Graves has been promoting "Anatomy" since 2017, and has likely been working on the project for even longer. He released a couple singles from the project, complete with music videos, in mid 2017 and I figured that the full album would drop sometime in the fall/winter of that year. Fortunately for Graves, and unfortunately for us music junkies, the man's mural career appeared to take off around the same time and we thus went through the rest of 2017 and 2018 without hearing much about the album. Luckily, however, the much anticipated self-produced (save two tracks) project is finally set to drop! And it is certainly worth the wait.
"Anatomy" is an album tracing Graves33's attempts to cope with the current, less than satisfactory, states that modern culture finds itself in. The album's opener and first single, "American Hypocrite," which is backed by Graves' trademarked dark melodic electronic production, has Graves identifying and comparing the constant struggle that exists between the American traditions of hope, resilience, and life improvement and the American traditions of greed, hatred, and decay. Said struggle, which I interpret Graves as saying he himself is not immune from, has made the rapper tired and a bit uninspired ("My lesson tellin' me to open up my heart and uh/I need a pick me up or else I'll beg your pardon bruh.")
The themes of (1) struggle between opposing forces and (2) weariness are carried on into the next couple of opening tracks. On the synthy and glitchy "Messing Me Up," Graves discusses the desire to pursue creativity and revolution despite such pursuits not always succeeding ("We made it to the farthest edges of the earth/Amazed it works, rollin' in a hearse") and, on the thick bassy "Glad Its Gladys," raps about the relationship between becoming a philosophical leader of sorts and the presence (or perceived presence) of more vicious tendencies ("Might have been violent before I established a dialogue or a rapport.")
From there, Graves dives even deeper into the 'hope v. decay' theme. The upbeat "Sunburst" acts much like its name and comes through with a blaze of positivity and aspiration with regards to how Graves views his career ("I like to pull the shades down, turn the lights on/Become a vessel for the language when the mic's on.") The spacey Phreewil produced "Casting Blades" finds Graves confident in how he will fair against the negative forces in society ("They wanna earn a medal poking at the panther cage/But even if they're taking lives, I will reanimate.") Immediately after, however, Graves goes into "Carlos" where he, over some amazing haunting strings, addresses the despair of the economic and political situations that many artists find themselves in ("Your ears always pleased/But that don't mean my kids are gonna eat...") The following "West Side Skyline" is a tribute to west Seattle and has Graves reminiscing on younger years, years that he divides and groups together based on the modes of transportation and the manner of playing music that he was using during a time period. This 'good ol' days' track is re-contextualized in the following "Mars Is For Martians" which has Graves, over a familiar Moments sample I believe (produced by Phreewil,) wanting to return to better days not only because of the better days themselves but also because of the mere need to escape current times ("If there's 50 ways to see it from/Then after looking at it 50 ways I'm feeling numb.")
My favorite track on the album is probably "Swords" which plays like a triumphant final goodbye to society and culture as we know it. The chanty hook proclaims that "everything is falling to the ground" as Graves acknowledges both the efforts made by many and the reality of the situation of modern culture.
From here, the album takes a slight turn, in my opinion at least, from focusing on society's issues as opposition to hope and progression to focusing on society's issues as a form of grander apocalyptic destruction. On "Sandstone Temple," one of three tracks that features Graves' famed guitarist father Randy Hansen, Graves appears to situate himself, since his youth, as a person especially fit to recognize and address the grim issues at hand. "Sky Is Burning" has Graves reflecting on, over an eerie instrumental, a history of false paths.
The echoey electronic instrumental track "Suddenly Nobody" gives off vibes of a dystopian rapture and leads into "Tired of Waiting," a frantic drum heavy track where Graves expresses a basic desire to see the ultimate results of society's current direction ("My words too hard to decode, on to the next episode/I'm tired of waiting in line, gotta see the truth that unfolds/I don't know but I've been told a million times before/You gotta think on your toes, one blink and you're ghost.")
The album closes on "No More Suit and Tie," which plays, thanks to another Randy Hansen feature, like a riffy dirge. If "Swords" is a triumphant farewell, then this closer is a somber acceptance.
"Anatomy" is ultimately a great body of work from Graves33 who manages to get his messages across via both blunt and more cryptic lyrics. As with previous projects, Graves remains especially critical of religion (see "Shakey Ground" and "Park The Car" where Graves raps, "Fables of God creating us all/But it's a mirage...we only have the stars to dodge") which comes across as both meaningful and sincere. The album's production complements the rapping extremely well and carries a uniform tone of the gloomy Northwest throughout the album while, at the same time, being varied enough to keep attention. The synthy "Shakey Ground," the riffy "Sandstone Temple," and the more trappy "Siamese Starships" all sound good both on their own and as pieces of a larger album. From a more technical standpoint, Graves is still very very good on the mic. He knows when to stack the multis and when to hit with the simpler, yet often more impactful, rhymes. The number of flows and schemes that he uses throughout the album is vast. In addition to the more stoic voice that I most commonly associate with Graves, the rapper adds his own twist on cadences reminiscent of Oldominion, Project Blowed, and Drake - and manages to make them all sound fresh. On top of all this, Graves has become a pretty talented hook writer and performer as well!
As for negatives, there aren't many of them. Some of the production choices are weaker than others (e.g. "Park The Car" and "Mars Is For Martians") though this isn't really an issue with the beats themselves (as none of them are bad) but rather an issue of Graves, in my opinion, sounding best over heavier darker beats. There's also a handful of bars here and there that don't really hit (e.g. "My final life goal, fightin' off the vices though/Everyone has one of them like child to a bicycle" on "Sunburst.") though these are definitely kept to a minimum. The biggest issue with the album is the feature list. As Graves himself hints at on "American Hypocrite," there exists such a strong synergy between Graves' production and Graves' rapping at this point. Because of this, guest vocalists often run the risk of disrupting the vibes of certain tracks - and that happens here. GunsGodsGhosts (formerly Sarx,) who is featured on "Swords," and Oldominion's Barfly (Graves' partner in the Wolf Hotel duo,) who is featured on "Tired of Waiting" are both quality features who elevate their respective songs. Evolve, on "Siamese Starships," and Dox and Jack Gaffle, on "Casting Blades," mesh fairly well with the tracks they're given. However, Asun, on "Glad Its Gladys," Araless, on "Sunburst," AV, on "Carlos," and Early Adopted, on "Sky Is Burning," all cause their respective tracks to lose pace at some point - not because they bring weak verses or because they are bad rappers, but rather because, as noted, Graves is usually best left on his own when he's handling the production + raps. At 18 tracks deep, however, all of these "negatives" really amount to minor quibbles amidst all the good stuff packed in the album.
After nearly a two year wait, Graves33 delivers "Anatomy" and it is definitely one of his strongest works yet. The content, delivery, and production all combine to make a truly great listening experience. The album officially drops on April 8th and you can pre-order it on Bandcamp. If you'd like to peep it now, however, head over to Graves' GoFundMe page (targeted at funding Graves' mural projects) and donate $10.00 or more to get a download of the album in its entirety now!