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.
Low 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, Low 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.
When a record starts off with a cloyingly upbeat song that sounds like something off of a children's record yet the song itself is describing bleeding to death, you realize that you're dealing with something that defies the limited notion of "normal." That the song becomes an anthemic and utterly catchy sing-along makes things even more...interesting. The combination of quirky, cute and interesting arrangements that adds to Low Road's instant charm, all topped off with Anderson's voice, which sounds like a happy-go-lucky helium-sucking David Bowie imiation done by a childlike mind such as Daniel Johnston.
Do not think, though, that these cute and quirky moments are happy moments, because they're not. The songs on Low Road are quite catchy--some border on sing-alongs--and, in some cases, extremely heartbreaking. "Devil" has a dance-y rhythm and catchy melody, but the very first line is "We're killing you just like we're killing me/But what can we do." "I don't give a hoot no more," on "Hoot," will reveal itself both one of the catchiest songs you'll hear all year AND one of the most pathetic statements about life you'll hear all year. Then there's "Replace," a melody about Anderson's acceptance about his fate that's built on the melody of "Amazing Grace," that starts off with "I don't live in my head/Somebody killed it dead/I don't live in my head any more." By song's end, you won't hear "Amazing Grace" quite the same.
Low Road's greatest moment, though is on "Oh." It's a simple song with a very basic lyric; when he sings, "I got a full life, oh yeah, the good life, the way it's supposed to be, but it hurts to be stabbed in the back," that you really, truly sympathize with Anderson's plight. On the surface, it's about betrayal of a friend, but the song is deeper than that; when it leads into a conversation, "when I was down and blue, and then you said to me, boy, you're right where I want you to be," you realize that the 'friend' that's betrayed him isn't a person, but it's his body. Or, of course, it's God. Or maybe it's both. Regardless of your interpretation, one thing remains: this is powerful songwriting at its most effective; this song will leave you in tears, and it's more real and emotional and painful than anything Conor Oberst has ever written.
Low Road is a fascinating, captivating debut record. While one wouldn't wish Anderson to go through what he's going through, it's good to know that his illness hasn't ceased his creative process, and that he is using this opportunity--as cursed as it may be--as a blessing. This is a beautiful record that demands your attention, and it's the most honest artistic statement you'll hear this year--or, to be honest, in years. A truly timeless record that opens up and blossoms with each successive listen. Easily one of this year's best records.
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