Album Review: Sound Ancestors by Madlib and Four Tet

Otis Jackson Jr, or better known by his stage name, Madlib, is a producer and multi-instrumentalist from California. Kieran Hebden, or better known by his stage name, Four Tet, is an electronic artist from London. Both of these artists have an expansive history and are known quite well in their respective genres. While the two have known each other and occasionally worked on a few tracks together, Sound Ancestors marks the first full collaborative album together.

The first track from their album is There Is No Time — Prelude. As I was expecting, there probably won’t be too many vocal features on this album, and the introduction is one of those instrumental tracks. It opens up with some sort of string track that is layered over with some piano notes. Besides those notes, we do have eerie electronic notes that start to come into the mix, especially with some of the droning sounds added on to the end of the track.

The Call definitely brings some more energy to the mix with the jamming electronic guitar and synth notes. You also have a smooth bass line that keeps the tempo moving through the track. Also, there are some lyrics that are sampled throughout the beginning of the track. I can’t be so certain, but the vocals do seem eeriely familiar of Paul McCartney’s voice. There are also some soundbits of a person that seems to be on a phone call.

Theme De Crabtree was another fun track that I found from the album. While the lyrics seem to be from a reggae or Jamaican song, the Madlib soundclip seems to contradict the sound, but it actually meshes really well with what Madlib made. The percussion instrument in the back is definitely unique since it adds some light bell sounds to the mix. Other than that, the lyrics definitely seem to point to the Rastafari movement.

Road Of The Lonely Ones marks the longest track on the album, which is just about over three and a half minutes in length. The track seems to feature some lively vocals from the group The Ethics, and their track Lost In A Lonely World. I actually enjoy what Madlib and Four Tet brought to this track since it makes it seem a bit more lively and actually makes the track that much better in my opinion. Also, you definitely can’t complain with the drumbeat on this track.

Loose Goose brings some very wavy and bubbly instrumentation. The track opens up with what sounds like some electronic transmissions that are being sent. You eventually get more electronic noises brought in there, which almost sounds like a kazoo… But just before you thought it couldn’t get more strange, Snoop Dogg comes in on the track. It’s a very odd track so I’m a bit surprised they were able to throw this track on the album.

Dirtknock is a short track, but it definitely gives me that old school hip hop like vibe, even if we don’t really get any rapping from this track. As much as I like this track, it just seems like it was underutilized and that we could have had some better featured guest on this track. I don’t mind the woman’s vocals on here, but it’s pretty quiet and hard to hear here so I think the mixing might have been a bit off with this one.

Hopprock seems to slow it down a bit and it actually brings in some orchestral string instruments in the back. Besides the strings, we do have some quiet percussive instruments thrown in there here and there. As for the vocals, there’s a sample from a phone’s message box. We hear short snippets from this person, but it keeps on saying message deleted so we are unable to listen to the conversation. After listening to the messages, we get some other inaudible vocals. A bit strange at first, but I guess it works for Madlib and Four Tet.

Riddim Chant opens up with what sounds like a recording from a phone call. Other than that, it seems like we have another laid back beat. I am getting more 90s vibes from this track though. Instead of an orchestral string section, we do have an acoustic guitar that seems to lay the foundation of the track. We also get some bells that are just droning on which does add a sense of eerieness to the track. Besides that, there aren’t really any vocals to be heard on here.

Next, we are brought to the title track of the album, Sound Ancestors, which is just an instrumental piece. The track opens up with what sounds like some type of marimba or xylophone type instrument, as well as some other type of wooden instruments. This definitely sounds more experimental in nature since all of the instruments are all over the place. Once the xylophone instruments break out, you have a flute with some other tapping noises. I just don’t enjoy how there’s no sense of direction as the track progresses.

One For Quartabê / Right Now brings up the energy on this album again. The first half of the beat also sounds like some early video game-style track. With the high pitched synthesizers and Busta Rhymes thrown over it, you can’t go wrong with this track. The second half of the track brings out the smooth bass, which contrasts with the first half perfectly. The chopped up vocals seem to blend in with the bass as well.

Hang Out (Phone Off) seems to have a lot of vocal mixes thrown in at the beginning. While it is listed as an instrumental, the vocals don’t really seem to play a huge part to the track. Instrumentally, it does sound somewhat similar to the second half of the previous track, but there is a piano thrown in there as well. I guess I was expecting a bit more from this album by now so this track has been a little underwhelming.

Madlib pays homage to his long time friend J Dilla Two for 2 — For Dilla. Unfortunately J Dilla passed away back in 2006. On this track, Madlib picks a Persuaders track and chops up the lyrics into different parts as well as some of the instrumental towards the end. I’m really enjoying the feeling he was able to mix into this track so it definitely has become one of my favorites. It also has sentimental feeling for Madlib which just adds more emotion to the track.

After that full blown track, the next track, Latino Negro starts a bit quieter with the guitar and rolling percussion part. This also one of the other long tracks on the album, just clocking in over three and a half minutes in length. I am definitely getting a more Latin feeling on this track with the guitar that is presented on here.

The New Normal opens up with a very wavy but catchy beat. After the entrancing introduction, a very rough and industrial like guitar comes in which changes the beat ten fold. Honestly, I was not expecting the rough guitar to just make the beat that much more aggressive. It also does add a strange tinge to the beat since the track has a space-like aesthetic. I can only assume the title of the track has to do with the current situation of the world.

Besides the prelude track, Chino marks the shortest track from the album since it is just under two minutes in length. It does offer some small vocal samples, but for the most part, they don’t add too much to the track. The highlight of the track definitely has to be the piano with the percussion since they line up perfectly. This is another track that definitely gives me some 90s hip hop vibes based on the instrumentation.

The last and final track we have on the album is Duumbiyay. I can only assume the title of the track is what the artist is singing. It’s a bit hard to explain this track, but it sounds like we have some younger kids singing Duumbiyay as well as some other inaudible lyrics. The instrumentation is also a bit off since it sounds like the piano is off at times, especially as the track progresses. Other than that, I’m kind of confused as to why Madlib and Four Tet ended on this note.

Overall Rating: 7/10

Favorite Tracks: The Call, Road Of The Lonely Ones, One For Quartabê / Right Now, Two for 2 — For Dilla

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