Okay is the moniker of Marty Anderson, a West Coast musician who has been in such great indie-rock bands as Dilute and Howard Hello. Anderson was diagnosed with a very rare and debilitating stomach disorder, and during the first part of the century, the disease's progress intensified and has since made him housebound. With such life-changing events taking place, it's understandable that Anderson would seek solace in music, and as a result, Okay was born.
High Road, Okay's debut record, is a unique, interesting artistic achievement; it's the sound of a man who is in pain, whose life is changing, but he does so without ever addressing his personal hell. Musically, High Road's sound is limited in the way that a one-man-bedroom band can be, but don't let that fool you. Utilizing the concept of "it's not what you can do, it's what you can do with what you have," Anderson has created eleven songs that are at once beautiful, disturbing and ugly. High Road is a lush, downcast record that reminds of Grandaddy and Mercury Rev on 1/100ths of a studio budget and 100 times more pain, and highlighted by Anderson's voice. Childike but wise, he sounds not unlike Daniel Johnston and Vic Chesnutt.
The ugly beast of his sickness doesn't conceal itself very well. Underneath High Road's pretty moments are some moments that are simply heartbreaking. "Good" is an excellent example of this. The song itself is a pretty song that has grand moments that sound like the Polyphonic Spree, but the chorus of "What's happening, Can do without" will break your heart. Of course, the song isn't negative; it grows into a colorful kaledescope of joyous sounds and the refrain of "look for the good then find the good" will warm your heart. Then there's "Sing-Along," which doesn't do a very good job of being subtle about pain. Seemingly about being angry while talking to a doctor or therapist, Anderson's chorus of "I don't believe anything that you say" in reply to some form of optimism in the face of terminal illness will break your heart; it's the fine line between being hopeful and hopeless that's been crossed, and it's not pretty. (And dig the sad, heartbreaking kazoo chorus!)
It's hard not to get wrapped up in Anderson's plight. When, on "Give Up," he sings "I've got to give up, I've got to give up," you'll more than likely think, "no, Marty, don't give up!" Throughout High Road, you're drawn into his world and his pain, and it's hard not to root for him. But all is not lost; hope seeps from even the saddest song on here, due in no small part to Anderson's unique, interesting voice--one that sings of innocence while the world around him burns. Even though the future may be bleak, the present is all that matters, and it's this virtue of appreciation for what you have now is what makes High Road wonderfully compelling.
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