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This weekend I’ll mostly be listening to… The MFA September 25, 2010

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Culture, This Weekend I'll Mostly Be Listening to....
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The MFA? Well, yes, a half-Welsh half-English minimal electronic outfit, or as some would put it, electro minimal progressive. They certainly have a lowish level of output, perhaps ten, fifteen tracks across the 2000s. But what tracks. Near single-handed they seem to be attempting to rework dance music by going back to the roots. Not any specific roots, nope – almost all of them. So they tread between the rave revisited sounds of Rinse Time, the ambient on steroids approach of Two Billion Year Journey (whale sounds by way of National Geographic apparently), electronic pop such as 2009’s Throw It Back (We Will Destroy You) which is an homage to both Pet Shop Boys and New Order and in an alternate universe would be the single of that, this or any year. Of particular note are the basslines… pulsing Jah Wobble like structures which underpin many of the tracks – the one which structures the near-motorik The Difference it Makes is typical.

There’s a great sense of humor at work there, not least in the sample that kicks off Disco 2 Break. Well, I think it’s funny. There’s also a Funker Vogt connection, although that seems to be earlier rather than later.

It’s a big eclectic mix. And it’s a pity that as of yet there’s no album. Although it’s possible to build up a sort of album of most of their output through what’s available on the net it would be interesting to see how the constraints or the opportunities of that format would work upon them, or how they’d work upon it…

So, a contemporary approach that isn’t afraid to mash it all together. They remind me a bit of a more dynamic B12 who I’ve mentioned previously and who deserve a This Weekend of their own (also worth noting they cover LFO), but then they remind me of a lot of things without being a pastiche of them, or to put it another way they take the cliches and they manage to transcend them. So there’s a sense of nostalgia, but it’s an awful lot more than that.

I’m a bit concerned that they seem to have gone quiet since the Throw It Back single in 2009. Never a good sign when there’s no output in over twelve months, but then again… they work slowly.

And the name? The initials are meant to stand for The Mother Fuckin’ Allstars. Okay… it’s not quite the Fuck Buttons. But whatever.

We Will Destroy You (the video is a direct homage to Pet Shop Boys)

Motherload

The Difference it Makes

Disco 2 Break

Two Billion Year Journey

Rinse Time

Comments»

1. Mark P - September 25, 2010

A rarity: A This Weekend I’ll Mostly Be Listening to post about an act I actually like!

I disagree about the album part though. There’s already a bit too much nostalgia in MFA’s work, and finally producing an album after the basic, practical, utility of that format has disappeared would only be another example.

Even before technology superceded the album I was always a bit suspicious of electronic acts which focused on them. It always seemed a bit too much like crawling to critics and rock fans who didn’t really understand dance music.

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2. WorldbyStorm - September 25, 2010

That’s a very interesting point you make re albums. I’ve got to admit my main reason for wanting one is that I’d love them to put out more than they do. A couple of twelve inches every few years is way too low even if the quality is high. And in any case, I think as I mention above, I’ve got a de facto album by collating most of what they’ve output over the past while.

While I do agree that electronica lends itself more (in general) to non album formats, got to say there are those that work. Now, granted, as with early Aphex Twin and B12 who I mentioned above often these are compilations of earlier material but sometimes not and where not they can function well.

I’m not entirely sure though that rock per se is an album driven genre. In the 1970s certainly singles predominated. In the 80s 12 inches. Of course the more chin stroking stuff (Zeppelin is an example) often only put out albums, but… punk, ska, etc, were hugely single driven… Even a lot of indie. On the other hand that might tie back into your point if we think of it in terms of energy. I also wonder who doesn’t genuinely doesn’t get dance music any longer? It’s been around if we cast the net back to the 70s and disco/electronic experimentation such as Donna Summer, etc, on to New Order, on to the influence of hip-hop, longer than my adult life. I’d imagine those who don’t understand it don’t really understand (or like) music full stop.

Either way a very interesting point.

Here’s a question, who would you think worth recommending in a similar vein?

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3. sonofstan - September 25, 2010

Even before technology superceded the album

Do both of you normally/ exclusively listen to music on a computer/ MP3 player?

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WorldbyStorm - September 25, 2010

Difficult to answer. I have a dock at home where I irritate the youngest creature in the house with bits and pieces. I’d listen to earphones some of the time.

However, I rip CDs using Variable Bit Rate which is usually sound enough to capture most of the nuances for lowish amplification and more than good enough for earphones.

The CDs though are being retired into books, and I’m in the process of ripping what’s left slowly but surely.

Why do you ask?

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sonofstan - September 25, 2010

Just interested.

I never really even adjusted to CDs, never mind even less material methods of sound archiving/ retrieving. It does make it harder to keep up though – but at the same time, I’m probably less interested in doing so: not sure which is the cause and which is the effect.

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WorldbyStorm - September 25, 2010

I know what you mean about CDs, they were always so small compared to LPs. But I was at a 21st (!) today talking to someone in their late 30s for whom CDs were the only game in town for most of their life.

In a way, despite loving album sleeves, I like MP3s just fine. It’s the music. Nothing much else.

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Mark P - September 26, 2010

I increasingly listen to music from a hard disk, whether it’s an MP3 player or through my stereo. I do still buy vinyl records quite a lot though, which is a purely nostalgic thing that I can’t really justify intellectually. My younger brother, however, has never bought a vinyl record in his life and ceased buying cds some years ago, despite buying a lot of music.

The wider point I was making is that the “album” was a format dictated by vinyl and cassette technology, mostly maintained through the cd era. There’s no particular reason why songs should come in a batch of 10 to 17 without those technological constraints. And a lot of people in their teens and early twenties have no particular attachment to the format. There was a period when it looked as if the single was dying, when the cd was dominant and before the spread of MP3 players, but now it’s clear that it’s the album that has been superceded by technological change.

I don’t have a personal dislike of the album as a format generally, but I do have something of a prejudice against it when it comes to dance music. Raves and nightclubs made dance music into something which existed as a single track or as part of a mix. The dance music album never had any good reason to exist, apart from aping rock music or trying to appeal to critics and buyers whose expectations have been shaped by rock music.

I like a lot of rock music, but I’ve always been wary of the kind of dance music which tries to slot itself into rock music modes of thought. Dance music for people who don’t like dance music.

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WorldbyStorm - September 26, 2010

Any recommendations, though?

I share some sympathy with what you’re saying. I found the mid 1990s thing of trying to generate linkages between dance music and rock to be very … well trying, and often hugely artificial. Sometimes it worked, but usually, at least to my ears it didn’t (all that indie dance stuff… urrghhh). And listening now to LTJ Bukem I think his stuff breathes a lot better on iPod than it did even on double CDs.

On the other hand the counterargument is that all formats are artificial and none is the equivalent of the live experience.

So for formats for home or other personal listening it’s impossible to come close to that live experience, they’re simply not like and like and therefore the album, be it a CD, or LP before, or MP3 currently is simply a handy vehicle for collating music from a span of time.

As for technological determinism, I don’t really think there’s a massive difference between current modes of music consumption and say mix or compilation tapes from the 70s onwards (and if we cast the net wider we could argue that the radio is closest to the mix format of a live experience and that’s still going strong). So perhaps you’re talking about some seriously chin-stroking rock people who don’t get or like dance music. Anyhow, I wonder is it useful to be constrained by a preconception of the motivations or actions of others who one simply can’t be certain exist in the form that is proposed. And I’d wonder above and beyond that whether it’s useful to dismiss people because they don’t quite fit into the category of ‘teens and early twenties’. We all grow out of that category soon enough and I’ve always had the attitude that it’s great when someone escapes from one musical ghetto to engage with another however superficially or otherwise.

I’m also curious, and I should check, as to the popularity of albums relative to other musical formats. It seems to me that the vast majority whether in download form or on CD still purchase albums of music and apart from some genres where shorter formats predominate musicians still put them out.

Funnily enough this is a problem classical music faces as well. Often two or three somewhat divergent pieces will be crammed onto a CD when a piece should arguably be listened to on its own. But that strikes me as a slightly different debate.

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Mark P - September 26, 2010

1) What sort of recommendations do you want?

2) The mix tape is indeed an appropriate comparison, but I think that the difference is one of scale. For a lot of people under, say, 25, there really is little except “mix tapes” now.

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WorldbyStorm - September 26, 2010

Just curious what outfits you rate.

True re mix tapes. I always loved the way with cassette tape when you taped something and then something else the sounds would ‘blend’ together. Sometimes that could be as good as the original songs.

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Mark P - September 26, 2010

At the moment, a lot of the dance music I like would fall under the minimal techno or microhouse labels. The Kompakt “Total” compilations, particularly the first few, are one of the best places to get that sort of stuff. The main predecessor is the less abrasive end of Detroit techno, and predictably I like a lot of Detroit techno too.

In fact, most of my dance music tastes lean towards techno rather than house or breaks or trance. This may be a function of my age – when I was in my early 20s, Dublin’s club scene was heavily techno oriented (as opposed to Cork’s where house was much more prevalent).

I do like a lot of other dance music, including much more abrasive “machines eating each other” types of techno, some house and quite a bit of the ever-changing British “urban” (is that word always a synonym for black?) dance music which hybridises house, techno, drumn’bass and hip hop under too many different titles for me to keep track of.

A few acts I listen to a lot at the moment:

Robert Hood,
DJ Rolando,
Michael Mayer,
Justus Kohncke,
Jurgen Paape,
Gui Boratto,
The Field,
James Pennington.

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WorldbyStorm - September 26, 2010

Nice one, appreciate that. I came at it a bit circuitously, I’d always liked synth driven music (except for the awful concoctions metal bands dabbled in) and back in the 80s had liked DAF and their ilk an awful lot, so it wasn’t really a stretch to shift over to industrial and later softish stuff like William Orbit, et al. I was given a bunch of cassettes with rave mixes on them in 90/91 and that was more or less it for me. From there it was but a hop skip and a jump to electronica, dance, etc. A lot of IDM, a bit of big beat, a lot of drum’n’bass, bits of trance, ambient etc. Anything really that caught my attention.

Love the Field, was going to do a ‘This week’ on them soon.

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4. sonofstan - September 26, 2010

I like a lot of rock music, but I’ve always been wary of the kind of dance music which tries to slot itself into rock music modes of thought. Dance music for people who don’t like dance music.

The explanation is more likely to be materialist that artistic, isn’t it?

Selling a few hundred 12″s to Djs – or, in these days of Serato and Ableton, a few 100 downloads – is not going to pay the rent, so apart from remixing, the only career model open to dance music creatives is the well worn album/ tour model.

In a way, the original modes of dance music production prefigured the current model that’s becoming the dominant one across all musical genres, and that echoes uncannily, but obviously, the rest of the economy. Dub producers and toasters reusing over the over the same backing track because they couldn’t afford the studio time, hip-hop pioneers scratching together endless breaks because they couldn’t afford live bands, house producers using newly affordable drum boxes and sequencers to mimic the funk – all provided a preview the current model of low initial production costs, usually borne by the musicians themselves rather than an old fashioned record company, limited investment in artist development, and cheap (or free) music at the point of consumption. This last point is often overlooked: even if you buy full price CDs/ LPs these days, in real terms, they cost a fraction of what they did when we (me and WBS, anyway) were growing up – like Air travel, records have gone from being a luxury purchase to being cheap enough to buy on a whim.

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sonofstan - September 26, 2010

‘over AND over’

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WorldbyStorm - September 26, 2010

That’s very true re the expense of CDs. Actually, to bring another issue in entirely, I’d usually forgo alcohol to buy albums, and with no sense of sacrifice at all about it.

Talking about albums, I listen to some trance, and a lot of EBM. In the former area albums, i.e. the traditional format, are much more usually something that people delve into later in a career (unsurprising in light of your analysis above) whereas initially to get tracks (and The MFA are a case in point, though they’re not trance) you have to go searching out compilation albums. Even where bands get albums together you’ll find they’re essentially compilations of their own stuff (plus the inevitable guest remixes), Rank 1 is a band I quite like in that genre and that’s how they work it. In EBM, where ironically the sounds are quite similar to trance, because it has developed more from industrial – and even goth to a limited extent – the album is seen as the usual format and compilations are much less evident. This is true even in quite obscure EBM/future pop bands like Exilanation or whoever, and absolutely the case for much bigger names like VNV Nation. And what they tend to do is release the remix/compilation albums later in their career.

So there’s definitely something to what Mark P says about different attitudes, but this is true even with what can broadly be termed ‘dance’.

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Mark P - September 26, 2010

When I was talking about “dance” music above, I meant music that’s basically descended from the American house and techno club scenes and the British race scene.

As I understand it (and I have to admit that I have no great fondness for it) EBM is less a direct descendent of that music and more something coming from rock music and influenced by that music. It’s not really surprising that, as you note, it took with it a lot of rock assumptions and starting points.

You hit on something exactly when you mention a lot of dance “albums” being essentially compilations of one producer’s work. The main reason they existed was to try to gain access to (a) the wallets of people used to rock music and (b) respectability amongst rock critics who never understood the music in the first place. The whole process was and mostly is quite awkward. The collected form of dance tracks in functional terms is a mix, not an album.

Sonofstan’s point about the material origins of dance “albums” also make sense. Particularly when you remember that in the time period when such things started to become common the “single” in rock music had become little more than a loss making advert for the album. This was the era of the cd single and ever declining single sales. It was an attempt to find an income stream, one which I don’t think really worked. The dance albums which did sell well were, I suspect, selling largely to rock fans on rock music terms.

The Chemical Brothers are the archetypal example of an album focused dance act, appearing on main stages at festivals squeezed between two rock bands, their songs played in between the Charlatans and Kula Shaker at student indie discos. The fact that they were making electronic music was almost entirely irrelevant.

In the end, the way in which almost every dance act which made a living made that living was through DJing. Just as rock singles were for a long time adverts for albums, dance tracks were adverts for DJs.

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WorldbyStorm - September 26, 2010

That’s more or less the working definition of dance music I use too. 🙂

Again, I really do see the point you’re making. If you know the Warp mix/comp Blech or TEXtures where Alan Patterson took one CD and Darren Emerson another is another favorite of mine. And those two examples work as something analogous to mixes heard live. And yet I also think of various groups… Black Dog’s Spanners say and I just don’t see them as selling out when they had albums, that they adapted perfectly to the album format, or vice versa. Okay, granted listening say to CJ Bolland’s The Analogue Theatre is a waring and wearying experience because it’s so clear that his forte wasn’t albums. It’s a bit of a pick n mix and maybe down to individual artists and albums – no?

I’m interested though do you think that the Chemical Brothers are/were any good? I never much liked them oddly for much the reasons you originally articulate that they seemed to be caught between two genres in a way. Very true about DJ’ing.

Difficult to know if EBM is that directly a lineal descendent of rock music. The lines between rock and industrial were pretty clear in the 1980s when I started listening to it. Front 242, etc, were very clearly on the dance side rather than the rock side. But an earlier precursor of EBM would be Depeche Mode, DAF, etc and then early electronica I guess, so it’s pretty mixed. But my point in a way was that whatever about where it came from trance and EBM share a remarkably similar sonic palette and yet operate in distinctly different ways in terms of formats that they utilise.

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Mark P - September 26, 2010

I would have hope that mentioning them in the same breath as Kula Shaker would have made my lack of affection for the Chemical Brothers clear!

When you mention Black Dog, then you start getting into the realms of what was once (very annoyingly) called “intelligent techno”, along with Autechre, Plaid and much of the stuff put out by Warp and Rephlex.

I like some of it (and violently dislike some of it), but its main distinguishing feature is that while it’s based on dance music and uses the same sounds, it isn’t for the most part actually designed to be danced to. In that context, the album makes more sense than the mix.

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WorldbyStorm - September 26, 2010

That’s guilt by association re Kula Shaker, 😉 but really the worst collection of music I was ever loaned was an album of indie/dance, trying to point out the crossover acts, Chemical Bros, etc, etc…

Intelligent Dance Music was another name for it. A terrible nametag. It’s true, it was much more chill out… I agree too, some is fantastic, some awful. Generally I tend to like more of it than I dislike it, but it too allowed some awful chancers the opportunity to get in on the act.

By the way the whole IDM thing reached ridiculous proportions when I started to see labels, handwritten and attached to CDs, in certain more dance oriented music shops in Dublin in the mid-1990s with stuff like ‘Great Intelligent Dance Music’, etc… must make everyone else producing plain old stupid dance music feel great… 😦

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5. Mark P - September 26, 2010

“Race scene”? Rave scene, obviously.

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6. sonofstan - September 26, 2010

All those Dance acts that play rock festivals are proving to extremely resilient though -Groove Armada, Basement Jaxx, the Chemicals, and The Prodigy will be playing Oxegen in 2030, long after their indie cousins have succumbed. It’s as if, being the token dance music indie/ rock fans like, they comfortably fill that niche into eternity – the fan, hungry for new guitar fodder every few weeks, is happy enough to dance once a year to same thing she danced to last year….and the year before…and the year before. It’s a bit like the way ‘What’s Goin’ On’ is always high on those Mojo ‘greatest album ever, ever’ lists as one of the few token soul albums you need – once the quota is filled, there is no need to go any further. And ‘Kind of Blue’ does the job for jazz ….

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Mark P - September 26, 2010

A very good point.

Although you lose marks for reminding me of the existence of (a) Mojo and (b) rock magazine’s “100 best” lists. You bastard.

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WorldbyStorm - September 26, 2010

Very true re Kind of Blue.

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7. sonofstan - September 26, 2010

True re mix tapes. I always loved the way with cassette tape when you taped something and then something else the sounds would ‘blend’ together. Sometimes that could be as good as the original songs.

A couple of years ago I had a car with a cassette deck but no CD player – I found an old domestic cassette deck and started making mix tapes again: it was great fun, although I also remembered the pain when you put on something you later regret and are forced to listen to because trying to fast forward while driving is a lot less easy than with a CD or on an MP3 player. Much easier for me than burning CDs for the car as well, since most of what I like I own on vinyl, and recording to cassette is just instinctive from years of having my fingers poised over the pause button trying to do perfect segue-ways: whereas digitising records and then compiling playlist and then burning seems like so much palaver, to the point that now, when I have a car with a CD player, I just listen to the radio – less good for the road rage, these days.

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WorldbyStorm - September 26, 2010

You know, that sounds like fun doing it the – erm – traditional way. It really does. Although I guess you could use a line in for an MP3 player?

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sonofstan - September 26, 2010

…if I had one….

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WorldbyStorm - September 26, 2010

Really?

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8. This weekend… - Electronik – Free dance music mixes mp3 - September 26, 2010

[…] the original post: This weekend… :house, […]

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9. sonofstan - September 26, 2010

Really?

So that’s Peter Sutherland, the Israeli ambassador and me. Thanks….

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WorldbyStorm - September 27, 2010

🙂 I’m interested in why you don’t use it.

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sonofstan - September 27, 2010

Never really liked listening on headphones is one reason -I have tinnitus, from too many too loud rehearsals, and I think listening on ‘phones exacerbates it.

More than that though, I don’t like the sound of MP3s – and I know there are lossless formats – but really I’m not bothered. Even more fundamentally, I think I’m (too?)attached to the idea of a physical object – I’ll download stuff to have a listen, but if I like it, I have to own it, on vinyl preferably, before I feel like I can know it properly.

I’m the same with reading stuff on a screen – if I need to read something properly, I have to print it off

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WorldbyStorm - September 27, 2010

Yep, I have a touch of that too, makes me very wary about using headphones at any volume over 1/3. And I think you’re right, using them does exacerbate it.

I love the physicality of records, somewhat less CDs, but small houses, very small houses. Y’know, it all winds up in the attic.

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10. Phil - September 27, 2010

Re Chems, I thought Dig your own hole was a fine album (speaking of tokenism, would that make Beth Orton the singer-songwriter it’s OK for fans of dance acts it’s OK for rock fans to like to like?). Albums since then, not so much. Leftfield made a couple of good albums without getting too arrhythmic and chin-strokey (although they put up the biggest OK For Rock Fans flag ever by bringing in John Lydon).

Not sure about Underworld – there’s some great stuff on the second (fourth) and third (fifth) albums, but in terms of innovation you could say they weren’t much more than postscripts to dubnobasswithmyheadman – which was a collection of 12″s. I’ve found them a lot less interesting since Karl dried out, sadly.

But this is all quite a long time ago now…

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WorldbyStorm - September 27, 2010

“Beth Orton the singer-songwriter it’s OK for fans of dance acts it’s OK for rock fans to like to like?”

Brilliant, as is the comment about John Lydon.

I never much liked Underworld after dubnobass either. That swims along really well. Perhaps because of the format…

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11. Trance Videos - October 5, 2010

I have never heard of MFA before: very Kraftwerk like. Rinse Time is my favorite of your selection.

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WorldbyStorm - October 5, 2010

Yes, that or The Difference It Makes.

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12. Minimal Tracks - October 6, 2010

You better check Balance 014 – mixed and compiled by Jooris Voorn, I’ve found it today and it truly made me cry, haven’t heard such a thing in my whole life.
Almost 100 tracks mixed and compiled in 2 hours set that brought us tons of creative ideas for mixing. Just to add that’s not like Armin’s 2 minute transtions you found at yearmixes.

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13. Racheal Gomzales - September 11, 2011

Awesome blog! Is your theme custom made or did you download it from somewhere? A theme like yours with a few simple adjustements would really make my blog shine. Please let me know where you got your theme. Thanks a lot

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