Too many albums are criminally overlooked, and for a
band like Okay, that's just not OK. This two-CD set
has been hanging around my place since at least
February, and it wasn't until recently that I finally
decided to give it a good listen. And I'm so glad I
did. I knew there was reason this one hadn't been
consigned to the used bin just yet.
The story behind Okay is an interesting one, too.
Based in the Bay Area, Okay are essentially the
songwriting project of the incredibly prolific Marty
Anderson, who once played guitar in Dilute. Anderson
has spent much of his life battling various, often
undiagnosed, illnesses. During the writing and
recording of these two CDs (Low Road and
High Road), Anderson was hospitalized due to
Crohn's disease (a debilitating bowel disorder), severe weight
loss, anemia and malnutrition. Many nights were
considered close calls. But it was one night in
particular, during which he experienced tremendous pain of
the lower spine, that the healing began. This is,
Anderson believes, thanks to kundalini, an energy
Eastern medicine says lies dormant in the spine until
it is needed for its magnificent healing powers.
Anderson believes the kundalini kicked his ailments
out of his body that night, paving the way to a
healthier, more energized living.
Only a month later, Okay bassist Ian Pelucci,
drummer Jay Pelucci (Ian's brother), drummer/guitarist
Yosef Lewis, autoharpist Anna Weisman, percussionist
Amanda Panda and singer/keyboardist Anderson were
able to play their first show at San Francisco's Noise
Pop 2005. While Anderson must still stick to a strict
regimen of an IV drip and other medications, he is
functioning well today and, listening to these two
CDs, one can't help but think the kundalini had a
little help from its friend, music.
Two separate discs laid down in the same session,
Low Road and High Road are led by
Anderson's thin, shaky voice and consist of more than
200 tracks of sound, yet manage to avoid feeling
oversaturated in noise. Okay's overall sound is
indie pop with a lot of endearing tinkering in the
back. But Anderson's raw, desperate folk croon
casts a dark shadow from above, keeping things from
getting too optimistic or cute. Employing everything
from the kazoo, bells and chimes to cap guns,
xylophone and two dozen different percussion
instruments, Okay gave themselves a lot to work with, but
that's OK because, rather than drowning in a mess of
sound, they know how to layer and mix for strong,
emotional and beautiful results.
Anderson's distant voice, sometimes accompanied by
acoustic guitar, recalls Devendra Banhart and could
prompt a tossing of Okay into the freak-folk heap. But the
songs only start out intimate and raw before breaking
into rollicking Beatles-style romps. So, if they have
to be categorized, Okay are better suited to the
indie/noise pop box.
Review the track titles on each CD and it's plain to
see Low Road, appropriately, holds the downer
cuts and High Road the more upbeat numbers.
Still, note that in Anderson's world, upbeat just means that things are OK in spite of
the bruises of day-to-day living.
High Road begins fittingly with the
instrumental, multi-textured, birds-in-the-background
"Up" before moving into the slow-building, fuzzed-out
"Good," which bursts into fiery guitars, keys and
emotion mid-song. "Fight" is a stripped-down, spastic
song with prominent kazoo and a heartbreak chorus:
"There's no reason to hold on/ To something that's
already gone." The psychedelic "Rescue" reminds me of Bowie's
Ziggy Stardust phase as spacey effects take flight overhead and Anderson
repeats again and again: "You can save yourself."
Low Road's "We" is a catchy, cascading track
that sounds as if it's mocking the
U.S. rightfully so in its repeated chants of: "We're #1/ How low
will we go?" Pumped by a synthesized beat and a sad
but twinkling little melody, "Replace" is a light ballad, while the upbeat "Hoot" jangles,
and complains that "The whole world is a bore" and
"There's always gonna be a war" and "Each and every
one of us is a whore."
Full of giddy noise and catchy pop-rock arrangements,
Okay's songs rise above but never totally escape the pain
in Anderson's voice. As lighthearted and breezy as
Okay's music gets at times, at its heart is Anderson's
just-trying-to-hold-on desperation. But taken together, the music and attitude
make these songs edgy, impassioned and, certainly, completely