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neumu
Saturday, November 29, 2014 
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Okay
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Low Road/High Road
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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, struts 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 human.


by Jenny Tatone




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