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Month: August 2009

Fairmont picks up a girl and an acoustic guitar, making good use of both.

The most striking thing about Fairmont‘s The Meadow at Dusk EP is the relative calm it espouses. While Fairmont has never been the speediest of the indie-rock set tempo-wise, they’re anything but calm when it comes to their lyrical content. “Kicking and screaming, doused with bits of resigned bitterness” is a more apt description of the words that accompany Fairmont’s guitar-heavy indie-rock/pop.

With that calm comes a shift in instrumentation (or, perhaps, the shift in instrumentation causes the calm). Previous albums featured tracks that built towards overflowing endings crammed full of vocal tracks, electric guitar swells and pounding rhythm sections. There’s still some of that happening on Meadow.  The crashing guitars and staccato rhythms of “From High Above the City”  sound musically like a transplant from their last effort Transcendence.

The bridge, however, puts Fairmont’s direction in much greater focus, musically and lyrically. A bass riff on a keyboard takes over with a complicated riff, and an electronic beat keeps time for it. It flows seamlessly back into crashing electric guitars, but the point is made musically. The dual vocals feature a girl, a first for Fairmont. The lyrics portray a sort of normalcy that is uncharacteristic of Fairmont’s discography but in line with Meadow‘s themes: “This could be heaven, this could be hell; this is life, this is how it’s going.”

With that new vocalist, addition of keyboard, and calmer outlook on life, the whole feel of Fairmont is slightly different. Those additions lead naturally to more acoustic guitar presence in their music, something that hasn’t been a major, effective part of Fairmont’s sound since 2003’s Anomie. “The King and Queen” is a folk-rock song supported by a sweet acoustic guitar riff, “The Embalmer” is a straight-up folk lullaby (albeit one with a chorus that says “Song for the suffering, song for the dead;” can’t stray too far from their roots), and “My One and Only One” is (get this) a love song. Yes, it does have “Sometimes you wear me out” as its main line, but its contrasted by “When times were tough, you were there” and the almost-weird-to-hear-coming-out-of-Neil-Sabatino’s-mouth “You are my one and only one.”

The tracks that make best use of the new female vocalist and feature the acoustic aesthetic are the more successful tracks on this album. “I am the Mountain” is the best meld of old and new, but it doesn’t hold a candle to “The King and Queen” and “The Embalmer.”

If you’re a fan of girl/guy interplay, you should add Fairmont to your library. You haven’t had a reason to before this, but Meadow at Dusk EP establishes new sounds and new angles to Fairmont’s sound that should intrigue you. It features some of their most accomplished and entertaining songwriting, and that’s saying something: I own half a dozen Fairmont releases. The tracks have an immediate glow and yet still grow in enjoyment as you hear them more; that’s something most bands wish they could accomplish. Highly recommended for fans of the Hold Steady, M. Ward, and/or Peter, Bjorn and John.

Matt & Kim Tear It Up

Matt & Kim
Matt & Kim

Monday night, I had the distinct pleasure of watching pop duo Matt & Kim perform at the University of Oklahoma. All I can say is this: I wish you all could have been there. It was one of the most enjoyable concerts I’ve been to in recent memory.

I rather sheepishly admit to only having been vaguely familiar with Matt & Kim’s music before our fearless editor Stephen brought the performance to my attention. That being said, I rather quickly realized that they’re one of the more special acts out there.

Not only is their music great, with cheery sensibilities and beats that you can’t help but dance to, their concerts are incredible experiences. Matt & Kim have a certain infectious energy about them – they come on stage happy, make jokes, laugh and interact with the crowd, and don’t generally take anything they’re doing too seriously. They’re playing music because they enjoy it, and that comes through in their performance.

Travis had fun.
Travis had fun.

At the concert I attended, there was a pretty even mix of two groups. First, there were the kids who live for concerts and clearly didn’t care what anybody else thought of them as they ran around dancing and attempting crowd-surfs. Second, there were those who were there to enjoy the music, but didn’t necessarily intend to get involved physically. By the end of the show, there were none of the second group. Each and every person in the auditorium was jumping, dancing, clapping, and singing, regardless of whether or not they knew the lyrics or had any sense of rhythm. Case in point: I dragged my friend Travis along for the show. He was incredibly skeptical beforehand, as his taste in music tends more toward country than electro-pop. By the end, he was giggling like a little girl and moving to the music even more than me.

If that doesn’t require some serious talent from those on the stage, I don’t know what does.

Starting with songs like “Yea Yeah” and “Lessons Learned,” Matt & Kim kept the crowd entertained throughout. They interjected comments like, “this is the fastest song we’ve ever written, and now we’re going to play it twice as fast,” or, “this is the first time we’ve ever played in Norman, Oklahoma, so we’re going to dedicate this song to you. Every time we ever come back here, we’re playing it for you.” That might sound kinda cheesy, but they’re so genuinely friendly that you can’t help but eat it up.

In between two songs, one guy in the crowd asked if they were going to play the song “Cutdown.” It wasn’t in their set, but twenty minutes later they played it for him. At one point, they busted out an electronic version of the theme song from Rocky. It’s the little things, folks – small touches here and there that make a concert go from decent to amazing.

Auditorium: full
Auditorium: full

Their set ended with what is likely their best-known song – “Daylight.” If you don’t know it, you’ve probably at least heard it before without realizing it. Bacardi recently used it in one of their Mojito commercials; yeah, that one. Suffice to that they didn’t disappoint with it, going out with a massive bang that had all 400+ people in the room on their feet. The show ended fittingly, with a Matt-&-Kim-endorsed dance party in the front of the auditorium.

Obviously, words can’t really describe what went on last night, but I’ll try to do it justice. The concert was fun. It was exuberant. It was lighthearted, friendly, happy, energetic music by arguably one of the most entertaining bands I’ve ever seen. For the love of all that’s holy, if Matt & Kim are playing anywhere within a two hundred mile radius of where you live, go see them. Trust me, it’s worth it.

By this point, we've turned over a whole tree

Seasons come and seasons go, but I swear that seasons go by faster than usual at the IC. Right off our summer of posting (mostly) four times a week, we’re going into the school year by…slowing down. We’re going to be posting three times a week until further notice: Monday, Wednesday, Friday.

If you’re interested in writing for IC, shoot an e-mail to We get you free music, and you have opinions about it in a timely manner. It’s not a complicated arrangement; the Internet makes it a pretty simple transaction, actually. So yes, if you’d like to do that, we’d love to hear from you.

As to the title? We’re turning over yet another leaf here at the IC. And we’ve turned a lot of them over.

"Starlite" doesn't shine so bright in places

At his best, the Canadian Nathaniel Sutton on his new album Starlite sounds catchy, but at his worst, the album feels unimaginative and repetitive. Unfortunately the misses are more frequent than the hits. Yet, the better songs from Starlite show how Sutton can grow and improve.

Sutton’s sound is a bit like a spacey, electronic version of Modest Mouse, with a hint of Grandaddy mixed in. The problem is that a lot of the songs repeat the same themes over and over without making any changes, which tempt the listener to skip to the next track. The first two songs fall into this category, but the album picks up with “High Holy Day.”

“High Holy Day” has an interesting, sporadic and hectic-sounding riff that gives the album a darker feel, which is truer to the remainder of the songs than the peppy opener “Starlite” would initially lead you to believe. It is also much more high-energy, like the other better songs on the album.

Several of the songs on Starlite are so dark that they’re actually quite creepy to listen to, like the ominous “Serious Crime,” “Subliminal Messages,” which is downright frightening, and the slightly-too-weird “Killer in the House.” Part of what really makes these songs so sinister is the way that Sutton sings them, with exaggerated wavering bass, overbearing special effects in places, and especially over-breathiness in “Subliminal Messages.”

“Blow My Mind” in the middle of the album surprises with its extreme DJ-type sound which the songs preceding it don’t come close to in terms of electronics. “Creepy Crawlers” also falls into this genre, but both of these songs feel a bit out of place on the album overall. However, the all-important “dancibility factor” is high in “Blow My Mind” and “Creepy Crawlers.”

The slow-paced, sentimental lullaby “Photo Album” sounds like it belongs on the same album as the opener “Starlite,” but these songs don’t really mesh with the others well. Sutton could really improve if he narrows his focus and doesn’t attempt so many clashing styles.

What is interesting to consider about this album is that it is entirely Nathaniel Sutton. He plays all the instruments, and he also recorded, mixed, and produced the album in his own home. While this is an impressive accomplishment, it seems that Sutton would also benefit greatly by with others. Maybe with a band, he could develop a tighter sound, and could grow as a songwriter working with others.

Pop solutions from Gregory Pepper and His Problems

No need for a hook to open this review—Gregory Pepper and His Problems’ latest album, With Trumpets Flaring, has plenty to spare. The addicting hooks (and riffs, and melodies, and refrains…) are delivered in a well-crafted and wide-ranging collection of songs, put forth by this 26-year-old musician from Guelph, Ontario. The lyrics are at times honest, sardonic, absurd, self-loathing, nonsensical, ironic, and are very often some combination of those. Pepper’s pallet for his verbal meanderings explores every niche of pop, from full-fledged electro-pop to the sounds of a 1950s doo-wop band, complete with alto saxophone.

The album begins with a vaudeville accordion that suddenly gives way into an electronic backbeat that sounds akin to Chromeo, which then gives way into a more traditional, guitar-driven, indie-pop sound, which comes back fairly quickly to electro-pop. And that’s just the first song, “7ths and 3rds.” Although many of the songs are short—ten of the thirteen are under three minutes; the album itself is a mere half-hour—Pepper still manages to explore classic pop sounds such as the Beach Boys, Paul McCartney, and Weezer, and some lesser-loved genres (he makes a mocking foray into rock opera), while still giving all his songs a personal touch, a touch that oscillates between, and sometimes combines, hopeless optimism and sardonic dismissal.

Much of this touch comes from his lyrical content and vocal style. On “Built A Boat” Pepper’s voice sounds unsure and mournful in a simple, sparsely instrumented song that richly describes building a fantastic boat, only to find out that it doesn’t float. He sounds charmingly off-key in the short romp that is “There Were Dinosaurs.” In the singable chorus of “Drop the Plot”—which repeats “Do, do what you want to / you already do”—he exudes a tone that also hints towards self-loathing, the latter of which becomes an explicit lyrical theme in the pop-rock opus “It Must Be True.” This song spans a range of dynamics and emotions, building to a nerdy-angsty climax like the kind Weezer excelled at on their debut album. “One Man Show” best displays his vocal timbre and lyrical tone, which when averaged out over the album become something that is at the same time melancholic, optimistic, trenchant, relatable, and absurd.

The vocal themes tend towards either the macabre or the absurd, with witticisms in both. “If You Try” is a full-fledged 50s doo-wop song over which Pepper croons about various methods of suicide: “Jumping from a building / what a scary way to die. / Starving in the desert / what a boring way to die. // But it’s all called suicide if you try.” Part of the chorus in “I Was A John” has the protagonist expecting pasta to come out of his addressee’s fax machine. This same protagonist earlier declares, “I was psychotic and working in a woodshop / I built the stairway to heaven.”

To focus only on his lyrical wit and vocal delivery would be to ignore his deft ability to create catchy pop hooks over a wide range of styles. In fact, nearly every song on the album sounds different from the others. Some, like “Built a Boat” and “Outro” are intimate in their instrumental nakedness. Other pieces showcase Pepper’s ability to build pop-rock songs that span genres, have musical depth and still avoid feeling forced and overloaded. Pepper takes advantage of a diverse array of sounds, utilizing, among others, glockenspiel, electric drum sequencing, synthesizers, acoustic guitars, organ, handclaps, shakers, and multiple layers of vocal harmonies. His style spans pop-rock, electro-pop, nerd-rock, and indie-pop, and he fits it all together in the tremendous and delightful mess that is With Trumpets Flaring. As I find myself humming his songs more and more often, I realize that Gregory Pepper and His Problems might be the best pop surprise I have had in a long time. –Max Thorn

Of the Cathmawr Chills

I listen to a wide variety of music – really, almost anything but country (cue an involuntary shudder). I’ve got music for different moods and different activities. Of The Cathmawr Yards is the newest album from Horse’s Ha, an indie pop group with folk influence. Their sound is mellow, with a pace that is almost leisurely. Standard rock/pop instrumentation is set off by violin and non-standard vocals that vary from a single, husky female voice to a trio of two women and a man. If I had to describe them, I’d say they’re a varying mix of Fleet Foxes, Rocky Votolato, and The Arcade Fire.

The song “Plumb” is a somewhat simplistic opening, but it captures their style nicely. They make use of contrasting male and female vocals throughout, which is especially appealing with the multi-octave separation. The tone is a little dreamy, something like a folk-influenced lullaby.

Here and there in other parts of the album are bits that will make you smile. “Asleep In A Waterfall” has a bass and percussion intro that’s fun and mischievous; “Left Hand” delivers a solid dose of wit with the lyrics, “Let down by my own left hand / A pox on this man let down by his own left hand.” Additionally, use of trumpet on “Left Hand” gives it some great flavor. When I listened to “Heiress,” it reminded me of Firefly, beloved one-season sci-fi fusion of space, westerns, and competing western and Chinese culture. It has strong emotional appeal and a bevy of instruments coming into play throughout.

Elsewhere in the album, “The Piss Choir” is a standout with a playful intro and strong melody and progression. There is always something going on in the music of Horse’s Ha. It’s rich, full, and captivating; I’m constantly trying to identify the various elements floating in and out of each song. That’s awesome.

In spite of their interesting and nuanced vocals, instrumentals are where Horse’s Ha really shine. The song “Liberation” is an instrumental that makes use of a range of instruments, including guitar, violin, percussion, piano, and trumpet. “Map of Stars” also displays excellent instrumentals. The song has vocals, but they are secondary to some fabulous musicianship that occurs when removing singing from the equation. The song has a great feeling of movement and progression, almost like there’s some Aaron Copland (classical composer) influence to it. Horse’s Ha should do an all-instrumental album, and I mean that in the best way possible.

Of The Cathmawr Yards is a strong album that displays a wide range of musical capabilities and thoughtful writing. More importantly to me, it’s great music for relaxing, which is something I’ve found myself craving while traveling in Beijing. If there was ever a city absolutely guaranteed to make you feel stress, Beijing would definitely be that city. Not only am I enjoying the album, I’ve actually found it a little therapeutic! If you need something similar, be sure to pick up Of The Cathmawr Yards by Horse’s Ha.

Tom Brosseau will live well with Posthumous Success

Listening to  Tom Brosseau‘s Posthumous Success was definitely something of a surprise for me. A singer-songwriter folk artist hailing from North Dakota, Brosseau has been releasing albums since 2002, this one being his eighth. What surprised me is how someone with such talent has flown under the radar for so long.

Posthumous Success is a winding odyssey of an album, with music that sounds like it should be accompanying road trips or, as it was for me the first time I listened to it, gloriously long walks on a pleasant evening. Brosseau’s sound is best described like a mix of Pete Yorn, Bright Eyes’ Connor Oberst and Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy. However, the music just feels hard to nail down and describe. It comes at you with a sort of joyful sorrow, as the songs can sound both ecstatic and melancholy at the same time.

While the album sticks very much in a folk/indie-rock style, there’s a remarkable amount of diversity with variances in instrumentation and mood. From the opening, “My Favorite Color Blue” with its simple vocals and acoustic guitar, to the distortion and synth of  “You Don’t Know My Friends,” Brosseau avoids the monotony that can often overtake artists that perform in a similar genre. These songs are all individually noticeable and manage to avoid blending together, a failing that regular readers will know that I particularly dislike.

Brosseau’s voice can take a little getting used to, and some might be turned off from it. His voice is full of tremolo and wavering, as if he could just stop and cry at any moment. The best comparison I can think of to this is Connor Oberst.

Musically, Brosseau shows off his talents well, as he is an accomplished guitarist. The acoustic work on “My Favorite Color Blue” is excellent, and I never felt that the song could use more instrumentation. Likewise, “Youth Decay,” an instrumental track that features only one electric guitar, is oddly moving in its use of minor chords.  Brosseau also smartly uses instrumental tracks like “Youth Decay” and “Miss Lucy” to transition one song from another, using similar instrumentation to make them flow better into one another. “Miss Lucy,” in fact, sounds like an extended outro for “Give Me A Drumroll,” yet doesn’t sound out of place right before “Axe & Stump.”

Anyone who appreciates smart songwriting or indie-folk would probably enjoy Posthumous Success greatly. Brosseau has a great amount of talent and the album displays it well. Standouts include “My Favorite Color Blue,” “Give Me a Drumroll,” “Axe & Stump,” and “Wishbone Medallion.” The track “Been True” is actually available right now via iTunes’ Facebook page in its “Indie Spotlight Sampler.” I’d recommend checking it out.

ACL Explains It All: Andrew Bird/Beastie Boys

“What?” you say. “Andrew Bird and the Beastie Boys have nothing in common! Bird makes charming, austere indie-pop ditties with literate lyrics, and the Beastie Boys created the misogynistic ‘Girls’ and are almost obsessively annoying! The only thing they have in common is their whiteness!”

To this, I disagree. In fact, the fact that both Bird and Beastie Boys employ lyrics as their main argument puts them in a boat together much quicker than many other people. It’s true that Andrew Bird writes some good songs. But his lyrics are the bread and butter of the songwriting; they’re clever, witty, literate and well-thought-out. The fact that he’s a great whistler, violinist, vocalist, and guitarist take second place to the fact that he’s a really freaking great lyricist. I mean, anyone who can think up and compose this:

“Tenuous at best was all he had to say
when pressed about the rest of it, the world that is
from proto-Sanskrit Minoans to Porto-centric Lisboans
Greek Cypriots and and harbor-sorts who hang around in quotes a lot”

should be receiving praise for that, not for his musical composition (this does imply that one is better than the other, always. I will stick by this statement.). This is not to say that “Tenuousness” is not great; it’s one of his best tracks. But it’s still the song that’s there for the lyrics, and not the other way around.

In this manner, the Beastie Boys are not all that dissimilar. Sure, their lyrics may not always match up with Bird’s:

Girls, all I really want is girls
And in the morning it’s girls
Cause in the evening it’s girls

I like the way that they walk
And it’s chill to hear them talk
And I can always make them smile
From White Castle to the Nile

Okay,  they’re really far from Bird’s. But in the manner that the lyrics take precedence over the music (I mean, “Girls has one xylophone riff as its music), they both have essentially the same motif. Their lyrical quality improved since “Girls,” as well. To the Five Boroughs got five stars in Rolling Stone, but that might be more because they have Elder status in RS’s eyes as opposed to the actual quality of the disc. But that’s another article altogether.

All this to say, some bands that seem to have nothing in common sometimes have more in common than you think. And I’ll be seeing both these bands in two months. Woo!

Wiz Khalifa first time performance in the ATL

I finally got to check out the underground Atlanta rap scene, after a long period of seeing what I was missing when surfing the internet in my dorm in the culturally unfulfilling Conway, Arkansas. Atlanta is known mainly for its Dungeon Family Glory Days (Outkast, Goodie Mob, etc.; but they are getting back together!),  T.I., and the incredibly obnoxious Gucci Maine and Soulja Boy.

The Show was at a place called Cenci at East Atlanta, and Pittsburgh Native Rapper Wiz Khalifa was headlining ( with Atlantans Siya ( and Gripp Plyaz ( performing as well.  The doors opened at 10, but the show got started at 12:30 and there seemed to be a problem with Dj’s not showing up, also Young Scolla from Detroit was supposed to perform but did not. Also the headliner Wiz Khalifa played first, which meant the venue was pretty empty when he was done. Besides that, the rappers put on a really good show. Wiz Khalifa stuck to tracks off of his recent mixtape Flight School, and the crowd knew all the songs which made Wiz Khalifa receptive to the audience.  Gripp Plyaz got on the mic next, and did only two songs, but his performance was full of raw energy. Siya’s performance was the most impressive of everyone.  Siya is a little firecracker of a woman from brooklyn who basically just killed the mic. Sean Falyon( also came on stage to do a track with her. Mums FP ( who helped host the show performed at the end and did some unreleased tracks from his upcoming full length lp. When Mums FP came on stage, there was me, 3 freinds, and about 8 other people around the stage, but he gave it all his heart. I don’t think I’ve seen a rapper push so hard in front of so little people, even though such a deed will not get them the big bucks, garner national recognition, or fame. Ultimatley, I have to say great show and great performers. These men and women put their heart into this show even though the crowd died (I’m a bit skeptical of Gripp Plyaz on this one, but a lot of apprecation to him for rocking the stage with so few people…).

There’s a really interesting rap scene in Atlanta as illustrated by this show, but it will have problems picking up steam if the Atlanta promoters are really bad as they were with this event. But for all who attented to the end, they got a great show.

A Love Like Pi’s Lief Liebmann says ‘take an extra five seconds’

A Love Like Pi’s recent debut full-length album, Atlas and the Oyster, combines catchiness and intellectualism in an electronic-rock package that utilizes elements of classical music. Frontman Lief Liebmann says the group’s name comes from this dichotomy and duality of their sound.

“It’s basically an extended metaphor. Love and pi operate in different arenas of your mind but they are both eternal,” Liebmann said.

A Love Like Pi hails from New Jersey and have been playing together for about two and a half years. The trio consists of Liebmann on lead vocals, synthesizers, and violin, bassist Collin Boyle, and drummer Chris LoPorto.

“Collin and I grew up playing music together,” Liebmann said. “This really benefits the band because there’s this kinship. We know each other and our playing so well.”

Liebmann and LoPorto were once members of feuding groups, he said, but that they eventually reconciled and became great friends.

Liebmann got started in music at a very young age when his parents enrolled him in violin lessons around age 4 or 5.

“As with all things that your parents make you do, I hated it at first,” Liebmann said.

But eventually, he said that he grew to love the violin.

“The violin introduced me to the world of music,” he said.

However, this early start did have a disadvantage.

“I never really listened to music as a kid because I plunged right into playing,” Liebmann said. “I feel like I’m missing that element because I was always taking apart the structure or listening to chord progressions.”

Atlas and the Oyster both reflects this classical influence while also sounding amazingly modern. Liebmann writes the band’s music, saying he felt like an “alchemist in sound” in the studio, and Boyle and LoPorto add their own spin to the songs.

Liebmann said that the recording process took about a year because he wanted to make sure that he got everything right.

“I’m a little bit insane when it comes to the organization and sequencing of songs and lyrics,” Liebmann said.

The debut is also (ambitiously!) a concept album. The first half reflects on Atlas, a character in Greek mythology who was forced to hold the world on his shoulders. Liebmann said that the oyster portion of the album is about “taking pain and making it beautiful,” like an oyster’s pearl.

Atlas and the Oyster is a multi-dimensional record,” Liebmann said. “It has songs that are fun to listen to because the spoonful of sugar method is important – you don’t want to preach on a record.”

Liebmann said that now that the album has been released, he has mixed emotions.

“I feel two things: one is an overwhelming sense of completion and satisfaction. Another is apprehension because I spent a whole year of my life working on this album and now it’s out of my hands,” Liebmann said.

But, he said that so far, the reviews of Atlas and the Oyster have been very kind.

“I’m still crossing my fingers against that one bad review that says, ‘who does A Love like Pi think they are, singing about mythological creatures?’” Liebmann said.

Currently, A Love Like Pi is touring the country. Liebmann says that sharing the music is important to him.

“We’re playing every night, which is important for me because music is my reservoir,” he said.

Without getting it out there, Liebmann said that he could get a little crazy.

“Things inside of me become songs, so I can get neurotic if they are kept bottled up,” he said.

Another benefit of touring is the time spent with band members and the strong friendship this produces.

“We all really love each other – no lies. We’ve been through so much together,” Liebmann said.

Liebmann said that A Love Like Pi’s live shows are in-your-face, powerful, and emotionally-charged.

“As intellectual as our record is, the live shows are wild. We really try to take elements of what makes one of the songs good on the record and amplify it,” he said.

This summer, A Love Like Pi will continue touring and they will also be working on a video for “The Atlas” in L.A., but the details are a surprise. Liebmann plans to keep busy.

“I have to be doing projects forever – as the band and everyone who knows me knows,” he said.

Liebmann hopes that all the touring will expand the band’s audience, and that the new album will reach a point where the imagery and message of the songs are recognized on a national level. A Love Like Pi also wants to create a name for themselves in the music industry.

“We want to establish a place in the industry where we can release music that constantly surprises people,” Liebmann said.

The scope and range of Atlas and the Oyster certainly surprises, but very pleasantly so. Check out the band’s myspace or website to order their debut or sample some songs.

Liebmann encourages listeners to spend a little time considering or analyzing the music.

“Never fall for music just because it’s catchy,” he advised. “Take an extra five seconds to think about what the music is actually saying because this might make you love the music even more or make you realize that it’s not worth your time.”