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Claire M. Singer * Ben McElroy

Songs Of Iceland


CLAIRE M. SINGER – FAIRGE  Also on Spotify

Fairge (meaning ‘ocean’ or ‘sea’ in Scottish Gaelic) is a 21 minute composition for organ, cello and electronics written and performed by Claire M. Singer.
The piece is commissioned by the Oude Kerk in Amsterdam (the city’s oldest building, now a museum), and was written especially for its remarkable Ahrend and Brunzema organ. “As every organ is unique, the piece will differ on other organs but that’s what makes writing and working with the organ so fascinating.”

Fairge builds up slowly, starting from the sounds of the breathing organ pipes, then introducing an almost shy cello accompaniment gradually gaining confidence and moving to the foreground. Getting stronger and louder (like ocean waves in a storm) – a massive and impermeable sound dominated by the sound of the church organ – ‘a lush harmonic backdrop against the harmonics and melody of the haunting cello’.
The sound of a church organ in full power can make man feel humble and small, and so does this ‘expansive soundscape full of intricate textures, rich overtones and powerful swells.’

The wind through the pipes of this organ can be precisely controlled using mechanical stop action. When the piece ends – the ocean storm retreats – one can hear the last breaths of air leaving the church pipes: the powerful dominance gone and replaced by a feeling of uncertainty that creeps back in together with the surrounding silence.

Songs Of Iceland


Ben McElroy has never visited Iceland himself – the inspiration came from the stunning photography by Natasha Edmondson.
‘He hasn’t laid out a clear concept for this short EP. Instead, he’d prefer this to be open to interpretation as you draw your own conclusions.’

It may not be Icelandic folk music, but still the stripped-down minimal folk presented here, on this 15 minute free (Name-Your-Pice) download from Audio Gourmetconjures images of desolate but beautiful landscapes like the one on the cover image.
Sometimes close to traditional instrumental folk music, at other times drifting away into more abstract minimalism: Ben McElroy cites Pauline Oliveiros, Sharron Kraus and Ralph Vaughn Williams as some of his influences and all these can somehow be traced back to this music.

It’s a refreshing step away from the ordinary, a new sound with deep historical roots.
After these 15 minutes I just wanted to hear more like this.

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Soccer Committee / Machinefabriek: “Soccer Machine Mix”

Soccer Machine

A few days ago, Wouter van Veldhoven mentioned his praise for Soccer Committee‘s album sC (2007).
‘It’s almost ten years old now’, he wrote, ‘It is also probably the best minimal album ever made, regardless of subgenre. The album would likely be labeled minimal folk/songwritery music, but please give it a good listen, because this is way way more than just songs.’

I remember seeing (and hearing) Mariska Baars (Soccer Committee) for the very first time when she played support for a Stars of the Lid show in Utrecht in 2007, and I remember feeling the same way: these are not ‘just songs’ – there’s something more to them, something that is hard to grasp and explain.

Around that time (december 2007), I made a mix from Soccer Committee‘s music paired to that of Machinefabriek. This mix was never published here before, because it was made for the NPS-Folio radio show broadcast.
The Folio shows are archived in this Mixcloud profile, but I don’t usually mention them here. Time to make an exception to that rule: Wouter van Veldhoven’s post made me decide it was time to dust off the 2007 mix and publish it again. Because it’s still as powerful now as it was back then, almost 10 years ago.

Connecting Soccer Committee‘s acoustic, minimalist and pure songs to Machinefabriek‘s experimental electronics may seem like a strange conjunction of opposites, but it works very well (at least, for me it does): it seems to bring out a somewhat hidden, ‘peaceful and true’ emotional layer to their music.
And it’s not such a strange combination as it seems to be: Mariska and Rutger have been working and performing together for many years in projects like Piiptsjilling and various other combinations.

A lot has happened since 2007. Machinefabriek‘s musical career (and his discography) has exploded to worldwide acclaim, and while Mariska Baars is still incidentally performing music in various projects, Soccer Committee is not active anymore: she now expresses herself through her paintings mainly.

Soccer Machine SequenceThis mix contains Soccer Committee Songs:

  • Here I go again (sC, 2007)
  • Moi et mon Coeur (Soccer Committee, 2005)
  • Le Jardin (Soccer Committee, 2005)
  • Carps (sC, 2007)
  • Stripping the Nude (sC, 2007)
  • Blessed (sC, 2007)
  • True (Soccer Committee, 2005)
  • Look at You (Soccer Committee, 2005)
  • White Stone (sC, 2007)

…interspersed with (fragments of) tracks by Machinefabriek:

  • Het waait over (Fabriek + Fabriek, 2007) 
  • Maris (Weleer, 2007)
  • Licht (Bijeen, 2007)
  • Stoffig Stuk (Wouter van Veldhoven – Ruststukken, 2007)
  • Stofstuk (Stofstuk, 2007)
  • Carps (Remix) (Carps (Machinefabriek Remix), 2006)
  • Fluister (Weleer, 2007)
  • Donderwolk (Weleer, 2007)
  • Verdrinkwater (Bijeen, 2007)
  • Zeeg (Baars, van Veldhoven, Zuydervelt – Zeeg, 2007)
  • Slaapmiddel (Slaapzucht, 2007)
  • Wieg (Huis, 2007)
  • Bloesem (Huis, 2007)
  • Schaduw (Huis, 2007)
  • Polderlicht (Fabriek + Fabriek, 2007)
  • Thole (Thole, 2007)
  • Zucht 2 (Slaapzucht, 2007)
  • Slaapzacht (Huis, 2007)
  • The African Guy (Manchester, 2005)
  • Kinderboerderij (Huis, 2007)
  • Piano.wav (Bijeen, 2007)
  • Curb (Manchester, 2005)
  • Het is weer vroeg donker (Bij Mirjam, 2004)

Download SOCCER MACHINE Now (95Mb; 60:00 min.)

Or stream it on Mixcloud:

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Western Skies Motel; Andrew Tuttle; Star Pillow; Jakob Lindhagen

Fantasy League

WSM - Settlers
Title and cover tells us this is not what we call ‘ambient’ music. The opening tracks are acoustic guitar folktunes that reminded me of the music that was released through the Windham Hill label years ago. But gradually, atmosphere kicks in and the melodic arrangements move to the background.

‘There’s a timeworn, arid, and almost badlands quality to René Gonzàlez Schelbeck‘s hypnotic, cyclical guitar style. It seems to perfectly capture the lonely, barren landscape of the American West.”

This is especially remarkable, considering the fact that René ‘WSM’ Schelbeck comes from Denmark – “far removed from any upbringing in the rough-hewn Americana style of folk guitar.”
His music crosses geographical border, to appeal to all of us that are not familiar with the American West: “Regardless of our conceived themes or geographic locations, it tells a story that is lasting and instantly familiar.”

“Settlers” is available as a digital download and in 180 gram vinyl (including download). The limited physical edition (170) also includes a free bonus EP: “Generations” (first 50 only)

Fantasy League

It’s Andrew. Not Harry! I’m sorry, but everytime I hear the name Tuttle I immediately connect it to Terry Gilliam’s ‘Brazil‘ – and as a result the music is immediately framed into a retro-futurist Sci-fi setting..

But, in fact, that comparision may not even be that far off.

The weird contradiction between (broken) retro technique in a future society in Gilliam’s Brazil is, in a way, also reflected in (Andrew) Tuttle‘s blend of acoustic and electronic instruments: the banjo and electric guitar somewhat out of place in an environment of synthesizers and computers.
The question remains: is Andrew Tuttle‘s fantasy environment utopian or dystopian?
Or both?

For those that want to know: Andrew Tuttle (Brisbane, Australie) decided to use his own name in 2013. Before that, he was known as Anonymeye


Star Pillow

Time Released Sound have done it again: releasing an insanely packed album that you cannot buy because it’s already sold out. So you can look at the special edition that you’ve missed, but we’ll simply talk about the music and the standard CD release (which also has a great cover by the way).

Star Pillow is Paolo Monti (Italy), a name hitherto unfamiliar to me but a glance at his bio learns that he has an impressive track record. And that is something this album shows, too.
Above was recorded live, ‘in a solitary afternoon concert with closed doors and an empty club’. However: it sounds like a carefully crafted and well balanced studio recording.
The music is reflected by the image on the cover: it takes you on a weightless voyage, ‘a soothing, slow-motion floatation sensory trip into the atmospheres of your own mind..’


Skörheten is a Swedish documentary by Ahang Bashi about ‘mental fragility’, and this is its short but beautiful soundtrack created by Jakob Lindhagen.
Not the happiest music, as expected from the documentary’s subject, but not the saddest either.
It ‘is fragile and poetic but with a large dose of warmth and compassion, constantly pending between hope and despair.’

There are some delicately melancholic piano melodies, some ambient atmospheres and, remarkably, some soft jazzy pieces inspired by and reminiscing Swedish folk-jazz artist Jan Johansson (not to be confused with Johann from Iceland!).
Judged by the music on this short soundtrack album (which is available as a ‘Name your Price’ download), I guess that we will find the name Jakob Lindhagen on a lot more soundtracks in the future. And that is definitely something to look forward to.

Edit June 2017:
Skörheten (the documentary) has done quite well: it has been nominated in the “Best film” category at the Swedish Academy Awards, and was also awarded “Newcomer of the year”. But even more good news is that the soundtrack will be re-released by 
1631 Recordings, fully remastered and with three additional bonus tracks. I’ve updated the links in this post to the new locations.

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James Murray; Offthesky; Mute Forest; Ugasanie

James Murray - The Sea in the Sky

The Sea In The Sky is James Murray‘s sixth solo album (or seventh if you also include his collaboration with Anne Garner on their magnificient Be Life earlier this year).
While often abstract, his music is also very personal: dream-like, immersive drones unhiding a distinct melody (which may sound like a contradiction, but it really isn’t), electronic as much as acoustic never dark but focussing on etheric beauty instead.

All these qualities prove to be a perfect combination for picturing ‘the skies above’:
‘Ever-changing, unpredictable, suffused with esoteric patterns and directed by unseen forces, these oceans are a vast, dreamlike seascape of surreal dimension and spectacular, impossible beauty.’

Offthesky - The Serpent Phase

Jason ‘Offthesky’ Corder’s ‘Serpent Phase’ has been five years in the making. It was originally conceived with the aim to create a series of piano sketches, taking recordings from Chicago, Switzerland, England, Canada, Colorado and Kentucky.
Other instrumentation was added later: vibraphone, guitar, synth, drums, vocals (Pillow Garden), violin (Julie Slater) and – of course – some textural field recordings.
The collection is contemplative and very atmospheric, but it is up to the listener to give it a deeper meaning: they “allow us to explore the religious, spiritual and moral connotations of dark and light periods in life.”

Mute Forest - Deforestation

“Deforestation” is not exactly a positive connotation, and if the very first vocal line is “I lie by your grave…”, you know this isn’t going to be about a happy day experience.
It’s a fundamentally unnerving theme: returning home to find things are not how you remember them to be. To find your childhood forest is slowly dying:
In a seemingly ceaseless acreage near his childhood home in the Rockies of Colorado, Kael Smith takes a deep breath and listens critically to the forest. It is not the same sound he remembers as a youth, when he’d disappear for hours deep into these woods. No, the sound he hears today is unfamiliar and vapid. Muted, really. Since Smith’s departure to the city of Denver, the Mountain Pine Beetle has moved into these woodlands and decimated the trees; devouring their insides and leaving empty husks in its wake.”
Though the instrumentation, with its elements of minimal electronic, ambient and folk, is somewhat different, the overall atmosphere of these songs is not unlike that of Boduf Songs, especially in the use of the hushed whispered vocals.
But there is beauty in depression, there is beauty in decay … and that is the kind of beauty that Mute Forest perfectly captures in these songs of loss.

Eye of Tunguska

But we know destruction does not always come from the inside. In 1908, there was a large explosion near the Tunguska River (Russia), flattening 2000 square kilometers of forest (80 million trees), but causing no casualties. The cause of the explosion is thought to be a meteor, though no impact crater was found: the meteor is thought to have burst in mid-air. For 100 years this has been the source of many scientific studies.
But such an event can also be the source of legends and conspiracy theories.
One of these inspired Pavel Malyshkin (Ugasanie) to created this pitch black and icy cold release based on a ‘strange incident in the late 1990’s:
“A group of students went hiking to to see this legendary site. They lost their way after they decided to spend the night in one of the winter huts built by hunters of the land. Their mutilated bodies were later found near an old abandoned geological base with radiation burns.”

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DreamScenes 2015-05


It’s probably best to keep awake and try not to fall asleep to the dreamy ambience of this month’s selection by Dasha Rush, Alva Noto, Thomas Newton & Rick Cox, Monty Adkins, Peter Grech, Visionary Hours, Northumbria, Triac and Atrium Carceri.
Because if you do, you’ll miss the rather weird operatic tracks by We Like We (“I Began To Fall Apart”) and the timeless deconstruction of Irish Airs by Fovea Hex.

A very special – and possibly somewhat unexpected – spot is reserved for the track Lo Boièr – Iria from Efren Lopez’ album El Fil Del Llop (“Son of the Wolf”).
This particular track is a reworking of a traditional hymn, with lyrics which refer to a cryptic form whose coded message are about the extermination of the Cathar people by the crusaders sent by Rome in the 12th century.
Its chorus is the cry of alarm that the Cathars used:



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Benoit Pioulard – Hymnal Remixes

Pioulard Hymnal Remixes

In March 2013 and the months following, Benoit Pioulard (Thomas Meluch) caused quite a stir with Hymnal, his fourth release for the Kranky label. Inspired by ‘the ubiquity of religious iconography and grandiose cathedrals’ he had encountered throughout a year spent in southeastern England and on the European mainland, he presented a unique mix of hazy psych-folk songs and ambient instrumental tracks, with the aid of labelmates Felix (Lucinda Chua and Chris Summerlin) and Kyle Bobby Dunn.

Almost one full year later, the 12 tracks from ‘Hymnal’ get extensive re-workings on Hymnal Remixed – a 19-track double album released on the Lost Tribe Sound label.

The list of artists remixing these tracks reads as a ‘who’s who’ of the contemporary ambient music scene:
Fieldhead, Green Kingdom, Brambles, Field Rotation, Part Timer, Segue, Loscil, Radere, James Murray, Ruhe – not mentioning alll! Benoit Pioulard himself delivers a remix of “Reliquary”

On the original album the vocal tracks alternate with the instrumental, bit on this remix-CD’s they are placed together so you can choose according to your mood: the first disc is more ‘rhythm-oriented’, leaving the second disc to explore more ambient territory.
Some tracks re-appear in different remixes by different artists, which offers great insight in their different approach of the material.

Most of the remix tracks are considerably longer than their original counterparts. Surprisingly often, the remixes remain quite true to Pioulards’ original ‘feel’, just adding subtle details or manipulating the original sound – although some of the ‘ambient’ tracks are pushed into more ‘noisy’ territory than their originals.

Hymnal Remixed is a very adventurous listen, focussing on different aspects and details of the original “Hymnal” album.
It also helps us remember what a fine album Benoit Pioulard’s “Hymnal was (and still is!)

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Mirrorring – Foreign Body


Grouper (Liz Harris) is quite “Hot”.
And with that, I am not referring to the fact that she is female, which obviously is a rare feat in the male dominated world of ambient music (listeners, as well as musicians).

She’s ‘hot’ because she manages to appeal to a (relatively) large audience by merging different backgrounds, combining sleepy bedroom folk with laptop lo-fi and electronic minimalism.

Her recent performance (in my hometown) sold out quicky and raised a relatively fair amount of buzz. In her performance  she did not touch any guitar, did not sing any tune – she just shuffled and mixed some cassette-tape recordings into an uncompromisingly minimal, William Basinski-like set of “Sleep”  (from “Violet Replacement“).

Looking around and watching a silent (!) crowd (of about 150) listening to this slowly deteriorating piece, most of them with eyes closed, I could not help but wonder why I did not see most of these people at other ambient music performances.
Two days earlier I enjoyed a brilliant performance of Machinefabriek, Celer and Kleefstra-Bakker-Kleefstra – with only some 20 other people in the audience. Which was a shame, because this deserved to be heard by a lot more – I realised that most of this Grouper audience definitely would have enjoyed that performance too!

Most of Grouper’s previous recordings are not as minimal as this performance of “Sleep”. The fact that she’s crossing over from hazy bedroom electronics may very well be the reason why she guides her audience into the deep and sleepy realms of minimalist ambient music. Almost unnoticed..

Until yesterday, I had some doubts about reviewing Foreign Body”, a new release by Mirrorring (a duo featuring Liz ‘Grouper’ Harris and Jesy ‘Tiny Vipers’ Fortino (these two names together should obviously raise attention), because it’s not an ‘ambient’ album as most on this blog.

But with these thoughts about the recent Grouper performance in mind, I decided  this album was well worth the attention, because it will probably appeal to a lot of ambient music listeners, too.

So – how’s that for a lengthy introduction?

Foreign Body” is a Grouper/Tiny Vipers co-production that came about through a songwriting session in Portland, Oregon, in 2011.

Jesy and Liz work together in perfect harmony, each one adding to the other’s performance. Yet they have their own very personal style, which can be easily distinguished if you know any of the previous works of these performers.

The album opens with “Fell Sound” , which is mainly a Grouper track celebrating her distinct vague and sleepy style.

In style, this is quite different from the second track (“Silent from above”) which is “genuine Tiny Vipers“: Jesy’s tracks are firmly rooted in traditional folk and, accompanying herself with minimalistic repeating acoustic guitar theme, she has a bright, yearning voice to immediately fall in love with.

After these introductions, their respective style seems to merge into one perfect new sound, combining the dreamlike abstract with the utterly romantic. Like I said before, this has nothing to do with “ambient” music, apart from its uniquely strange, unearthly yet somehow familiar atmosphere. It is also worlds apart from the Sleep ambient music performanceBut, joining their forces on this release, Grouper  and Tiny Vipers nothing less but define a complete new sound, the kind of music that may help listeners cross over from “pop folk” to “ambient” – and vice versa.

Mirrorring – Drowning the Call


Spotify– (Also on Spotify)

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Fovea Hex – Here Is Where We Used To Sing

Fovea Hex

The music that is presented on Here Is Where We Used To Sing” is not the kind of music usually presented here on Ambientblog.
But ever since their impressive debut release “Neither Speak Nor Remain Silent” I have a weakness for all things Fovea Hex.

Apart from that, they are closely connected to the ambient music scene because of the musicians involved in the project, and expecially for the extremely mininal drone remixes that come with the special editions of their albums.

With eleven tracks (including three instrumentals) Here Is Where We Used To Sing” is a perfectly balanced album in itself, but if you are interested in ambient/electronic music (and I guess you are or you probably wouldn’t be reading this here), you should definitely go for the limited special edition that features a 31 minute bonus EP with fascinating remixes of the original source material by Michael Begg, Colin Potter and William Basinski.

Like its predecessor, this album defies any genre tag. It is rooted in a tradition that feels utterly English, it connects to folk music – but it isn’t. The arrangements are complex and adventurous, yet appear soft and soothing – the music is as poetic as the lyrics.

“Here Is Where We Used to Sing” follows the same path as “Neither Speak Nor Remain Silent”, but somehow feels more mature. This may be because the contributors have become more of a collective, since they have performed live in recent years.
And an (impressive!) list of contributors it is: Laura Sheeran (Clodagh’s perfectly matching vocal sidekick), Michael Begg, Brian Eno, Colin Potter, Julia Kent – just to name a few.
But after all, the shining star of this project of course remains writer and singer Clodagh Simonds.

Once again, this album deserves to be heard by a wider audience, but it will probably ‘go cult’ like the previous album did. My advice: don’t miss it!

At the time of writing, the limited edition with bonus CD is still available.
MP3 and FLAC versions can also be downloaded from Janet Records or BandCamp.
Spotify also features Fovea Hex releases.

Fovea Hex – excerpts

The track presented here is a ‘mini mix’ featuring some parts of the album; it is not included on the album in this form.  This ‘mini-mix’ includes (parts of) the following tracks: Fall Calling (bonus), Jewelled Eyes, Love for the Uncertain, Cup of Joy (bonus), Glaze (bonus).

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*AR – Wolf Notes

Wolf Notes

*AR is the “collective pseudonym” of Autumn Richardson & Richard Skelton, and “Wolf Notes”  is their first abum together.

But *AR is also “an archaic place-name element found in river names. (…) It is thought to mean ‘starting up, springing up, setting in motion’ “. 

A further quote from the liner notes explains what this music is about:
It “is inspired by the landscape of Ulpha – a region of spare, rugged beauty in the west uplands of Cumbria, in Northern England. Wolf Notes derives its title from the word ulpha itself, while it is understood to mean ‘the hill frequented by wolves’.”

On a different level, ‘Wolf Tones‘ also refers to overtones that are produced on bowed string instruments when a note matches the natural resonating frequency of the body of the instrument, ‘producing a sustaining sympathetic artificial overtone that amplifies and expands the frequencies of the original note’.
It may be just a coincidence, but I like this description because it also seems to describe the effect of this music resonating with the listener ( – although in performing music wolf tones are generally unwanted).

The music on this album is every bit as delicate as the beautiful letterpressed package is.
And besides that, the music is also every bit as English as you’d expect from reading the description in the liner notes.
In fact you can easily imagine following a mysterious woman’s voice, through landscapes unknown, wondering if the voice may be real or not.

Wolf Notes is divided in five different parts.
The first four are in fact one continuous composition with parts called Inception, Rise, Decline and Rest.
The closing piece is then called Return, and has a different theme but the same mysterious overall feeling.

The minimal background music, thoughtfully crafted by Richard Skelton mainly on multilayered string instruments, slowly unfolds from absolute quiet, and it takes a while until Autum Richardson‘s voice becomes apparent and slowly takes over the melody.
Her voice is beautiful, ethereal but clear, repeating a wordless theme and some variations, until slowly fading back to silence in ‘Rest’.

The landscape of Ulpha, Cumbria must be fascinatingly beautiful indeed!

*AR – Wolf Notes

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Laura Gibson & Ethan Rose – Bridge Carols

Bridge Cover

It must be something in the water or in the air over there in Portland, Oregon, resulting in a lot of remarkable music lately. Such as Bridge Carols, by Laura Gibson and Ethan Rose.
It’s labelled as “electro-pastoral music” and I really couldn’t think of a better description myself.

It’s not very often that I hear a new album that gives me the feeling it is exploring completely new territories by tearing down the limitations of existing styles and influences. Bridge Carols did exactly that. It got under my skin from the very first listen and felt like a mystery to be explored.

Laura Gibson could be called a (folk) singer-songwriter, although she has definitely developed her own style defying the borders of the folk genre.
In his music, Ethan Rose,  always searches to “merge the old with the new” – as demonstrated earlier on his beautiful album Oakscreated entirely on the sound of an old Wurlitzer Organ.

“Bridge Carols” also is all about merging the old with the new.

Gibson’s lovely voice (which some compare to that of Joanne Newsom) conjures dreamlike atmospheres that feel comfortable, ‘pastoral’ indeed. But embedded in Rose’s experimental soundscapes this music transcends to something unheard before. It’s weird, out of place, yet also vaguely familiar.

In creating this record, Laura and Ethan have experimented with different ways of collaboration:
“Ethan began building soundscapes, while Laura looked through piles of notebooks, coming across old phrases that never found home in verses or rhymes. They began recording Laura singing these unused writings. As the project developed, Laura began improvising lyrics and wordless vocalizations, streams of consciousness singing that tumbled out of her in long trailing waves. […] Ethan then took the recorded words – cutting them into bits and pieces – rearranging and juxtaposing them against each other to stretch them into new musical poems. […] With these vocal collages in place, Ethan would reshape tones and sounds around Laura’s words.”

That’s not the average everyday songwriting process…but indeed: this is not your average ‘singer songwriter’ album.

Ryan Jeffery directed the video for Younger, which also seems to visualise this process:

If you want more samples of this stunning album, check out the Bridge Carols website for track previews and more videos!

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