The more things change, the more they stay the same. That’s a cliché, but it runs through Factor’s newest album Lawson Graham like gospel. The songs are filled with characters moving but getting nowhere, running from places, people, and situations. No Sam Cooke hope here: ain’t nothing gonna change but your age.

Despite that thesis, and the patient, shuffling rhythm of almost every track, Lawson Graham is a fantastic and perpetually interesting album, one that feels cohesive despite a ton of voices. Factor, a producer, uses featured spots from 15 different artists, but unlike other guest-heavy records like N.A.S.A’s underwhelming (to put it mildly) The Spirit of Apollo, there is clearly a singular vision and musical grounding behind the thing. At no point does it feel like somebody else’s monthly mix tape.

The album mixes loose beats and live instrumentation with rap and indie-folk vocals, titled and loosely tied together by the ghost of Graham, Factor’s grandfather. These rappers haven’t been asked to rhyme about someone they’ve never met, fortunately, but his presence looms over these stories of generational unrest, and adds to the tone of something brought out of storage. “Livin’ in a Vacuum” still has marks from the hand that dusted it off, with dank raps by Sole lifted with a memorably sung chorus, and sampled music from multi-instrumentalist Radical Face.

Trading off time between rap and folk wouldn’t seem to be a potent idea, but by giving each element it’s space, Factor avoids turning his plan into a gimmick. “Every Morning”, a collaboration with the more electronically minded performer Cars & Trains, and “Missed the Train”, with songwriter Gregory Pepper, are straight acoustic songs with unobtrusive beats. The burnt-out “That’s How I Feel About It” and “Went Away”, with Myka 9 and Moka Only respectively, are prime underground hip-hop cuts. Combined, we get “The Fall of Captain E.O.”, Ceschi’s surreal retelling of the death of Michael Jackson against what could be called a suburban sea shanty, and the warm, funny “More Than Love”, in which Kirby Dominant gleefully tells us why John Lennon was full of shit.

The genre pairing works so well on a basic pop level, it must have been tempting for Factor to structure each track the same way. Rare for a hip-hop producer, he can see monotony coming, and parses the appearances from his many talented friends. Interludes like “Blown Away” and “Stoned as You” pad the running time a touch, but for the most part, Lawson Graham is easy to sit with and dig in its entirety.

For anyone stuck in an unchanging rut, hop a train, and put this one on the ‘phones.

image.jpgArtist: Factor
Album: Lawson Graham (Fake Four, 52 minutes)
Rating: 4/5
Key Tracks: “Livin’ in a Vacuum”, “Ain’t Nothin’ Gonna Change”, “That’s How I Feel About It”