five is irrelevant, though - the important thing is Hanson are doing a wonderful thing by giving their fans five new songs each year <3. You are totally right about that.

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  7. Hey remember when 8ish months ago you demanded I "hijack or else"...? Better late than never, right? ;)

    OK so on "STWTLY:" I love this song for a lot of the reasons you pointed out: it's catchy, upbeat, a great vocal and tells a fun story. But the thing that adds another layer of meaning for me is that I can't help but hear "STWTLY" as the prequel to an existing song: "Record Store" by Butch Walker, from his Stay Gold album released in 2016:

    https://youtu.be/orgjnGCB4Dk

    Together, the story the two songs tell is bigger and more moving than either one alone.

    In "STWTLY" we hear from a guy in love with the "girl next door" who has grown up to achieve music stardom. The narrator sings about watching her chase her dreams, how he's loved her from the start, and how now that she's in the limelight he remains, faithfully, "somebody that wants to love you." The song captures how excited and proud he is for her--and his longing for her to love him back.

    "Record Store" revisits this same pair many years later, and things haven't turned out the way our narrator hoped. Fame has taken its toll on the woman he loves, and (spoiler alert) she picked another dude. The narrator was always afraid he wasn't quite good enough for her, but he also believes that he could have made her happy, if she'd given him the chance. He knows it's too late for them to have what he wished for all those years ago, but she remains in his life.

    It's kind of uncanny how perfectly the story lines up across the two songs, and how certain lyrics almost seem to be direct references to one another:

    STWTLY:
    Long before the spotlight / you were part of my life / more than just the girl next door/ standing on the front porch / singing "God Only Knows" / dreaming how the crowd would roar

    RS:
    I can't call you by your stage name / you're still the girl I know / that hated wearing dresses and loved the radio

    And:

    STWTLY:
    You've got yes-men in the corner / acting like they own you / mapping out the path you'll roam

    RS:
    All the cocaine and yes-men / you sadly all believed in / let you walk the wire without a net

    And:

    STWTLY:
    Head in the future / heart in Oklahoma / that's the girl I always knew

    RS:
    What if things had been different / and you ended up with me / would you have stayed in the Bible belt / and had a family?

    And finally:

    STWTLY:
    I'm just somebody that wants to love you

    RS:
    I wanna love like I loved you when I could

    The feel of the two songs also seems to fit a before-and-after narrative. "STWTLY" is exuberant, joyful, brimming over with the brightness of the future: "Record Store" is tired and resigned, but still tender and affectionate. "Somebody" has a throwback 80s vibe that makes it sound like it's from a bygone decade; "Record Store" is acoustic and timeless. Taylor's voice is younger than Butch's by some 14 years, and on these two songs that contrast is stark. Listen to them back to back ("STWTLY" and then "Record Store") and you'll see what I mean.

    I know that Hanson know Butch Walker, and that they have performed/hung out together in the past. But I don't think the parallels between "STWTLY" and "Record Store" are necessarily deliberate--it's probably a coincidence that they both landed on this story, but ended up telling it from two very different perspectives, yielding two very different songs that just happen to fit together like pieces of the same puzzle. And that might be the coolest part.

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    1. That is one of the coolest Nerd-outs I've read in a long time. I'm going to listen to Record Store again now...!

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