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  The Great Outdoors
  Andrew Bernstein
  Ehse Records  
Release Date:
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I get why a lot of people despise the avant-garde. I really do. It can be very grating, or so weird that you cannot make any sense of it. Most things need a context for people to be able to grasp them, and by definition avant-garde has no such context. I mention this because Andrew Bernstein is pretty far out there in the avant-garde. This release will not appeal to most people. No, really, you might want to stay away. It's better that way.

However, what Mr. Bernstein does here is push boundaries. That is why the avant-garde is necessary. You need people out there totally overthinking things and just experimenting. If that experimentation proves to be a little grating to many people, well, eventually it will be filtered down into pop music and people will understand it.

Avant-garde music has kind of a reputation for being elitist, and i think i came across as elitist in that previous paragraph. That is not what i'm shooting for here. What i mean is that there are these experimenters, people who do really crazy out there stuff, and then later the crazy out there stuff influences somebody else and it becomes more normalized, more melodic. Not that the crazy out there stuff is "better" than the "normalized" stuff, they are just different. Avant-garde is a phase of music -- everything starts off really weird and crazy and then, over time, becomes background music at the mall...

It's like how once jazz was a radical and feared musical genre. Go and read about the reactions people had to jazz back in the 1940s Ė saxophones and syncopated rhythms would lead to the End of Society! Now, jazz is the music the classy restaurant plays over the sound system to make them seem intellectual yet casual. Jazz isnít scary or weird at all anymore. The avant-garde has become normalized. That is what i am getting at here.

And jazz is actually a good comparison because a lot of this record is based on Andrew Bernstein's saxophone playing. Yes, he plays avant-garde jazz saxophone. At times...

There are three songs on this release. They are all pretty long, but let me describe them.

The album starts off with Black Noise which is an ambient piece so minimal that it is barely there. There is just some stuttering static and a faint drone of some kind, the bare sound of tape recording. It last six minutes of near nothingness, where you strain to hear what is going on. This type of music makes you work at figuring out what you are hearing.

The second piece slowly fades in from the minimal ambience. The title track is about thirteen minutes of Bernstein wailing on his sax, just making odd patterns and sounds, the saxophone as a rhythm instrument and the song as just rhythmic changes. It is the sound of someone playing with their instrument and making sound for the sheer fun of it. Its unfocused nature might put off many listeners though.

Exhaust is the last track here, and it clocks in at a whopping 14 minutes. The minimal ambience of Black Noise starts it off, sound barely there as slowly, inexorably, a drone rises. The drone is a rumble that slowly rises, filling the world with an ominous drone.

It's weird, mellow, and kind of cool. Not for everyone, certainly, but Mr. Bernstein is pushing some boundaries.

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