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3D Monster Maze

News of the BBC's plans to shoot Syntax Era - a comedy drama based on the rivalry between Clive Sinclair and Chris Curry (ie the Curry who gave us Curry's) in the 1980s (should be on BBC4 this Oct) - got me thinking about the genius of the ZX81 (the iPhone of its time kids) - and specifically the joy of playing 3D Monster Maze. With the help of the hefty 16K external memory booster megapack stuck on the outside of the hard-drive/membrane keyboard/CPU, and several hours spent getting it to "download" from the memory stick cassette player, you could be transported into another dimension.

The object was simple: run through the maze to the exit, or be eaten alive by a giant T-Rex. You could run a bit faster than the monster - but thanks to the hours of ambient time spent walking around the identical walls, waiting for it to arrive, and the seconds it took to pounce when it did finally show up, more often than not you were chomped up instantly after waiting for ages. No weapons. No extra lives. Just the chance to do it all over again. Existential terror has never been colder or more accurately detailed in pixel form. Good times.

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31st Jul 2009 - Add Comment - Tweet

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Odd Nosdam

T.I.M.E Soundtrack

Anticon

The veteran Anticon producer follows up 2007's Full length Level Live Wires with a collection of hip hop pieces soundtracking the Element Skateboards' film This Is My Element. Each song is tailored to fit the Element skater it accompanies and so is a slightly fractured piece of work but one that sees this beatsmith on strangely upbeat territory crafting some of the dopest beats we've every seen from him.

Famous for his work on cLOUDDEAD, Odd Nosdam is known for his droney-wash soundscapes that fit better into a sound-art category rather than hip hop. Level Live Wires did much to alter this image of him and with this as its followup we see an already awe inspiring producer evolving into something quite special.

The trademark touches are firmly in place here. His work with cLOUDDEAD was meticulously crafted and every sound was enshrouded in fuzz, haze and feedback. this is an altogether cleaner affair but the beats, whether crunching and ominous like on T.I.M.E In or delicate and floating as in Ethereal Slap, rarely travel alone and are muffled and textured with such care and attention that makes them endlessly listenable. Whereas the emphasis in the past has been on oppressive textures songs like We Bad Apples with its guitar-driven melody and the booming Trunk Bomb transform this record into an absolute stomper.

Not surprisingly these songs work best when experienced in the context in which they were created. Seeing the pop/grind/land sequence in Nyjah Huston's opening section of the Elements film happen to the deep beats of the blissful Top Rank is endlessly satisfying and when Jeremy Wray lands a ginormous ollie over some stairs right on the beak of We Bad Apples it is truly awesome. This hazy hip hop obviously doesn't suit Bam Margera's style of anarchy so an appropriately brutal piece of punk has to be drafted in for his section. Elements boast a pretty hefty line up and with people like Mike Vallely and Chad Muska in this film it can't really fail but I've never seen a skate film's soundtrack entirely composed by one producer and it really unites the film into a concise whole rather than the sum of its parts. T.I.M.E is an impressive work both on film and on record and marks the point where this producer turns a corner.

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8th Jun 2009 - Add Comment - Tweet

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Thee Oh Sees

Help

In The Red

With John Dwyer's last offering still welcomely ringing in my ears the San Francisco band drop its followup, a worthy partner and one that accurately identifies its predecessors strengths and wisely chooses to focus on these. In all its many incarnations Dwyer's latest band has itself taken all sorts of twists and turns musically. Thee Oh Sees originally started out as an expression of Dwyer's softer side, emerging out of the raucous noise of his previous bands Pink And Brown and Coachwhips he delivered a lo fi folk sound that was somber but beautiful. Last years The Masters Bedroom Is Worth Spending A Night In changed all that with Dwyer expanding his formation into a wild concoction of psychedelia and gritting rockabilly garage noise. Help is nowhere near such a dramatic turn as His Masters Bedroom was and continues this sound but hacks off the fat leaving twelve solid songs and very little fillers.

Help draws straight, dark lines to both the British psychedelic rock bands like The Creation and the caveman thud of The Troggs. Dwyer's howl is very much at the forefront of this sound albeit buried by the mounting rock scuzz muscle that surrounds it. It's hard to pick standout moments on an album of this consistency but Go Meet The Seed covers this bands strengths perfectly. The chugging guitar that forms the hefty structure all the way through it is stark and basic but pounds relentlessly. The vocals are given space which is something that rarely happened in the last album but really pays off. Brigid Dawson's harmonies still shadow Dwyer's every move to great effect and juxtapose the grit of the music. This song really illustrates the growth that has occurred since the last record, it leans back and allows each element of this sound to flex. Thankfully the ragged ferocity still remains and I Can't Get No sees this expressed in all its straight up glory. It's a fraction of the length of Go Meet The Seed but crams all the elements into a short stab of simple-as-hell rockabilly joy.

Having ditched the momentary noise freakouts that occasionally rendered the last record fragmented but keeping the Cramps influence, Dwyer has created a record that seems to be a culmination of all of his previous projects and one that showcases his talents as a songwriter perfectly. His work often challenges but never takes itself too seriously, it seems to emerge with great ease and listening to it is definitely getting more pleasurable by every release. He's more prolific than most but the quality seems to rising at the same rate as the quantity.

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2nd Jun 2009 - Add Comment - Tweet

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Play-as-you-go

The iPhone will soon be available on pay-as-you-go for all you boys on the corner that need a burner. The phones will cost £350 (8GB) and £400 (16GB), but that includes unlimited WIFI and 3G browsing for the first 12 months ....which seems like a pretty hefty concession. On top of that you get bonus minutes or texts for every £10+ you spend per month.

Available September 16th.

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2nd Sep 2008 - Add Comment - Tweet

Power to the people

Former Yahoo music boss (and one-time Grand Royal webmaster) Ian C Rogers has a new business up and running which gives musicians control over technology. The Topspin platform runs websites for musicians and gives them the technology to sell directly to the public, a la Radiohead. It's testing on a few sites at the moment and recently provided some of the backbone for the Nine Inch Nails Ghosts release.

No word on price for now, but there are some reasonably big bands involved, and Billboard are giving it a hefty does of credibility.

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24th Jun 2008 - Add Comment - Tweet

Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks

Real Emotional Trash

Domino

Real Emotional Trash is the fourth solo album from Stephen Malkmus since the amicable break-up of lo-fi pioneers and all time Hall of Famers, Pavement, nearly ten years ago. On heading out on the solo seas, Malkmus opted for an ‘ifitaintbrokedontfixit’ approach; taking that hyperactive yet laidback and slightly surreal sound he so effortlessly brough to Pavement, smoothing out the edges a touch and then just riding with it. For Real Emotional Trash, he obviously thought his well-oiled musical machine still wasn’t broke, so the odd tinker here and there would suffice rather than anything resembling a fix.

Inevitably it’s a maturer sound, but not at the expense of any of that trademark playfulness. “Of all my stoned digressions, some have mutated into truth” sings that familiar conversational voice on ‘DragonflyPie’ and ‘Stoned digressions’ is a neat way to sum up the music of Malkmus; never quite sure what he’s on about lyrically and musically liable to wander off in random directions, but heck it sure sounds nice.

I often forget how good a guitarist he really is, but he’s never one to turn down an extended jam with a range of effects pedals to showcase his chops. Joined by ex Sleater-Kinney drummer Janet Weiss (on drums obviously and the occasional backing vocal) R.E.T. rocks frequently, not least on the title track, which, with the aid of some jaunty piano, clocks in at a hefty ten and a half minutes.

While ‘Real Emotional Trash’ presents no real change of direction, it still follows that path forged by the founding of Pavement back in 1989, and what a scenic and above all fun path it is too - with Stephen Mallkmus up there at the front, holding the flag - your ever so slightly eccentric guide on this enjoyable journey.

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13th Feb 2008 - Add Comment - Tweet

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Led Zeppelin

Mothership

Atlantic

For the un-initiated, Led Zeppelin's vast back catalogue may seem impenetrable and the newly remastered compilation Mothership may be just the place to start. Unlike many of the upstart bands knocking out "Greatest Hits" after two albums, Mothership does much more than merely collate the highlights of a band and leave the albums redundant. It provides a depth gauge for a band with such scope to their repertoire, and rather than serving as a book-end to a band's career it rather serves to suggest more clearly the album you should follow this one with, as you're still yet to discover The Lemon Song, Tangerine, Thank You, Gallow's Pole, In My Time Of Dying, In The Light.....

The pretty even cull of tracks is taken chronologically from the eight main studio albums - with only post break-up Coda missing the boat. Led Zeppelin I provides a hefty chunk to set the scene, and IV and Houses Of The Holy are also well represented. In a minor concession to mix tape etiquette, the songs from each album are not always in the sequence they originally came in (Black Dog follows Rock 'n' Roll for example), and that makes for a more cohesive listen (although in that case I'd probably have opened with Communication Breakdown). In The Evening and All My Love finish things off, hopefully turning more people on to the often overlooked final album In Through The Out Door.

While it's easy to point out how great the albums are and try and ward newcomers away from this kind of thing, it's refreshing to come back and listen to the music in this different context and remind yourself how many of these individual tracks are absolute classics. As the album plays through, track after track gets 10 out of 10, with only the occasional sub-perfect moment - mainly due to the brilliance of the track before or after. Those minor 'dips' are quickly obscured when we hit the tracks from IV. Rock 'n' Roll was always a track for getting the party started and it's no exception here, moving things up a notch from from 10 out of 10, to 11. Awesome.

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#CSF

15th Nov 2007 - 1 comments - Add Comment - Tweet

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World Tour of Japan 2007: Kyoto

As Mike D would say: "Kyoto!". Ye old capital of Japan was way smaller than I imagined, but still with some pretty hefty buildings and of course a multitude of fine palaces and shogun lair's. Top left is Kinkaku-ji Temple (or Golden Pavilion), and top right is the view of Kyoto from the Kiyomizu Temple, which was pretty amazing. Both were swamped with Japanese tourists, but you see the odd lone westerner acting all nonchalant like they're blending in, thinking they are Chuck Norris.

Went to a fantastic izakaya (drink/snacks combo) in Kyoto, with a ton of tatsy treats. We then headed out for some serious Karaoke, as it was BW's birthday. No Mötley Crüe caught our attention but they certainly had some, plus pretty much everything you could imagine. All the favourites of course (Toto, Elton, G'n'R), plus Clap Your Hands, The View, ZZ Top, Pearl Jam and a bunch of stuff that probably hasn't even come out yet. The Sonic Youth version of Superstar made for a good duet, as well as the Chimp classic Jump.

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4th Jun 2007 - Add Comment - Tweet

Lavender Diamond

Imagine Our Love

Rough Trade

Hot on the heels of February's Cavalry Of Light EP comes this debut album from LA based Lavender Diamond.

Things start well with opening track Oh No taking a simple lyric "When will I love again" and repeating it over and over - pounding it home and giving the words untold emotion and power.  Lead single Open Your Heart is also highlight and it comes as little surprise that Decemberists vocalist Colin Meloy is a big fan (providing a cover of the same track as a b-side on the single) as is Devendra Banhart The eclectic styles of those two references provide some idea of the scenes this band have come out of. The band is most clearly defined in that ever expanding genre of undefinable. Becky Stark's vocals are the focus of the entire album and they are surrounded by a multitude of style and influences.

The bass and piano of Open Your Heart have a near showtune sound ("Downtown!"), there are touches of opera, musicals, and a hefty dose of Carole King and Brill Building nostalgia (wait, didn't I say all this last time? Maybe they're not so hard to define after all). Like An Arrow uses the old repeating lyrics game again, but this time with a more low-key effect, and things pick up again with the catchy pop of Here Comes One - another highlight.

Starks' vocals are undoubtedly fantastic, and the album makes a very pleasant listen that would be perfect dinner party sound-tracking. Unfortunately that's not enough, and the EP having stolen away some of the better tracks. They don't do anything wrong here, it's just that the excitement and originality of the EP is lost and the tracks here already seem less ambitious and slightly stale. After 51 minutes the undefinable just starts to sound a little too familiar.


You can listen to 4 tracks here (all in Windows Media format):

Open Your Heart
Oh No
Like An Arrow
Here Comes One

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7th May 2007 - Add Comment - Tweet

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The Maccabees

Colour It In

Polydor

“Latchmere’s got a Wave Machine”. 

Not only a statement of fact, but possibly the most brilliantly inane lyric of the summer and most definitely the only lyric in honour of the same South London sports centre where members of the Chimpomatic staff regularly re-write the 5-aside football rule book.

A song about a sports centre.  And quite openly too: “Speedos speed by. Remember to stay in your lanes. No Heavy Petting.” just a sample of singer Orlando Weeks’ poetry on track 4 (Latchmere) from Colour It In, the debut album from this Clapham 5 piece (now relocated to Brighton).

The Maccabees cast a pretty narrow net lyrically; focusing on that period of late teens/early 20s (unsurprising considering they weigh in at an average age of 21) which with hindsight are glorious and carefree, but at the time can be overcast with trivial doubts and worries.  Colour It In captures the energy, exuberance and innocence of this time, but is not a naïve album. 

Whilst the hefty chip on my shoulder makes me naturally cautious of a band made up of an Orlando, Felix, Hugo, Rupert and a Robert Dylan Thomas, I’m a sucker for a dose of that post-Strokes, tight guitared-pop and Colour It In’s sheer enthusiasm chipped away at my cynicism after a couple of listens.  They pad tracks 3 through 7 with the stronger single-ish songs All In Your Rows, Latchmere, About Your Dress (see a video clip here) and Precious Time -  all of which got my feet tapping, so god knows how the less world-weary kids are keeping still, whilst the supporting songs hold their own and keep up the vibe.

The Maccabees may well go down the Razorlight route of wankerworm or they might dissapear without trace, but there is no denying that Colour It In is a confident and enjoyable debut, that will most likely be unavoidable this summer.  It may not last the test of time, but like any good summer romance it’s the excitement of the now that matters. If you are too old to get to a wave machine for your summer kicks; a few beers, a spot of sun and Colour It In might just do the trick.

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27th Apr 2007 - 2 comments - Add Comment - Tweet

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Victor Bermon

Arriving At Night

Hefty

After a full on evening of five-a-side football on a ruddy cold March night, this album managed to find itself warming my cockles, and more to the point relaxing me enough to wind down within about four tracks. It opens with the pleasant Farewell Lunch For Laura which has a slightly smoky jazz orientation with minute snippets of a soft Coltrane sounding sax sample. Victor Bermon's Arriving At Night is aptly titled, as it's one of those ambient albums that many folk will encounter for the first time after a slammin' night, having gone back to someone's house in order to relax some. It's essentially a collection of bright melodic soundscapes incorporating some loosely plucky acoustic guitar and other string instruments, dreamy Rhodesy type Vibraphone sounds and drifting jazzy rhythms. There's actually something a bit TV or film soundtrack sounding about this whole album, and in fact the track Famous Discussion kind of reminded me slightly of the delightful theme music to BBC2's Arena programme.

Photographs Are Not Memories is about as rocking as it gets which is track 3, having thought it was track 2 until I double checked so that may give you the idea of how this album blends together somewhat. In fact if anything it does tend to sound a tad samey but then personally I find most albums in this ambient vein tend to.

This is Victor Bermon's debut album for Hefty Records. Don't rely on it to get you up and out of bed in the morning but it's warm and optimistic. You could certainly do worse than finding this as the soundtrack to your nocturnal arrival at a foreign destination

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25th Mar 2007 - Add Comment - Tweet

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Sebadoh

III

Who are Sebadoh? Well, Ill let them introduce themselves, courtesy of Showtape 91 the 11 minute spoken-word epic that closes side 2 of the re-issue of 'III', the aptly titled 3rd album, from this Massachusetts 3 piece.

Amongst other things, Sebadoh are:

- "Your new favourite dope-smoking renaissance threesome"
- "Your post modern folk-core saviours"
- "Featuring that guy who played bass in Soul Asylum, Lou Barlow"
- "3 more reasons to leave your boyfriend. Way to Go, Sebadoh!"

So there you have it; cynical, sarcastic, funny, confident and impossible to pigeonhole. Whilst III was their third album, it marked something of a starting point for the band. Previous albums The Freed Weed and Weed Foresting were self released cassettes that unashamedly wore (literally) their creative influence upon their sleeves. For III Lou Barlow and Eric Gaffney were joined by Jason Lowenstein, and whilst not compromising their taste for musical extremes, produced an album that heralded the introduction of 'lo-fi' in the midst of the Grunge Explosion.

Barlow, freshly liberated from a traumatic stint in Dinosaur Jr. (not Soul Asylum) used III as something of an exorcism, wasting no time in having a dig at J Mascis on track 1, The Freed Pig "You were right, I was battling you, trying to prove myself". From then on, the album takes the familiar shape and form of a typical Sebadoh album, ie. all over the place. Track 2 is a blistering cover of Minutemen's Sickle & Hammers, the heavily distorted bass (a signature sound) and blood curdling screams of Scars, Four Eyes is followed by the delicate Truly Great Thing "Make it easy and I'll hold it against you, Make it hard and I'll run away". Back to their herbal muse for Smoke a Bowl, a song which wouldnt be out of place on the Black Lodge Jukebox in Twin Peaks. How do you follow that? With the country hoe-down tinged Black Haired Gurl of course.

The album continues in this vein before closing with As The World Dies, The Eyes Of God Grow Bigger which captures the split personality of the band perfectly; acoustic singalong, followed by distorted screamalong, all ending with the cheery farewell "BLOOD ON THE WALLS, BLOOD ON THE WALLS." Hey, a trip with Sebadoh isn't ever easy, but you go to some interesting places along the way.

Disc 2 of this re-issue is immediately a winner, in that it includes the Gimme Indie Rock EP - the title track of which, is possibly the finest 3 and a half minutes this prolific band ever laid to tape. The rest of the extras all add to the whole; unreleased songs from the recording sessions, raw 4-track versions of old songs and the bizarre closer Showtape '91. At a hefty 41 tracks, the new 'III' might help solve that terminal puzzle: 'What to get the Sebadoh fan who has everything?'

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25th Oct 2006 - 1 comments - Add Comment - Tweet

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Mr. Lif

Mo Mega

Mr. Lif could rhyme over a pneumatic drill and you would have to sit up and listen and with fellow Def Juxter El P on production for 8 of these tracks a pneumatic drill isn't too far off the mark. This is Lifs follow up to 2002's I Phantom and it's as intense as ever.

Lif's delivery is cold and relentless but its in the subject matter where you really find the heart and soul of this album. The general concept on Mo Mega is how the increasingly modern world is slowly consuming the lower, poorer classes and with his unique monotone, nasal drawl he lambasts everyone from the President to the FBI to fast food chains. Lif never messes about and with El P behind him chucking out dirty beats to make your eyes water the flavor is as hard hitting and uncompromising as the political onslaught of early Public Enemy.

The early stand out is Lif's relentless attack on McDonalds with The Fries. Here we get his conspiracy theory of how the government is using fast food to cripple the poor and its told with dazzling vocal skill. Do excuse the hefty quote coming up but it's pure genius. "A new disease that you caught at Mcydee's, in your quarter pounder with cheese, order with ease, super size please. People won't even survive through the drive thru. kids blacked out in the back with a happy meal, what a crappy deal, but it was only four ninety nine so there's more people in line, yea the plan's running fine, the parking lot is now a burial plot where you can park and rot if you can find a spot."

The best thing about most Def Jux releases is that they often feature other label artists which is always a real treat. Here we see the intensity peak with Take Hold, Fire! featuring the mighty Aesop Rock and El P. These guest vocals come as a welcome break from the relentless tone of Lif and it makes for a classic Def Jux lyrical master-class. This signals a general easing off on the political accelerator and the comic frivolity of Murs Iz My Manager comes as a breath of fresh air. Here the two rappers argue about why Murs should manage Lif to make him more commercial. Lif is having none of it and at one point Murs asks how he is supposed to get Lif the Herbal Essence sponsorship if he never washes his hair.

From here on the beats are lighter and more 'hip hop' I guess. The vocals ease up as a result and once you get to the end you just want another go. Rappers like Mr. Lif and his Def Jux buddies are really stretching this genre and it's thrilling to behold. If I was a Head Of State I would look on this group with some worry. They have such a ferocious style that you get the impression that if their music doesn't change things they are perfectly prepared to walk into the Oval Office and start breaking some heads.

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23rd Oct 2006 - 2 comments - Add Comment - Tweet

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Lupe Fiasco

Food & Liquor

If Jay-Z was about 10 years younger and hadn't been paid so much or jaded by police harrasment he would probably sound a bit like this. "Food & Liquor" is Chicago based rapper Lupe Fiasco's long awaited debut album. Long awaited due to it's hefty list of collaborators and a troubled record deal that pushed back its release until now. Lupe is only 25 and through most of this album that's hard to believe. Intricate and profound lyrics are woven together so tightly and are complimented by intelligent beats. My enjoyment of Food & Liquor is similar to that of Murs and his 2003 debut for Def Jux, "The End Of The Beginning". Both rappers are young enough to give us a new insight into hip hop but intelligent enough to make it interesting. The times when Lupe's age does show are to his credit. We get so much thug rap these days and whether it's real or not it gets so boring after a while so its very refreshing to hear a rap about skateboarding as on "Kick, Push" and then carried on to the fantastic "Kick, Push II" towards the end of the album. "I Gotcha" is a jazzy little number with a heavy piano based beat while on "The Instrumental" and "He Say She Say" he proves he can deal with more serious issues.

But It's not all skateboarding and fatherless childhoods though, the Jill Scott collaboration "Daydreamin'" has a reassuring amount of references to jacuzzis full of big tittied women but that's not surprising seeing as production duties on much of this album are shared but the likes of The Neptunes and Kanye West to name but a few. Much of the production sounds like a hip hop album from the early nineties with lots of synths and piano but it comes across as intentional and really works. The guest list is impressive yet not allowed to outshine the main star and for a 25 year old and a debut album he certainly has a lot of people to thank judging by "Outro", the 12 minute long 'peace out' dedication song often found closing a hip hop album.

"Food & Liquor" isn't smashing any boundaries or redefining the genre but it's quality from start to finish and due to the recent DJ Shadow memo that he's taking a break from good hip hop Lupe Fiasco is a pleasure to behold. He seems to have come to hip hop from a slightly different angle and provides us with a freshness and honesty that is so welcome after The Outsider's cop out cliches.

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11th Oct 2006 - Add Comment - Tweet

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