Kutiman - Surface Currents (Album Review)

April 5, 2021


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While metal remains our focus as we find promising newcomers and established artists to cover, it’s always fun to go outside the box and explore some artists for our readers that want to expand their horizons a bit.  Israel’s Kutiman is the latest artist I’ve chosen for this exploration, and this project has encompassed a wide range of musical territory over the years.  With previous dive into funk, psychedelic rock, and field recordings that captured a variety of world music, this year’s Surface Currents finds the project turning inwards towards ambient and drone that reflects the tranquility and solace of his home in the Negev desert.  Intended as background music while one does other tasks or just to zone out to, for those that want a more abstract and free flowing sense of beauty and calmness, this is an album that may be appealing.

Having covered a good deal of dark ambient and drone that used looping electronics and minimalist instrumentation to create tension and unease, it’s nice to head in the opposite direction and experience one that lulls you into a calm trance with ethereal melodies.  Through the use of electronics, piano, and other instrumentation alongside field recordings these songs ebb and flow slowly and methodically in ways that feel like waves crashing at the beach on a warm summer day.  Stylistically Kutiman has taken some of the elements first explored on his Greenpeace commissioned album Antarctica from 2019 and pushes them outwards in a less structured format.  Like most drone or ambient, the three songs are built around a looping melody that seems to hover over the recording as other instruments are brought in around it, and there’s a denseness to the layers that reveal new details for those that want to give it their full attention.  But for those that want to stay true to Kutiman’s “music for doing things” intention, there’s also plenty here to put you in a brighter mood if you choose to leave this as background music.

What makes or breaks these two genres of music for me is how the layers build over time, and how the musicians are able to differentiate each piece so that they connect with the listener.  For me this is where Surface Currents mostly succeeds, as it does build an entrancing and ethereal atmosphere that has a nostalgic yet mystical feel.  You can close your eyes and imagine yourself at your favorite beach or other comfort spot, but there’s also a sense of the unknown present as well.  With that being said, I did find “Offshore” to drag a bit compared to the title track as the slower, methodical approach led to some similar approaches between the two.  “Coral Blossom” does shake thing up with a slight hint of additional rhythm that brings in a more minimalist jazz or even classical approach. 

I like the droning, minimalist approach Kutiman is going for here as it does lend itself well for music that one can either put on while doing other things or lose themselves in.  While it does represent some newer territory for the project itself, it does resemble some other established drone and ambient from over the years and doesn’t seem quite as experimental as some of the past efforts.  Antarctica might be a better entry point for Kutiman’s body of work, but those that are looking for something calm and atmosphere focused will find an enjoyable listen waiting for them.  Surface Currents is available from Siyal Music.

-Review by Chris Dahlberg

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