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Okay - Low Road / High Road

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Artist: Okay

Album: Low Road / High Road

Label: Absolutely Kosher

Review date: May. 20, 2005

The 11 short songs each on Low Road and High Road are perfect concoctions of neither-here-nor-there pop with the treble turned all the way up. Sparklehorse comparisons will be rightfully made, and Marty Anderson delicately channels something between M. Ward’s gravel and the high-register quakiness of Peter Stampfel. The songs are familiar at first listen, not just because they're catchy, but because they make sense. There's no hesitation to stretch a poignant sentence or two to fill an entire song, with Anderson saying very little but communicating small worlds of emotion. Simple mantras like “Hoot”s "I don’t give a hoot no more, there’s always gonna be a war" play well with pretty, off-kilter riffing and blissful xylophone swells; “Devil” resounds in a perfectly-wrought guitar canon underneath Anderson’s bitter call “There’s a devil around you all of the time / There’s nothing to fear, nothing’s wrong with your mind. Miraculously, nothing sounds sappy or ironic. There's an effortless ability here to eke out the melodies that everyone has in their head but that never quite bubble to the surface.

None of Anderson's songs need any bullshit to support half-baked lyrics or instrumentation. On Low Road, the drum machine rocks humbly and the emotion rides atop it, right there on the surface. It's uplifting to know that someone has no trouble bearing his soul so directly. It almost seems like both albums were written and recorded all in the same day, live and direct from the heart.

The two Roads sometimes meet in the middle, which can get tedious over two full-lengths. The first tracks on High Road "Up" and "Good," borrow a little too liberally from some of Low Road's best moments. But as the album settles in, the two albums start to distinguish themselves. Whereas Low Road is a bit more forward with its emotion, High Road takes its time in getting the point across, with the vocals turned down a bit. The effect is no less poignant. "Have" kicks up Okay's melancholy without hindering the ecstatic feeling, and "Compass" gets the slightest bit twangy, climaxing in a gorgeously sad guitar solo. These are songs you don’t need to hear twice to feel at home with.

By Trent Wolbe

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