Zebra Hunt Phasing Into the Sunset

Zebra Hunt, Unlikely Friends & Seacats at the Sunset Tavern, Seattle | 2 June 2017

Over the last five years it seems like many of my favorite Seattle bands have either broken up or left town. A few new ones have come up to replace them, but it seems like we’re in a slight lean period compared to the previous bounties we’ve experienced. Friday night at the Sunset in Ballard three Seattle bands provided some much needed rain on the parched fields of the Seattle music scene. Zebra Hunt, keepers of the Seattle pop flame, were celebrating their second album seeing the light of day courtesy of Spanish record label Tenorio Cotobade.

If you haven’t heard, Zebra Hunt are Seattle’s answer to the classic Flying Nun jangle of the 80’s and the current day jangling explosion of bands from Australia. If you’re old and dig the Clean and the Chills or young and love the Twerps and Chook Race, then Zebra Hunt will fit nicely into your wheelhouse. Having employed Jack Endino to record it, their sophomore effort improves on sound quality and sees no let up in song quality.

Focusing mostly on the new record the band played a great set for the home crowd and provided after show cupcakes decorated with their album cover. Since the last record Zebra Hunt have added a fourth member to the band to help flesh out their sound. The additional guitar and keyboard combined with their already stellar rhythm section increases the impact of the Zebra Hunt experience.

Singer and songwriter Robert Mercer writes about ordinary life but supplies an element of mystery to to his songs by being economical with the details. He is of the Raymond Carver school of writing. You get stories of house hunting, evening walks, listening to records in the kitchen and Foxhill Drive in 2005 with clues to what happened but no answers. I Wont’ Blame You house hunting backdrop sounds partly inspired by Courtney Barnett’s Depreston which was inspired by Paul Kelly’s To Her Door, which was inspired by Carver’s short stories. The lineage is impeccable.  With the release of In Phases, the band now have a larger trove of treasures to pull from for their live shows with a virtual guarantee never to disappoint.

Unlikely Friends were coerced out of their sabbatical to provide support. A BOAT and Math and Physics Club team-up, the group features the um, unlikely combination of both band’s singers, except on this night D. Crane had lost his voice . Probably due to the previous weekend’s BOAT reunion show or some rogue virus, the voiceless Crane  replaced his voice with a message he wrote on a series of notebook pages that littered the stage. The band was in triage mode with Charles Bert of MAPC taking over most of the vocals but letting the drummer Chris have some leads as well. They persevered and kept their sense of humor about them. Look for a second album and hopefully more shows from these underdogs when they’re restored to full power sometime in the not too distant future.

Opening the night were Seacats. Formerly of Kelso-Longview, but now apparently based in Seattle. The two singles I have of theirs give the impression that their a silly, happy-go-lucky sort of band, but as I walked in it was in the middle of their heavy stuff. I think it was their nuclear bomb song. Then they switched singers and pulled off a sublime psych-pop number and I was thoroughly confused. I wasn’t sure what to make of it all, but at least it was interesting!

Rolling Coastal Blacking Out or Something Like That

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One thing about Melbourne, Australia’s Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever is that I can never seem to get their name right. It doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue, you know. How many bands have four word names these days? People are lucky enough to be able to remember two word band names. It seems that their US label Sub Pop realizes this, shortening the band’s name for their US debut to Rolling Blackouts C.F. I don’t know if this is better though. It isn’t a whole lot easier to remember, and it gives the impression that there is already a band named Coastal Blackouts and these Blackouts are from some country with the initials C.F.

Another thing about Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever is that they jangle. You hear the likely suspects (Bats, Clean, & Feelies) in their sound, but their jangle comes from a more classic rock corner of the universe. Their sound can best be described by the Close Lobsters‘ cover of Neil Young‘s Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black). They sound like they’ve done their time on the bar circuit, and taken their lumps winning over hard drinking, blue collar fellows in dungarees.

One more thing about Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever, they’re show this past Tuesday at Barboza here in Seattle was a lot of fun. The five piece band featured three guitarists and singers, but their secret weapon, which all great bands will attest to, was their rhythm section. Every song was anchored by some great bass riffs which was really apparent live. That firm mooring allowed the guitarists to really go into their hyper-manic-riff mode trading licks and often vocal spots. This band seems to be very well oiled machine.

One final thing about Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever, they do a mighty fine cover of the Orange Juice classic Blueboy!

Seattle’s designated openers for all Australian jangly type bands, Zebra Hunt did just that. On this night I found out:

    • In Australia, zebra is pronounced with a short ‘e’.
    • Zebra Hunt’s second LP is coming out May 19.
    • The band now seems to be a permanent four piece.
    • They have got a brand new set of songs that rivals the ones the made me fan in the first place.
    • They just keep getting better!
    • They might actually be Australian judging from their ace cover of the Go-Betweens‘ Was There Anything I Could Do?

Catching Chook Race While They’re Around the USA

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Taking on America with an extensive 25 date tour is ambitious for any band, but when you’re Chook Race, a little known three piece jangle pop band from Melbourne, Australia it’s downright impressive (and maybe a little insane). The band made its way into Seattle Wednesday night to play the Victory Lounge, a bar with no stage in East Lake. This is one band I thought I would never see in Seattle, but after self-releasing their first album, Chicago label Trouble in Mind signed them making their second LP widely available in the United States as well as this tour a reality.

Singer and guitarist Matthew Liveriadis has a slight monotone delivery, but drummer Carolyn Hawkins provides a beautiful juxtaposition with her backing harmonies. The trio played an energized and jangly set inspired by the Bats and Close Lobsters mixing soon to be jangle pop classics from their first LP with ones of a slightly more classic pop sound from their new second album Around the House. In their short existence the band already have a stash of A-list songs and they didn’t leave any of them out including jangly diamonds like Dentist, Time, Sometimes and Hard to Clean and Older. The band’s tight sound and laid back attitude easily won over the likely already won over folks in attendance and made us all appreciate the long trip they had made to get here.

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Like minded Seattlites Zebra Hunt opened for Chook Race with a set that consisted almost entirely of new songs (Half Right was the only old one). Apparently the new album is nearly ready and based on this evidence I would agree. One song really stood out with its Feelies-like crazy rhythm, even slowing down and then rebuilding itself into something quite raucous. Zebra Hunt has still got it!

Some Good Albums from Seattle This Year

The moss has grown another layer over the past year here in the upper left corner of the U.S. and my stack of records from this Pacific Northwest outpost has grown as well. Luckily I have a cool dry place to store them. Here are my favorite records from Seattle for 2015, center justified for your reading comfort.

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Zebra Hunt – City Sighs (Tenorio Cotobade)
Buy | Listen

My favorite album of the year from Seattle or anywhere. If you’ve been reading along this year you probably could have easily guessed that.

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TheeSatisfaction – Earthee (Sub Pop)
Buy | Listen

Unclassifiable soul, hip hop, space age record that is part throwback, part social commentary and part bravely looking into the dark distant future.

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Childbirth – Women’s Rights (Suicide Squeeze)
Buy | Listen

The best feminist punk rock manifesto with a since of humor since forever.

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Unlikely Friends – Solid Gold Cowboys (Jigsaw)
Buy | Listen

With the rise of Unlikely Friends, fans of Boat and Math and Physics Club can’t be too sad that neither of those bands released a record this year. I wasn’t.

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Telekinesis – Ad Infinitum (Merge)
Buy | Listen

Michael Lerner eschewed his guitars and started collecting vintage synths to create a record inspired by OMD, Postal Service and Blue Nile.

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La Luz – Weirdo Shrine (Hardly Art)
Buy | Listen

Enlisting Ty Segall to record their sophomore record La Luz continue to shoot the curl with another great set of surf rock.

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Wimps – Suitcase (Kill Rock Stars)
Buy | Listen

Wimps dial up another batch of killer slacker punk rock anthems (if there is such a thing). Their sophomore LP Suitcase sees them getting higher marks in all categories which, given their M.O. is probably exactly the opposite of what they were going for.

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Grace Love and the True Loves – Grace Love and the True Loves (Self-Released)
Buy | Listen

The great soul revival of 2015 even reached such remote outposts as Seattle and Grace Love and the True Loves debut album was one of the best soul records of the year from any city.

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Detective Agency – Now (Discos de Kirlian)
Buy | Listen

I’m not sure if Detective Agency would appreciate being called indiepop, but I call ’em like I see ’em and this is some very fine indiepop!

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Car Seat Headrest –  Teens of Style (Matador)
Buy | Listen

The career of Will Toledo of Car Seat Headrest reminds me of Steven Jones of Babybird. Make a bunch of songs in your bedroom and release them and then find a band to re-record the best ones and voila, instant good record rooted in lo-fi but with some new bright corners.

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Ponytime – Rumours 2: The Rumours Are True (S-S)
Buy | Listen

Apparently Fleetwood Mac has permeated the garage rock scene of Seattle. I doubt there are any complicated love quadrangles in this band since they’re a duo. They’re more focused on just delivering a bunch of killer jams.
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Chastity Belt – Time To Go Home (Hardly Art)
Buy | Listen

Chastity Belt got serious on album  album number two. Their first LP No Regerts was middle school lo-brow humor compared to Time To Go Home’s more mature and measured sound that is a unique combination of drone and some of that heavier rock from the 90’s for which Seattle is well known.

Best Ones of the Year So Far

This was supposed to be a mid-year list. Actually it still is, but it’s month late. What does that make it? I’m still calling it a mid year list since I saw mid year lists in May. It’s also not as diverse as I was hoping it would be as you will likely notice that the letter F is over-represented here. Hopefully some of the other letters will get a little more attention in the year end list.   Hope you find something you might have missed and it’s in reverse alphabetical order for your convenience!

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Zebra Hunt – City Sighs (Tenorio Cotobade)

It just so happens that doing this list in reverse alphabetical order puts my favorite album of the year so far at the top of the list. How’s that for coincidence? Hopefully you already know and own this record. If not, you need it in your life because who doesn’t need a little kiwi flavored jangle served up by this Seattle trio?

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Young Guv – Ripe 4 Luv (Slumberland)

Fucked Up guitarist Ben Cook  will through you for a loop if you’re expecting hard core here. This is Cheap Trick style power pop mixed in with blue eyed soul and 80’s top 40 that is undeniably great.

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Wildhoney – Sleep Through It (Deranged)

Sleep Through It is full of shimmering anthems in the classic pop mold. Wildhoney’s debut album easily places them at the top of the heap of the shoegaze revival.

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Viet Cong – Viet Cong (Jagjaguwar)

An album of bleak post punk that sounds like it could have been made during the age of Reaganomics and the nuclear arms race. It’s like twisted a time warp back to the era of the Comsat Angels and the Sound.

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Unlikely Friends – Solid Gold Cowboys (Jigsaw)

Indiepop supergroup debut album that softens the edges of BOAT and adds some teeth to Math & Physics Club. The perfect Seattle elixir.

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Twerps – Range Anxiety (Merge)

Melbourne’s Twerps deliver the Flying Nun influenced jangly goods on their second LP. Fans of the Go-Betweens, Feelies and the Bats take note.

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TheeSatisfaction – Earthee (Sup Pop)

The otherworldly second album from the interstellar Seattle hip hop duo is spiritual and strange at once. If psychedelic hip hop were a genre this would be at the top.

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Thee Oh Sees – Mutilator Defeated At Last (Castle Face)

Finally an Oh Sees LP that marries John Dwyers more experimental solo outing material with his band’s freak outs.

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The Shifters – ST (Comfort 35)

Sure, the Fall put out a new record this year, but for my money Australia’s Shifters do it better in 2015. Full of bile, but they have a playfulness to them that is missing from the band that undoubtedly inspired them.

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Sauna Youth – Distractions (Upset the Rhythm)

Taught, anxiety filled post punk jams from this London band are designed for those who prefer their music played with sharp jabs and shouted choruses.

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Saun & Starr – Look Closer (Daptone)

Sharon Jones backup singers Saundra Williams and Starr Duncan Lowe finally come to the front of the stage to take the spotlight and give us a smooth soul classic.

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Jessica Pratt – On Your Own Love Again (Drag City)

If you didn’t know better, you would assume that this album is 50 years old and was produced by Joe Boyd. Out of time and otherworldly.

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Rozi Plain – Friend (Lost Map)

For her third LP Rozi Plain paints from a bucolic pallet to give us music of rolling hills and wandering brooks.

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Outfit – Slowness (Memphis Industries)

Second album from Liverpool quintet evokes the greatness of Talk Talk and the Blue Nile.

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No Joy – More Faithful (Mexican Summer)

With the help of Jorge Elbrecht this Montreal dreampop have produced an intricate studio creation that is a marvel to he ears.

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Menace Beach – Ratworld (Memphis Industries)

Want to relive those 90’s indie rock glory days, Menace Beach are here to help. Their debut album is super charged with great riffs and choruses.

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Male Gaze – Gale Maze (Castle Face)

Male Gaze have an intensity about them that puts them into the same league with A-Frames. Their debut album is steeped in post-apocalyptic paranoia that never goes out of style.

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Joanna Gruesome – Peanut Butter (Slumberland)

Album number two from Cardiff’s Joanna Gruesome is as high quality as their debut. It continues the uncanny mixture of sweet choruses, mad freak-outs and made freak-outs and sweet choruses.

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Nic Hessler – Soft Connections (Captured Tracks)

I feel like Nic Hessler’s debut album would have gotten more attention if he would have stayed with his Catwalk moniker. Marketing aside, Soft Connections is beautiful record of accomplished pop that is as good as anything Aztec Camera ever did.

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H Hawkline – In the Pink Condition (Heavenly)

Welsh musician H Hawkline, also known as Huw Gwynfryn Evans fits right in with some of his more famous psychedelic countrymen like Gruff Rhys, Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci and Cate Le Bon who also produced the album.

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Frida & Ale – I don’t like to see others having fun (WWNBB)

Former Rough Bunnie Frida teams up with Ale of Le Man Avec Les Lunettes to create a wonderful little folk record retains the same innocent playfulness of  Rough Bunnies.

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Frankie & the Witch Fingers – ST (Permanent)

Los Angeles garage maestros by way Bloomington, Indiana have put out the best garage rock record of the year. Yeah, I know it’s only August, but I sincerely doubt anything will surpass this white hot record.

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Flesh World – The Wild Animals In My Life (Iron Lung)

An intense and textured debut from former this bay area band lead by Jess Scott formerly of Brilliant Colors.  Tons of guitars create a dense o wall of sound and makes this record beg to be played at maximum volume.

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Fireworks – Switch Me On (Shelflife)

Switch Me On is packed full of adrenaline fueled pop songs. Fuzz pop blasts that outfuzz all other fuzz pop.

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Finnmark! – Things Always Change (Beko)

Singer Edward Forth has a deep baritone that reminds you of Edwynn Collins on one of the most understated and pleasure inducing indiepop record of the year.

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Faith Healer – Cosmic Troubles (Mint)

Jessica Jalbert aka Faith Healer is also a member of Edmonton garage rockers Tee-Tahs who put out one of my favorite albums of last year. Faith Healer is an entirely different thing, but no less good. Cosmic Troubles is full of easy psychedelic jams in the vein of Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci and Cate Le Bon. I wonder if she’s got some Welsh in her?

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Eternal Summers – Gold and Stone (Kanine)

Eternal Summers’ fourth LP is their best one yet. It’s full of buzz and jangle with just right amounts of polish and tarnish.

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Downtown Boys – Full Communism (Don Giovani)

Downtown Boys debut LP rages against the machine of of capitalism, sexism, racism, queerphobia, fascism, and boredom to the unstoppable sound of a twin sax tsunami. Hardcore never sounded this inviting and inclusive.

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Dick Diver – Melbourne, Florida (Trouble In Mind)

Dick Diver have many similarities with their fellow Australians Twerps. They jangle, sound a little like the Go-Betweens but Dick Diver aren’t afraid to get a little weird and experiment a little more on their records. Melboure, Florida is their third LP and though not as immediate as 2013’s Calendar Days, it sticks to the bones.

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Courtney Barnett – Sometimes I Sit and Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit (Mom & Pop)

Courtney Barnett’s stream of conscious lyrics are endlessly interesting to interpret and decipher and you have ample opportunity because the songs are so good on her debut LP that they beg to be played again and again.

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Jangly Good Times with Twerps at the Sunset

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I remember seeing the Lucksmiths eight or nine years ago at the Sunset in Ballard and getting into a conversation with someone at the show about how strange it was for a band to travel half way around the world just to play this tiny bygone place in Ballard where the bar was right in front of the stage. A lot has changed in Ballard since then, including the Sunset. It has recently been remodeled so that there is a front room called Betty’s Room that is open to non-ticket holders and then there is a separate back room where you need to pay a cover to get in to see the bands. It’s very similar to places like Piano’s and the Mercury Lounge in Manhattan. They may moved the bar away from the stage, but they left the giant support beam that cuts across the stage make a substantial obstacle for tall bass players who like to jump around. I guess you could say it adds some character to the place. All things considered the remodel is a major improvement.

Now it feels like a destination for bands traveling half way around the world, like the Twerps from Melbourne, Australia. Three years ago when they were in Seattle, they played at Chop Suey to a score of people. This time it was sold out. The Twerps at their core are Marty Frawley and Julia McFarlane, both sing and play guitar. Helping them out this tour is the rhythm section from the Stevens who also share a record label, Chapter Music in Australia. The Twerps new album Range Anxiety features much better production than their debut and quite a few fairly obvious nods to the Go-Betweens. Live the band seemed loose and in good spirits despite a late night drive to make it to Seattle in time for a session at KEXP earlier that day. Marty has a cheeky sense of humor, at one point in the set declaring his preference for Portland over Seattle. He seemed to relish playing to a full room. A couple highlights from the set for me included Jules’s Raft from the Underlay EP. This song doesn’t really sound like a Twerps song, but was pretty great nonetheless sounding part Bats and part Lovelife era Lush. Another highlight was Simple Feelings which really took an Feelies vibe with its swirling guitar and manic beat. The set was packed full of gems like like Dreamin’, Work It Out, I Don’t Mind and Back to You. With  two albums and a handful of EP’s the band had bounty of riches to choose from and they chose wisely, making it a jangly good time for everyone.

Range Anxiety by Twerps is out now on Merge Records.

Zebra Hunt who opened for the Twerps at Chop Suey three years ago also opened Saturday evening. I can’t think of a better match of bands for a bill. If you haven’t checked out Zebra Hunt’s album yet and dig the Twerps, I can guarantee that you will love it.

So Much Water So Close To Home

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After a couple singles, Zebra Hunt, the Pacific Northwest’s foremost purveyors of the Dunnedin sound have released an album. City Sighs has obviously been influenced by the classic Flying Nun sound of the early 80’s made famous by the Clean, the Verlaines and the Chills, but it also incorporates some distinctly American sounds to create a fresh variation on a well worn style.

City Sighs seems to be an album full of jangle, longing and discovery. It’s full of pop songs that are instantly likable and easy to remember. Deleware starts the record and opines for a lost friend who’s up and moved back to the first state in the Union. Singer Robert Mercer sings just enough (and leaves even more unsaid) to get you wondering why this person left. It has an air of mystery to it like a Raymond Carver story. The American influences aren’t just literary. Call It Off is a dusty rocker that has Long Ryders feel to it and Isle of Song and Always both owe a little something to Galaxy 500. The band also rightfully resurrect Half Right and Beaches of LA, two of their best songs that originally appeared on their first single that came out on the now defunct Manic Pop label.

The last song Haze Of Youth may be my favorite song on the album. Starting out as pop and then transitioning into a long jam, it out real estates Real Estate. City Sighs is being released by the tiny Tenorio Cotobade label in Madrid, Spain, so you probably won’t see this record at your local shop unless you live in Seattle, but it deserves as much exposure and recognition as like minded records (on much larger labels) by the Twerps and Real Estate.

Vinyl & Download available from Tenorio Cotobade.
Download available from Zebra Hunt’s bandcamp.

If you’re near Seattle this weekend, don’t miss Zebra Hunt Saturday at Hilliard’s in Ballard.

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