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Each week on the FACT Singles Club, a selection of our writers work their way through the new music of the week gone by.

With the way individual tracks are now consumed, the idea of what constitutes a single has shifted dramatically in the last half a decade, and its for this reason that the songs reviewed across the next six pages are a combination of 12″ vinyl releases, mixtape cuts, Soundcloud uploads and more. All are treated equally – well, most of the time – with DJ Mustard, Gucci Mane, Joker, Cold Cave, Yeah Yeah Yeahs and more in the line of fire.

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Gucci Mane – ‘Hell Yes’ (7.5)

Chris Kelly:
Hell yes! Gucci as Future is a concept I can get behind. While he’s used Autotune in the past, this is the first time Gucci has aped Future’s brand of emotional honesty, too. C.N.O.T.E plucks a simple piano melody and — apart from a few sprinkles of synth — is generally unshowy on the beat, which allows Gucci to carry the mournful melody. There are some awkward bars where he struggles to do that, but amid the deluge of Gucci, this one stands out. (8)

John Twells: What can you say about Gucci that hasn’t been said already? The man’s not only a face-tatted legend, but he’s grabbed more FACT column inches in 2013 than probably any other. Thankfully his off-mic exploits aren’t the only reason he’s been busy this year, and after five (count ‘em) mixtapes he’s amassed a fair few hard-hitting tracks. ‘Hell Yes’ is a taster of the forthcoming Trap House III and reframes the rapper as a sensitive lover a-la Future’s ‘Neva End’. It’s not the first time Gucci’s played this role, and it suits him down to the ground as he robotically coos over a slick, cinematic beat. Gucci’s playing to my weaknesses here with his autotuned charm and surreal serenading, and it works wonders. He might be banged up in jail at the moment, and to be honest he probably did glass that dude in the face, but it doesn’t make ‘Hell Yes’ any less phenomenal. FREE GUCCI! (9)

Joe Muggs: Trippy as all get-out… there’s moments in this when the vocal processing is more “Hamburger Lady” than it is Akon. The “clean” version edits, where “bitch”, “nigga” etc are each slithered down into silence just make it all the weirder, like holes you can see the void through. Gives me the fear massively. (8)

Steve Shaw: Hell yes. Loving the blubbery over-use of autotune, the proper lean, sombre delivery and tired sadness of it all. The piano is like old Tommy Wright III tapes, the guitar and synths like Z-Ro, and, for some reason I can’t quite work out, he reminds me a little of Vybz Kartel here – which is instant points. (8)

Joe Moynihan: “Now it’s Wop’s turn” – when Gucci had that brief identity crisis on Twitter not too long ago (in which he announced he was changing his name to Guwop, before changing it back again half an hour later) I was reminded why, for all his troubles – creative and otherwise – I find him so endearing. Schizophrenic tendencies often do harm to an artist, but not Gucci, as displayed in this latest endeavour where he earnestly tries his hand at auto-crooning. It still bears his trademark intoxicated wooziness, but it’s at once buoyant and welcomingly melancholic. Maybe this is what Wop’s turn was supposed to sound like. I like. (7)

Maya Kalev: I’m torn. On the one hand, this is gorgeous romantic Future-istic melodic hip-hop; on the other, it can’t hold a candle to ‘Turn On The Lights’. Still, it is what it is, and in that sort of pervy, trappy, autotuned way, ‘Hell Yes’ is kind of brilliant. Perhaps my main gripe with it is one I have with virtually all Maybach / Freebandz / OVO / Complex Mag rap these days: everything sounds like it’s been made in the same studio, by the same clutch of producers, using the same presets, to the same brief. It’s all very polished and glossy but though a beat might be technically good, it’s seldom interesting and never raw. Even though he’s not a very (or indeed remotely) good singer, it’s nice to hear Gucci branching out. Plus, “I made my girl so proud / I know her inside out, I know her upside down” is a great line. (6)

Tom Lea: What always gets me about Gucci is it’s one thing having his workrate – five mixtapes and one jail stint already this year on top of 2013’s most talked-about sex scene – and knocking out tons of raps and guest spots, but the hooks are always so good too. That’s really something – though maybe he has a team doing them the same way he has one rolling his blunts, I don’t know. Best Future track since ‘Turn On the Lights’. but still unmistakably Gucci. (9)

Chal Ravens: One day our grandchildren will sit on our knees and ask why pop stars in the olden days wanted to sound like robots. “Why would anybody want to be a machine?” they’ll demand, pointing at the eyeless SerfBot 3300 hoovering the skirting board. “Because sweetie,” we’ll explain, “when robots cry, it’s the saddest sound in the world.” Autotune should be so played out by now, but hearing Gucci Mane whimper “Please don’t leave me now girl, I need you” is inexplicably touching. (6)

Laurent Fintoni: I’m not the biggest Gucci Mane fan but I can see the appeal on a song like this. The piano loop and subtle build up throughout is a refreshing change from the trap overkill. HELL YES. (7)

Yeah Yeah Yeahs – ‘Under the Earth’ (6.9)

Audio here


John Twells: I’ve got to say that if I hear a track with overt tape echo sounds there’s probably a 90% chance I’m going to dig it, I’m just that shallow. Thankfully I already had a soft spot for the Yeah Yeah Yeahs so at least I don’t have to look like a total gear nerd. Karen O sounds perfect here, crowing over those rolling echoes as if she’s trying to recapture the ‘about to crack’ charm of YYYs career highlight (and Rock Band fave for teens the world over) ‘Maps’, and she nails it. It’s nice to hear a pre-album leak that’s not totally bombastic, too. Who knows, maybe not totally underestimating your audience could pay off in the long run. (7)

Joe Muggs: The dub stuff is well done, if laid on a bit thick, and the cheap chopsocky soundtrack melodies are good. Proper cool dive bar track. (7)

Steve Shaw: Yeah Yeah Yeah (yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah…). Dub delay-tastic (-ic –ic –ic –ic –ic –ic –ic –ic –ic –ic –ic –ic –ic –ic…) (8)

Chris Kelly: Trading synth-pop for lo-fi, Karen O’s “Down, down under the earth / there’s another lover” lyric could very well be about the band’s latest evolution. Healthy doses of feedback and percussion make this the band’s noisiest song in some time, even though the trio has settled into a psychedelic pocket that trades enthusiasm for maturity. (6)

Joe Moynihan: This is the side of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs I don’t really care too much for to be honest. For all the nice juxtapositions going on between Karen O, the choirs, the fuzzy bass guitars and excessive delay tomfoolery, this track just meanders around aimlessly without ever touching on anything too interesting. My expectations are probably way too high, but this is a band that wrote ‘Y-Control’, ‘Tick’ and ‘Maps’, so I think that’s justified. (4)

Maya Kalev: Where on records like Fever to Tell, the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s edginess was born from retro punk pastiche that was all leather and glitter and oil, and would have sounded completely dated were it not for Karen O’s irresistible magnetism and bizarre persona, here the YYYs go for breezy, dubby noir production that allows them to retain the rebellious vibe while sounding vaguely enigmatic and a bit more grown up. Karen O, her vocal sugary but emotionally detached, sings “Milk you for what you’re worth / And call it murder,” and it’s to her credit that the prospect sounds pretty appealing. The hook’s fantastically catchy, and with that thick blunt bassline, washes of reverb and languid minimal wave keys, ‘Under the Earth’ is definitely a winner. (8)

Laurent Fintoni: I like this. I don’t actually know who the Yeah Yeah Yeahs are, which indicates how little attention I pay to things or a poor choice of commentators for this here column. Or both. But this is solid. The dubby touches are great, it’s got a real vibe. Now excuse me while I go edumacate myself. (8)

Chal Ravens: YYYs go wall of sound-meets-cosmic dub. Not as catchy as previous single ‘Sacrilege’, but on the other hand it’s not bloated by gospel choir histrionics, and that’ll do me. Funny, when you compare YYYs’ slow-burn career to their burnt-out contemporaries (Strokes, Interpol, Rapture, etc.), it’s obvious they were drinking from a different watering hole all along. A clear thumbs up. (7)

Kingdom feat. Kelela – ‘Bank Head’  (6.5)


Joe Muggs: This is clearly someone who’s deep into their R&B, definitely no slapdash adoption of the signifiers for cheap effect (though that can work too). There’s a Minnie Ripperton thing going on as well, not just from the falsetto but the expansive chord structures of it all… Mmm… Luxurious. (8)

Joe Moynihan: Kingdom has always had this wonderful knack for cosmic, spacious textures and this tune is no exception. Built up of little more than never-ending handclaps, phased out pads and some skittering percussion (all drowned in reverb, of course), ‘Bank Head’ is essentially a subdued showreel of Kingdom’s typical traits stripped back enough to let Kelela just go in and glide above it. As twinkling as the synths are, her voice totally outshines them all, with the beat providing just the right degrees of movement. A track made for the clubs yet to have been built on Mars. (7)

John Twells: This is just massive, I want to compare it to Sneaker Pimps’ ‘Six Underground’ but I know I’ll probably get shanked for that. Kingdom’s untouchable at the moment (along with the rest of the Slugs crew) and this doesn’t just show off his endearingly spacious production but it introduces us to a new star in the shape of Kelela. He’s a rare producer that doesn’t feel the need to drop in needless flourishes to shine a light on his skill; rather his talent is rooted in the ability to hold the fuck back and let the music do its thing. (8)

Steve Shaw: ‘Bank Head’ is somewhere in the run-up to the big r ‘n’ b guns it aspires to, and has a little way to go yet. Kelela is a dream though, the falsettos are amazing. I’m impressed that this is only FADE006; the label’s really coming into its own now. (7)

Maya Kalev: ‘Bank Head’ feels like every overrated trend of the last few years crammed into one song. A clap that sounds fresh and crisp at the beginning grows stale after about five bars; the percussion feels forced, fussy but pale and uninteresting, and I’m not especially keen on the vocal either, which is all range and no depth. I like Kingdom’s label but I this track just misses the mark. As a sort of general rule, if electronic music isn’t going to be cerebral – and ‘Bank Head’ is about as intellectually challenging as Aqua, minus the pop nous – it should at the very least make you want to move. But this just leaves me cold, something no amount of hazy, spaced-out production can make up for. (3)

Laurent Fintoni: I’m not a fan of Kingdom, or the whole scene (whatever it may be) his stuff is normally attached to, but the lack of a drop and the bottom heavy kicks do it for me on this one. The pitched vocals however can go away thanks. (6)

Chal Ravens: If only Kelela’s voice was as exciting as her hair (see also: Emeli Sande; Katy Perry; Iggy Azalea). A substantial improvement on her vocal for Teengirl Fantasy’s awful ‘EFX’ but still desperately anonymous – is it a club track? It’s not much fun. Is it a pop song? There’s no proper hook. The chilly backdrop and plasticky handclaps are alright, but I’m not enjoying myself at all. (4)

Chris Kelly: The addition of Kelela takes the ‘Bank Head’ instrumental to the next level. Between the handclaps and pitched-up Eastern synths, this needed vocals to punctuate its soothing textures and give it a sense of drama: now it builds to the  climax of Kelela’s “and I need to let it out” lyric. And let it out she does: Kelela’s voice has a character somewhere between the playfulness of Yukimi Nagano and the sensuality of (wait for it) Aaliyah. (9)

Cold Cave – ‘God Made the World’ (4.3)


Joe Muggs: Nah. I don’t mind coldwave or whatever we’re supposed to call retro electropop this year, but it’s got to be either weird enough in the production or strong enough in the songwriting to carry it off and this is neither. It just bored me, then, probably as a result of the repetition of “the first time” line I got a flash of memory of this, which I haven’t heard in god knows how many years and even though it doesn’t actually really sound anything like it, I had to go off and play that on Youtube five times instead, and then it got completely stuck in my head, and when I came back to Cold Cave the weakness of the songwriting just stood out even more. But yeah and the new Depeche Mode album is out and is amazing, and throws it into relief even more. Not good. (3)

Chris Kelly: Factory Records has always been an element of Cold Cave’s sound, but does it have to be the only element? I’m resigned to the fact that Cold Cave is more Cherish The Light Years than Love Comes Close (or God forbid, Cremations) at this point, but I’m not sure that this one is necessary. (2)

John Twells: I love Cold Cave, honestly I do, but sadly I just can’t hack this one. It’s fine, you know – everything’s in the right place and it does what it does with just the right kind of energy but it just sounds so much like an old Factory recording that it’s hard to take seriously. All it does is make me want to dig up my Joy Division and New Order LPs and listen to those instead, which isn’t the highest praise. Saying that, the single’s B-Side ‘Dandelion’ is rock solid. (5)

Steve Shaw: If you like your Pulp in leather chaps, this is for you. I didn’t realise I did, but now I am converted. (7)

Joe Moynihan: Pretty standard New Order-wanking New Wave material, this. It’s pretty in places – love the driving, fast-paced beat and the synth arrangements – but it’s barely more than a pastiche, and Eisold’s voice and lyrics aren’t tragically broken or inventive enough, as when Former Ghosts’ Freddy Rupert draws from similarly obvious inspirations with far more rewarding results, for me to really feel anything. (4)

Maya Kalev: I’m a sucker for gothic synthpop with sleazy vocals and high camp electronics, so this hits all the sweet spots for me. ‘God Made the World’ owes as much to Chris and Cosey as it does to the Cure, and though its industrial drums, new wave synths and Factory-indebted vocals may not win Cold Cave any prizes for originality, Wesley & co.’s take on the trope is executed so well that I don’t mind at all. (7)

Chal Ravens: Bogus regurgitated synthwank. How the fuck are we allowing this band to get away with being called Cold Cave? I can’t imagine ever putting this on instead of Bauhaus or The Cure or Nitzer Ebb or New Order or… (2)

Joker – ‘Newham Generals’ (5.3)


Joe Muggs: It’s great, all his Kapsize stuff this year has been great, but it’s actually only the third best track on the new EP. ‘Zim Zimma’ and ‘Gully Side’ beat it hands down and show that he’s still up there with the most batshit mental producers we have. This is “merely” a banger, but even a Joker autopilot banger stands out a mile. Nice how the wheezing Coki-ish riff plays off the super hi-fi stuff, but yeah, not his greatest. (7)

Steve Shaw: The real winner here is whoever commented: “This is a catchy track, but the gunshots are a bit much.”  (7)

John Twells: Now this is the sort of thing I like to hear from Joker – gruesome, brash bass music that’s just one step away from being pretty offensive to most music snobs. His album was an unsuccessful attempt at doing something more polished, and ‘Newham Generals’ succeeds by being the absolute opposite. It’s sort of grimey, sort of crunky, and 100% Joker, harking back to the time when people didn’t take him for granted, and each 12” would have fans panting with glee. A welcome return to form. (7)

Chris Kelly: This is as close as Joker has gotten to modernizing the purple sound, and while it’s more rap than trap, it shares the incomplete quality of those TNGHT beats: if no one raps on your track, does it make a sound? Adding insult to injury, the ‘Digidesign’ sample only serves to remind you how irrelevant Joker has been since 2009. (4)

Maya Kalev: RIYL ‘Harlem Shake’ – the song or any of the obnoxious videos. Naming a track like this after Newham Generals is a bit like when Dan Brown named a book The Da Vinci Code. I didn’t like that, either. (2)

Joe Moynihan: A mate of mine once conjured an image of Joker riding around Bristol on a souped-up motorbike with a Funktion One system attached to the back blazing ‘Purple City’ and the whole idea makes me very happy. Then Joker puts out a new track and, more often than not, makes me feel like a toilet. *sad face* (3)

Laurent Fintoni: ‘Zim Zimma’ is my favourite from the EP, but this one also works nicely. It’s good to have Joker back doing his purple thang. Not been a massive fan of his more poppy work but no one does his sound quite like him, funnily enough. If anything the EP further serves to make the case for a serious lack of unique voices in a lot of dance music these days (and elsewhere to be fair). It’s not big or clever but it’s fuckin good. Also his snares. (7)

Chal Ravens: Why’s this called Newham Generals? Are they meant to be on here somewhere? It’s a very au courant slice of HudMo-infused instrumental grime, but badly needs some shouty blokes barking over the gleefully farty synths and flabby-arsed drums going kerdunk-kerdunk all over the place. (5)

Dorrough Music – ‘After Party’ (6.6)


Joe Muggs: Wouldn’t this sound amazing remixed by Mickey Finn & Aphrodite? Does anyone make jump-up remixes of rap tracks like that any more? It’s really good as it is, sonically great, loads of fun, but then it dunnarf go on a bit. Where’s the drop? (6)

Tom Lea: Tyga’s ‘Rack City’ is obviously the greatest big dumb singalong rap anthem of recent years, and here DJ Mustard basically repeats the trick. Loses a point for not having an extended clap-a-long section like ‘Rack City’, but gains it back for ‘left cheek, right cheek’. (8)

John Twells: It might be just me but there’s something pretty unsettling and Lynchian about strip clubs, and ‘After Party’, whether it’s trying to or not, accentuates this. DJ Mustard is inarguably one of the strip club scene’s dons, and he’s on fine form here, dropping the kind of chiming dancefloor friendly trunk-rattler that he’s made his calling card. It’s nowhere near as game changing as ‘Rack City’ but that hardly matters, and while Dallas rapper Dorrough music doesn’t add anything particularly interesting, I feel like if I was trying to critique that side of the track I’d be missing the point. It’s just a big club tune, and that’s all there is to it. (7)

Steve Shaw: Produced by DJ Mustard, this is stripped and chauvinistic as you like; if you’re not into repetitive chimes, trap hats and lines that go ‘left cheek, right cheek, left cheek, right cheek’, avoid this like an STD. However, if you’re into ratchet, this is probably flawless. I wouldn’t really know, I’m from Hertfordshire. (10)

Chris Kelly: ‘Get Low’ for the ratchet age. DJ Mustard squeezes out another bit of ‘Rack City’ magic and Dorrough might have his first hit since 2009’s ‘Ice Cream Paint Job’. Might be too early to be a summer anthem, though. (7)

Chal Ravens: Totally throwaway but I’m a sucker for a combination of Marianas-deep sub bass, plinky-plonk melody and Ludacris/J-Kwon/Lil Jon-esque goofball party rap. And the sheer effrontery of the product placement! Have you ever heard a man more committed in his allegiance to a single brand of multinational hotel chain? Even Paris Hilton didn’t put name-checks in her choruses. (6)

Laurent Fintoni: Wait… is the producer really called DJ Mustard?!?! (2)

SZA – ‘Aftermath’ (4.3)


Joe Muggs: Kooky. It’s meant to be a joke, right? It’s not very funny. Bacon! Unicorns! Chlamydia! Hatstand! I play keyboards! We all play keyboards! Piss off. (2)

Maya Kalev: I suppose I don’t hate this; I just find it hard to care. The vocals are really cheap and heavily filtered, and overall the production aims for a pointlessly vaporous atmosphere that I imagine is intended to be ethereal and dreamy, in a sort of post-Clams Casino / Main Attrakionz way (both of whom, I should add, I like a lot). But it feels like a poor imitation, and nothing with this much sidechain compression could ever be anything but grating. If I’m honest: the song doesn’t have a good hook, the lyrics are quirky (“ I am not human / I am made of bacon… I like to be kidnapped”) but ultimately pretty stupid, the production is embarrassing, and Sza’s voice is inoffensive at best. Okay, I suppose I do hate this. (1)

John Twells: There’s something about ‘Aftermath’ that makes me think of a cross between Cocteau Twins (Milk & Kisses-era) and Kruder & Dorfmeister, and surprisingly that’s not a massively appetizing blend. I do like the vocals for the most part, but the lazy beat makes the whole thing sound like a stock track produced with no other goal than to bring on the tears in the triumphant conclusion of some awful American rom-com. I guess SZA is going for that Imogen Heap money, but what people tend to forget is that Imogen Heap takes a hell of a lot of risks. ‘Aftermath’ is about as risky as a pot of lo-fat yoghurt. (4)

Joe Moynihan: Love this. With so many of RnB’s new stars leaning closer to Pinkerton levels of honesty over exaggerated, sexualised dream worlds SZA’s often carnivalesque blend of the fantastical and confessional (“I am not human, I am made of bacon, fairy tales and pixie dust” / “I don’t feel, I hung myself and didn’t die”) is not only refreshing, but executed in a genuinely moving and immersive fashion. (8)

Chris Kelly: Sure, the “alt-R&B” space is getting a bit crowded, but SZA’s limited discography shows promise. She owes more to Imogen Heap than the usual R&B touchstones, and ‘Aftermath’ is her most memorable song yet, thanks to its eccentric — if quite dark — lyrical turns. WNDRBRD’s beat is like a radio-friendly take on Clams Casino, and while it may be too slight for some, it puts the focus where it belongs. (8)

Chal Ravens: Outside of hip hop and grime, lyrics have not been considered cool or necessary or appropriate for a long old while now (displaced by the mutilated cyborgs of “vocal science” or the Burroughsian fragments of footwork, for instance), so it’s invigorating to hear a voice actually saying something for a change, even if what it’s saying is “I am not human, I am made of bacon” or “living as a unicorn gets so lonely”. Cracking voice, luscious production and great hair. Very promising. (7)

Laurent Fintoni: Ok so the line about bacon makes no sense but I like bacon enough that I approve of it. The beat is kinda cool but the overly effected vocals ruin it for me. (3)

Steve Shaw: Why in God’s name would you make me listen to this Bran Van 3000-with-gunshots shit? (1)

Tricky – ‘Does It’  (5.9)


Joe Muggs: Nice track, really easy to get involved with the smacky feel of it. But he’s not setting himself up as a revolutionary is he? It’s got a bit of a whiff of Primal Scream politics. Imagine you were manning the barricades, looked round and discovered your comrades in arms were Tricky and Bobby Gillespie. The HORROR. (6)

Steve Shaw: I liked the Earth-like cello. That’s about it though. (6)

Joe Moynihan: As pleasantly bleak as anything from Maxinquaye but Tricky’s smoky utterances are starting to sound a little stale. The vaguely political chorus is a wee bit flat too, but the murky, oil-drenched bass lick, ghostly whispers of strings and down-pitched claps are wicked. Kind of just stops though. Like this. (5)

Maya Kalev: Well, colour me surprised. Who knew Tricky was releasing music in 2013? It’s not any good, mind. I can see how this self-consciously dark bassline, synthetic strings and Tricky doing his spoken-word thing on top are meant to be deep and political, but ‘Does It’ just comes off sounding half-finished, amelodic and disinterested. It doesn’t help that the lyrics are on a risible cod-Manic Street Preachers / RATM tip: “Will you fight for a cause / Will you break all the laws?” The chorus features vocalist Francesca Belmonte who, if anything, sounds even more dead behind the eyes than Tricky as she intones half-arsedly, “Where are all the protestors?” To be fair, the song proper isn’t terrible, just terribly uninspired – but this is hardly galvanising stuff, more armchair preaching. “Does it make you feel good,” Tricky asks again and again, with absolutely no intonational variation. Not really, no.  (4)

Chal Ravens: An unexpected stunner full of dread reverberations and poisoned plectrum bass riffing, plus a husky female voice (Francesca Belmonte) doing a haughty counterpoint to Tricky’s paranoid whispers, intoning “I wouldn’t be caught dead in love” over a trudging, sticky beat. Were I the betting type, this’d be my Auroras Encore of the week. (8)

Laurent Fintoni: There are voices that soundtracked my youth which I’ll likely never tire of. Tricky’s is one of those, and I wish there was more of it here. The way the song never really gives you what you expect is nice – especially that tease of a break – and Francesca’s voice is beautiful but this really feels like something that needs to be heard within the context of an entire album rather than as a single. (5)

John Twells: Tricky has a lot to answer for – if it wasn’t for Maxinquaye I don’t know if I’d have gotten so obsessed with ‘weird’ music in the first place. Since then however my relationship with his music has been a bit up and down; Pre-Millennium Tension was beautiful, bizarre perfection but after that things just went a bit awry. It’s bloody good then to hear him going back to the tense paranoia that made his early recordings so crucial. ‘Does It’ might not break any boundaries, but what it does do is highlight a gap in the market at the moment – who else is doing skeletal bass-heavy whisper-rap? Exactly. (7)

Final scores:

Gucci Mane – ‘Hell Yes’ (7.5)
Yeah Yeah Yeahs – ‘Under the Earth’ (6.9)
Dorrough Music – ‘After Party’ (6.6)
Kingdom feat. Kelela – ‘Bank Head’  (6.5)
Tricky – ‘Does It’  (5.9)
Joker – ‘Newham Generals’ (5.3)
Cold Cave – ‘God Made the World’ (4.3)
SZA – ‘Aftermath’ (4.3)

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