Rapper Madlib didn’t wait long between albums. Following a jan record in November as Jahari Massamba Unit, he’s already back with a new collaborative venture with electronic musician Four Tet in Sound Ancestors. Unlike the previous album, Sound Ancestors takes a more candidly hip-hop-centric focus that’s sample-heavy amid an array of boom bap instrumentation. However, there’s still the occasional deviation into freeform jazz.
Tracks tend to bounce back and forth between the organic sounds of string instruments, woodwinds and hand drums, to rumbling reverb-laden bass lines and snare-kick punches screaming for someone to start rapping over them. They’re often accompanied with keyboard and electric guitar melodies to further liven up an already vibrant arrangement.
The vocal samples come from a wide array of eclectic selections. The lyrics of Ethic’s “Lost In A Lonely World” are laid over the acoustic-guitar-driven arrangement of “Road Of The Lonely Ones,” for example.
The melody and vocals of post-punk band Young Marble Giants’ “Searching for Mr. Right” appear on “Dirtknock,” the highlight track of the record. The grimy, bass-heavy cut sets its tempo with the sound of a plectrum scraping the strings as heavy snare and kick drum drive the beat into an aggressive arrangement that feels tailored perfectly for the stylings of the late MF DOOM.
The following track, “Hopprock,” diverts from your expectations by opening with the soothing rumble of a rainstick being tilted, followed with some cello and marimba driven by the soft thumping of hand drums. A brief overlay of an answering machine going through voicemails is introduced before being cut off by a synthetic clap and snare tempo with a light electric guitar melody. “Riddim Chant” similarly uses an acoustic guitar melody much like “Road Of The Lonely Ones.” However, with the choppy sampled vocals and staccato implementation of other backing instruments, it’s as if Madlib is reminding listeners of the manufactured quality of the tracks juxtaposed against the use of traditional instruments.
Similarly, the use of acoustic instruments on the title track gradually transitions into a jazzier tune through the use of upright bass, flutes, cymbals and cowbell. It’s not a drawback, but you’ll get some whiplash. Songs like this one and “Loose Goose” will put you at ease before snapping you out of it, which isn’t to say thats a bad thing—organic vs. synthetic, old world vs. modern day.
Sound Ancestors feels right for these times, as we head into an uncertain future that is quickly being defined by both our immediate past. Perhaps that’s an over-analyzation. Regardless, it’s masterfully crafted and well worth the time.
Follow editor Tim Hoffman at Twitter.com/hipsterp0tamus.