There is scarcely a situation in which two albums released in conjunction, by the same artist, is not overwhelming. Nobody listens to The White Album in one sitting, I don’t care what they say. And Okay, the nom-de-Tascam of Fremont musician Marty Anderson, isn’t any exception to this rule. Anderson has come out of his home studio with two albums, released on the same day, consisting of all new material. I feel safe in saying I’m not the only person who requires a little space between albums by the same artist, and Okay’s Low Road and High Road are undoubtedly some exhausting and emotionally draining listens. Suffice to say, anything that’s that affecting and powerful is, of course, still worth the time it takes to soak it all in.
Despite the extended running time, Low Road/High Road is the biggest little album you’ll ever hear. That’s not an oxymoron or any sort of Snake Oil phraseology I’m talking. These two discs carry a compact and compressed bedroom-recorded sound, yet sprawl out over two albums. Where Okay can be small on volume or arrangement, Anderson is also big on ideas and ambition. And the fact that he spends a good amount of his time hooked up to an IV due to a chronic illness, makes the feat all the more unbelievable.
First and foremost, Anderson is a splendid songwriter. He has his hooks in all the right places on Low Road. Where “Bloody” opens the album quietly and subtly, “Now” evokes a sunny and joyous mood, for Anderson creates a magnificently boisterous atmosphere with little more than his guitar, keyboards and a drum machine. “We” recalls Pinback’s subdued pop splendor, and the triumphant “Replace” borrows the melody from “Amazing Grace.” On more than one occasion, Anderson channels Sparklehorse’s Mark Linkous, both in his tiny-voiced delivery and his DIY recordings. Furthermore, both artists share the same ability to distill pain into joy so effortlessly. If you let it, Low Road will tug firmly at your heartstrings.
High Road by comparison, is more colorfully idiosyncratic in its approach. The first track, “Up,” is a twinkly instrumental that eventually collapses into a chaotic kaleidoscope of sound. The guitar interplay on “Good” is stunning, while Marty’s squeaky, helium-injected voice floats atop like an instrument unto itself. When the distortion starts up, however, the song erupts with joy and power. Low Road only merely suggested the range and depth heard on this companion release, best displayed on “Good,” the slow-burning and beautiful “Compass,” the gorgeously arranged “Mind” and the wonderful harmonies of “Give Up.”
It takes ambition, dedication and a lot of free time to create two full-length albums in one brief span of time. And on Low Road and High Road, Marty Anderson has proven that he has all three. Though his own biological misfortune may have provided him with the latter of the three, it’s his own talent and imagination that took care of the rest.
Sparklehorse – It’s a Wonderful Life
Pinback – Pinback
The Arcade Fire – Funeral
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.