Special Documentary Film Podcast - It's A Thing!: The Greatest Show That No One Saw

A few weeks ago, our noble heroes and podcasters-extraordaire journeyed to San Francisco's Fringe Festival, set on performing It's A Thing! before a live, in theatre audience. Things didn't turn out quite the way the boys hoped, but in the interest of lemonade and documentaries, Mikey and Jared turned the bullshitstorm of disappointment into a crafty expression of emotion, frustration, love and proper pronunciation of common words. So, like with the train wrecks and car wrecks of old, look upon the tragedy of two young men's lives and gawk and laugh! This is It's A Thing!: The Greatest Show That No One Saw... live, in pre-recorded, streaming internet video! Also, go to itsathingshow.com, for special, exclusive web-tastic updates!
It's A Thing: The Greatest Show That No One Saw from Mikey Joseph O'Connor on Vimeo.
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Feist - Metals

Seeing official release next week, Leslie Feist's long-awaited new album Metals, having been teased through a short, documentary-style video in the last two months, is now available in a free stream form. Other than entering your email address, with the extra gift of getting emails from indie-rock-goddess-wondercrush Leslie Feist, we are also treated to another year-alteringly exceptional album. Metals finds a strong and mature spot between the more spare Let It Die and 2007's breakout, pop-strong The Reminder, and Feist feels more confident than ever to concoct sprawling, orchestral soundscapes that both dazzle and frighten. This is another case, as with Bon Iver and St. Vincent earlier this year, where an artist comes to us in 2011 with a new release that offers a sort of climactic magic that both reinvents and summarizes their entire catalog. Metals isn't so different from anything you've heard before either, and like the artists I've just mentioned, Feist delivers on her central promise. You will receive great lyrics, beautiful vocals, big, emotional material, and moments of overwhelming rock... plus, now more than ever before, there's a healthy dose of experimentation.

Opening with the duet-ish "The Bad in Each Other," Feist seems ready to continue the romantic dialogue she has started so long ago. It's a sincere and tender song, but one that also has a sturdy, somewhat grungy structure. "Graveyard," though, implies a sort of drive for reinvention and invigoration. The refain, "Bring them all back to life" that closes the track is energizing and a little creepy. This is a pop song at the strangest extreme, not quite as grungy and complicated as St. Vincent's work, but still theatrical. And that's really the word for the whole album. Metals is theatrical. The beautiful, jazzy, and mournful "Caught a Long Wind" follows. It's like classic Feist. Rather, it is classic Feist, but later in the timeline. "How Come You Never Go There" is likely one of the first songs from the album that will catch fire in the mainstream. It has a swagger and bounding nature that's both sultry and direct. Of course, "A Commotion" will be up there too, with it's nearly Fiery Furnaces-style mashing of keys and driving drums. Feist's syncopated vocals and the barked, all-male chorus, will stick this song in your head. Then comes "The Circle Married the Line," which beautifully paints a lovelorn story of the kind we are used to from Feist. It is nearly a showtune, but there's enough darkness mixed in with the hope and nursery rhyme aspects that it will never be confused.

"Bittersweet Melodies" opens with a subtle background drone... cymbals and guitar feedback. Then Feist comes cooing in. It's a beautiful song, sweet and chirpy, but still there's an underlying sadness throughout. The jazzy and gorgeous "Anti-Pioneer" is all sliding and twanging guitars mixed with a subtle back beat that almost screams out. Layers of vocals give parts of the song a muddled, complicated quality, too. It's a beautiful tapestry of a song. "Undiscovered First" has some of the most rocking and chaotic instrumentation on the album. It's one of my favorites, possibly the best track on the album. The beautiful, folksy "Cicadas and Gulls" offers up the intimate kind of Feist we loved from Let It Die. And the penultimate track "Comfort Me" is one of the most gorgeous songs of all time, with rattling guitar and vulnerable lyrics. And it may be the best track on the album too. It's something here because Metals builds steam and gets better as it goes. It grows more vibrant and aggressive, leaving the early calm quiet behind. The closer, "Get It Wrong, Get It Right" is just insanely, perfectly, immensely beautiful.

Like the driftwood-built "F" on the album cover, Metals is both sturdy and vulnerable. It is a structure that can hold itself up, but also one that needs only a great wind or fire to muddle the works. It is representative of life, but itself not alive. And that speaks to the cool opening, and hefty beats that populate the record. Get Metals when it comes out on October 4th. And listen to it before hand through Feist's website, www.listentofeist.com.
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Jens Lekman - An Argument With Myself

Other than last summer's website only mash-up compilation track "A Summer in 3/4 Time," Jens Lekman has been quietly touring the world, playing his music, but not churning out a whole lot new material. That feels especially savage considering Night Falls Over Kortedala came out way back in 2007. So, with An Argument With Myself, a relatively meager 5 song offering, Jens has definitely had plenty of time to sort out, fine tune and whittle away the bark from the good wood. The great news is that he was entirely successful. An Argument With Myself is 5 perfectly designed tracks, none of which are as sweepingly orchestral as his last release, but each having the tender, delicate, melodramatic heart that we've come to expect. It's also a compilation of perfect pop. The only problem is that it's so short. But, as my friend Ian said just the other day, "would you rather have a full album with 5 good songs, or an EP comprising ONLY good songs?" The answer, I think we can all agree, is the latter. Although, Lekman's blog provides a quality of Smalltalk unique to him, which we can all nearly validate as extended insight.

"An Argument With Myself," the song, is a post-Paul Simon-Samba-African pop track that covers the eerie travels of a man throughout the city streets and around his own mind. It is as much a prose poem, an essay and a diatribe as it is a song. Especially highlighted by a spoken word section in which Lekman likens backpackers exiting a reggae show to a "tidal wave of vomit." "Waiting For Kirsten" posits a hypothetical situation in which a dreamy, lovelorn Jens and friend wait for Kirsten Dunst outside her hotel. It has a distinctly just-post-'90s vibe about it, and it's nothing if not catchy and hopelessly romantic. Jens spends much of the song trying to convince Kirsten that life is different where she is, that she needn't hide. It's cute. And for a Jens fan, it is wheelhouse. "A Promise" is one of the most, dare I say, promising tracks on the EP. It has a defined and unique sound, combining strings with a sort of calypso percussion, and it also has the deepest, darkest version of Jens. I'll rank it number one on the disc... with a bullet. "New Directions" is also promising, with bright horns and great backing vocals. It's the most ornate track on the collection and one that feels a little rambling, but in the enjoyable, Lekman-esque way. "So This Guy At My Office" has a reggae beat to it, and a casual demeanor, as if it's not too concerned with being a song at all. It is good, with Lekman's paranoia seeping through the lyrics, but it's also as much an experiment with style as a full-on commitment. Though, the EP as a whole is that way.

For Lekman fans, An Argument With Myself is a brilliant addition to the collection. It is wonderful, peaceful, summery, and pop-ready. It is twee at points, melodramatic at others, and on-the-nose often, but those are aspects one must love about Jens to love him. In offering 5 great tracks, rather than 9 mediocre ones, Lekman has at least tided us over. But the appetite continues and will require a full-length response soon. Jens? Someone must find your reviews, right? Pass it on. We want more. Thank you. Listen to the EP below, then buy it. It's 8 bucks. What do you want, a sandwich?

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Twist and Shout In-store Concert - Eric Johnson and Andy Cabic

Twist and Shout is a wonderful record store because it not only trumps all competition in selection and vibe, but they make a habit of inviting bands to play short, intimate, wonderful sets in the store too. For fans of Fruit Bats (and I am one) and fans of Vetiver (and I am newly intrigued), last night Twist and Shout welcomed the bands' respective leaders Eric Johnson and Andy Cabic. Johnson and Cabic sat atop zebra-print stools on a small stage in the back of the building, in an area where some of the LPs generally stand and they were accompanied by two, one from each band, electric guitarists who sat aside their amps. As shows go, it was a short one, and unpolished, but in the most heavenly positive way. Johnson, Cabic and the guitarists shared quiet whispers back and forth, as they chose which songs to play and even discussed chord progressions, scales, tuning and the like. At one point Johnson and Cabic even joked with us that we, the small audience of perhaps 40 or more, would know how to play all of the songs by the end too. They were close to right. The beauty of being that close to the band, when the band is parts of two bands who haven't really played together is that you can see how being a musician and collaborating is always complicated. If you don't know, you don't know, so you try your best to keep up.

Johnson and Cabic harmonized amazingly, performing two songs by Vetiver, two by Fruit Bats and one cover of Loudon Wainwright III's "The Swimming Song." They closed on the Fruit Bats' excellent "When You Love Somebody." And after that great song, which is still stuck in my head this morning, the guys quietly took down the stage, spoke with the audience, and signed autographs. It's always staggering to be that close to a band, to feel the creation and artistic expression at that close proximity. It's also a continuing reminder that bands, rock stars, artists, are often humble, kind, slightly embarrassed people. They are real. It's essentially a halo of amazing creative and expressive energy with an amazing, immersive presence. But, enough new age-y talk. There will be video to come. Check back for updates.
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Various Artists - SPIN's Newermind

We're getting to the point, now in 2011, where many of the bands we grew up with (by "we" here I mean me and my late-20's early 30's contemporaries) are going to become "classic rock," at least in the traditional definition. Once a car is 20 years old it can be registered with classic plates. Music is much the same. Only people, probably because we always assume each of us is an instant classic, avoid this time-linkage. Still, here we are, living in a world where an album like Modest Mouse's triumphant The Moon & Antarctica is already 11 years old. That wonderful album is five years from getting behind the wheel of some hybridized new Beetle with 48" wheels and a Coca-Cola dispenser. (Yes, the future WILL BE that strange.) What is showing itself to be inevitable now though, is the rapid and undaunted onslaught of tributes, mash-ups and reworkings. And those are the ones that require some additional creative input. There will also be endless remasterings and re-releases. And I'm not really complaining about this. I think it's a wonderful, monster-hugging, lovable sort of thing. I embraced the Smiths tribute cover album Covered that was released in full-form earlier this year, despite some of its holes and miscues. So, when SPIN, the venerable music rag, released Newermind, a tribute to Nirvana's 1991 (on my birthday no less, I turned 10) album Nevermind with loads of covers by great artists, well, I got a little excited.

I'll admit, I was 10 when Nevermind came out. I didn't listen to it at length, really, for another couple years. Largely, this was due to my parent's divorce, and the fact that I had MTV at my mom's for the first time. Also, there's the middle school factor. I can remember at least that I liked it. It was different from the other pop and rock around. I won't dare state here or anywhere else that I "knew they'd be HUGE" or some shit like that, but I will say that it was intriguing to me, and a little dangerous, what with the baby swimming for cash. The bottom line though, is that this album ended up altering a lot of lives. And it is one of the first albums I remember having that was LOADED from start to finish. And most of the bands that caught on after couldn't create this prolifically. Nevermind is just insanely good. Newermind, the tribute, is close, but it has its failings. It also has versions of these songs that refresh the original. There's a lot of artistic bulk around these digital songs, so it's hard to imagine a full failure. There are just some very minor ones. And that's okay.

Meat Puppets open with "Smells Like Teen Spirit" and do a fairly conventional, true-to-the-original version of the song. It is solid. Butch Walker & The Black Widows cover "In Bloom" very well too. But things get weird with "Come As Are You Are" as performed by Midnight Juggernauts as a dreamy, wistful, pixie-land acid trip. Titus Andronicus comes in and blasts "Breed" straight out the stadium. It's brilliant. As are the next two tracks, wherein the album gains real steam and inspiration. The Vaselines version of "Lithium" is pristine, perfect and impeccable. (Don't even try to pecc it!) And Amanda Palmer comes in to do a sweet, haunting and wonderful version of "Polly." You cannot miss those two tracks, even if you don't care for Nirvana. Surfer Blood does great with "Territorial Pissings." But Foxy Shazam's version of "Drain You" has the energy and force of classic Queen, slightly watered down, slightly loaded with horns. Then Jessica Lea Mayfield brings some sweet, silky vocals to "Lounge Act." It may be the best track of the last handful, for it's spare qualities. Charles Bradley & The Menahan Street Band just murder "Stay Away" by infusing it will soul and funk and the tricky wobbles of classic Motown... plus, Bradley is 62. Telekinesis does a serviceable and poppy version of "On A Plain" that's also really fucking fun and straightforward. Jeff the Brotherhood covers "Something in the Way" nicely, really dragging the slow sad pace of the track out into the open and covering it in fuzz. But EMA's version of "Endless Nameless" closes the album on a grungy, overdrive-heavy, raucous and screaming note. It's a brilliant finish.

The album is free through SPIN at their website linked here. You'll have to give SPIN your email to download it, but it's a valuable addition for Nirvana fans, sonic archivists, and those who wish to see old dogs (songs) perform new tricks.
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Fela Soul - Gummy Soul Mixtape by Amerigo Gazaway

In a world overwhelmed with shitty remakes and re-hashings of past ideas (see the remakes of Charlie's Angels, Beauty and the Beast - the Linda Hamilton one, not the Disney one, and George Lucas' BluRay re-release of the all 6 Star Wars films now with EVEN MORE digital effect tampering) it's pleasing, hell, wonderful, to see the mixtape revolution occurring in our music world. Of course, all the mash-ups and mixtapes are really re-hashings of bygone material. And yes, this type of manipulation, taking the already created by someone creative and turning it into something new potentially reeks of the same stink emanating from the "genius" outlined parenthetically above. But the beauty of this new sub-culture is that it requires an immense amount of skill to do properly. A fine mash-up or mixtape requires intimate, broad knowledge of the groups involved. Now, I made a case like this when reviewing Girl Talk's All Day, but he is a man who deals primarily in volume. You have to know music to be Girl Talk. You have to understand the pieces and understand narrative structure so when you drop Boston or Bell Biv DeVoe mid-track, it has to hit hard but not take over. That's a different skill set.

With Fela Soul, a mixtape via Gummy Soul, built by Amerigo Gazaway, and featuring Fela Kuti and De La Soul, the skill set is far different. More difficult, perhaps, perhaps not, but certainly different. What Gazaway does so well on the 9 tracks is assemble brand new, stand-alone works that also call-back credibly to their original source. It helps that Fela Kuti's jazz, afrobeat, fusion tracks fit well with the syncopated early beats of De La Soul, but Gazaway doesn't just put them together, the common mash-up problem, he lovingly paints with each on a single sonic canvas. So, it's only two groups combined, unlike the Girl Talk excess, but it's also done with such authority and knowledge that neither feels underwhelming, or underutilized. What comes out is one of the most enjoyable mash-ups of 2011. By far, too. It's just really fucking good. You will lose yourself in the bright, cascading horns and fire-starting rhymes. Add in the inclusion of MF Doom on "Rock Co.Kane Flow," Redman on "Ooh," Yummy on "Much More" and a special cover of the Gorillaz' "Feel Good Inc." featuring De La Soul, and there's no denying the quality and the excellence.

So, really, this is less a review than a thank you note to Amerigo Gazaway, Gummy Soul and their great efforts. Of course, we thank De La Soul and Fela Kuti too. And the Gorillaz. And the muthafuckin' internet! Listen to Fela Soul in the stream below. Download it for free. Own it, love it, and cherish the new movement in music.
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Podcast: It's A Thing! #15.5

Since Jared and Mikey are performing live for San Francisco's Fringe Festival, and because they have been away for the last couple weeks, here's a little stopgap, bonus, wonderpod! We get the final word from Mikey's dad regarding that whole broken leg, scooter incident. Don't worry, it's thrice as wonderful as you can imagine. If you're in SF, hit the old Exit Theater. You can find out about the event here... And as always, enjoy...

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Words On Film: Never Let Me Go vs. The Island

Watch out for spoilers! I probably won't say it again, so if you haven't seen 2010's beautiful, if sometimes slightly off-step film Never Let Me Go (or the 2005 film The Island), and do not want to know how it goes, cease your ingress now. Both of these films deal with medical science gone to its next semi-logical extreme. And both deal with the complex notions and rules that define each of us as human, or to use a vile, Republican vernacular, "persons." But, really, both movies are about clones. Clones specifically created for organs, or to be the "data back-up" for some wealthy individual somewhere who no longer fears having cancer or heart disease when new bits and gibblets are OTC. The approaches between these films are very different. And most especially in their presentation of the protagonists. Because in both cases, Science (capital S) is the villain...

First, Michael Bay's The Island, starring Ewan McGregor and Scarlett Johansson hits the action and sci-fi side of the issue as Lincoln Six Echo (McGregor) and Jordan Two Delta (Johansson) grow up in a jump-suited, ideal of Tomorrowland world bubble. They believe that the world outside has been contaminated and that life outside is impossible. But there's one place called the Island (right!?) where fresh air, water and other Earthly delights exist without contamination. The people inside their bubble compete to win a lottery that sends them there... to, for lack of a better term "heaven on Earth." But, over the course of the film we learn that the Earth is fine, just like we remember it, and Lincoln and Jordan are, in fact, clones of wealthy people who need some extra organs. Along with everyone else inside their eternal indoor prison. And, oh yeah, that Island, well, it's a myth... when you win and go there, you actually just get harvested because someone drank their first (or second) liver away. Upon discovering the truth, Lincoln and Jordan run, Logan-style, and learn about the world that they didn't really know at all. You see, these clones are naive. They know nothing of their world. They only know the tiny ordered, systems they are placed in to keep them sane, but not smart enough to revolt. Science has made people it can control... for organs... until, well, Science can't control them anymore. And in typical Bay-fashion, shit blows up all over the goddamn screen. And people, well, even as clones, we are human... we have personhood, so Lincoln and Jordan help all the clones escape... and then get to fuck on a boat (implied, not shown).

But, Never Let Me Go takes a different route. A film not directed by Bay, there are exponentially less explosions, helicopter chases and action sequences. In fact, there are none. Brooding and contemplation are the names of the game for Kathy H. (Carey Mulligan), Ruth (Keira Knightley) and Tommy D. (Andrew Garfield). Opening at a typical British boarding school, Never Let Me Go holds onto the revelation of clone-person-ship until shortly before the end of the first act. Instead, we see these characters, first through child actors, behaving as normal kids, and told merely that they are special so they must never smoke or do other detrimental things that may harm their health. When a caring teacher tells them the truth, that they will grow to be young adults and then be harvested, the children do not react. They have no concept of the reality befalling them. They are too young to know that they aren't just children. Over time, though, they come to terms with it, insofar as they acknowledge that they are clones. But rather than run, or fight, or escape, Kathy, Ruth and Tommy simply trudge forth to their destiny like chip-registered cattle. They fall in love and they want, but they also seem so resigned to their fates that they barely have to will to be "persons" at all. The greatest tragedy of Never Let Me Go comes from a last ditch effort, one that is meant to merely defer Kathy and Tommy's deaths so they can be together. It turns out to be a hoax, a fairytale concoction. Mulligan's Kathy, after losing both of her friends to "completion" (the Science term for dying because there aren't enough organs left to support the clone) and learning that she too will begin donations soon, looks out over a pastoral plain and contemplates whether her life is actually any less meaningful than someone who lived a "full life." Her final argument being that time isn't as valuable as experience because we all "complete."

For The Island, clones are charming, naive and childish, but quickly learn, only because of a failure in the system, what they are and what will happen to them. From there... it's just any action movie. It's Total Recall. For Never Let Me Go, clones are charming, naive and childish, but slowly learn about life (not because they lack the capacity, but because they seem to lack the need) in a system that NEVER fails to keep them in line. From there... it's a tragedy, but a tempered one. It's a more painful tragedy. As viewers we can't do anything to halt the system, to at least save Mulligan's Kathy. They won't run. We can't make them. So, while both films show Science gone awry. And both films imply that the wealthy will access the greatest care in the future with no regard for the human life created to meet their requirements. Only Bay's action flick offers humanity an escape. Instead, Never Let Me Go leaves us with a lamentful thought and, perhaps, the knowledge that some people (the teachers at the Clone Academy) fought to show that all these kids have souls. Where The Island becomes a thriller, Never Let Me Go turns to the dour reality of bureaucracy. It shows that if we started growing humans for harvest today, there would be opposition, but only from those who cared never to benefit. It asks a greater question about human nature. And poses the terrifying answer that each of us will almost always look out for ourselves given the chance.

Same premise. Same theme. Same Science villain. One side tells of revolution, allegorical American resistance. The other side tells of silent, disappointed whispers as life is yanked from three kids piece by piece. They ask the same questions. What is human life? What makes you a person? Who deserves to die in the name of another? But these films ask them in different ways. And the elegance and inflection is what makes the questions most resonant. Remember to look at the people you pass on the street and see them as people, persons, like you. If you actively do that, you will feel differently. That's all.
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St. Vincent - Strange Mercy

There will be no arguments, no complaining, and definitely no temper tantrums. The only acceptable reaction is quiet distemper, with a heaping side of malicious mischief. Strange Mercy, St. Vincent's forthcoming third album, is all of those things, and because of its epic, complex, multi-layered awesomeness, you will listen to it and you will buy it. It is a commandment. And it's also in the title. Strange Mercy is an album throughout which, to her greatest ability thus far, Tulsa's Annie Clark combines the austere creepiness of noir fantasy with pure vocal and melodic beauty. On one hand, this new album is her strangest, her darkest and her most directly lamentative, but it's also her most enlightened, most sweepingly arranged and most brilliant. Strange Mercy hearkens back to some of the softer side that made 2007's Marry Me so revelatory, lightening up on the grungy guitar rasp of 2009's Actor. But where Annie Clark cuts back on the heavy sounds, she fills in with tone and mood accents that up the creepiness as necessary, and in turn, exponentially up the tension between horror and beauty, strange and merciful.

Opening with the hypnotizing, unsettling "Chloe in the Afternoon," Strange Mercy sets its psychologically weighty tone immediately. But it's with "Cruel," and its video appeared here just a short while ago, and "Cheerleader" that the beauty-horror meets best with complex harmonies, pristine vocals and themes that stagger and mystify as they entertain. On the former, Clark sings of the abuse that lies in not valuing oneself, letting oneself be taken and then taken advantage of. On the latter, easily my favorite track after two listens, she intones "I don't want to be a cheerleader any more," in haunting, gorgeous tones. The ante is upped once more with "Surgeon" and the building, energetic and boil-over-into-electronics beauty of "Northern Lights." What's clear, through the first half of Strange Mercy is that St. Vincent is no longer just an idea about making palatable indie rock that's a little unsettling. It's now about making unsettling rock that is undeniably palatable... even lovable.

"Strange Mercy" reins the chaos in a bit, with a synthy, echoing track that is half love letter, half ransom note. Even as Clark's beautiful vocals say wonderful things, there's a hint of danger, especially when she speaks of what she'll do if she ever "meet[s] the dirty police man who roughed you up." On "Neutered Fruit" a choral beginning turns quickly to a feeling of ghosts moaning in the darkness. The guitar, with some especially strong riffs, comes through most here. "Champagne Year" has a very Leonard Cohen quality, but with another point of dark self-reflection as Clark sings "I make a living, telling people what they want to hear." The rest of the song is spent qualifying that choice, slowly, sweetly, but somewhat desperately. "Dilettante" is more direct, with crunchier guitars and a stronger rock vibe. With a jaunty, wobbling beat, "Hysterical Strength" lives and dies by fuzziness and a sense that there's nearly a olde timey piano fight about to occur, in ghost town. But it's on "Year of the Tiger" that St. Vincent really knocks everything out of the park. A heavy bass drum breaks down to a very beautiful acoustic guitar strum that while spare feels powerful and complete. Moments like these, where an album diverges from most of its previous sound, make me wonder if it's a hint of things to come. It's a beautiful song.

Strange Mercy is available for a limited time through NPR's First Listen. You can also pre-order it through the official Beggars Group website. I suggest you do both.
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Josie Charlwood covers "Feel Good Inc."

Here's your holy-shit-how-wonderful-is-the-universe moment of the day. Josie Charlwood, whose great tunage can be purchased here, does a madcap super-looping cover of the Gorillaz "Feel Good Inc." And guess what, it's better than everything, ever! Observe the various personas she takes on easily and god-damn-staggeringly. And you know, listen to it 5 - 100 times, because that's what Friday's are for. That and ice cream sandwiches. Gorgeous. And 'like' her on facebook too... unless you're a goon.

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