Okay is a band that is focused around primary singer/songwriter Marty Anderson. However, when you think of Anderson, his music isn’t necessarily the first thing that comes to mind. There is a great deal of tragedy behind this slender frontman from northern California. His girlfriend left him for a bandmate around the same time he was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease, a painful illness that practically restricts him to a room. Yeah, it hasn’t been easy for Marty. But let’s get that out of the way, because this is some damn good music.
You can’t blame certain critics for getting lost in a life like Anderson’s; he’s gotten through so much, but often the music is lost in the dramatics. It’s necessary for the listener to have an idea, but a pity party is definitely not warranted for Anderson. Music this delicate and fragile must come from a man that has gone through what he has (and is) going through. But while many would think that Anderson’s story would push you to listen to his music, I found that it was his music that pushed me to want to learn about his life. For these reasons, it’s unfortunate that often the blissful feeling of the music can be tainted by sympathy for a man who’s obviously making the most of his amazing talent. After testing the waters in his former band, Dilute, Anderson’s current band Okay focuses more on what he wants to do with his music. Since Okay released a double-album debut nearly as self explanatory as their separate titles, “High Road / Low Road,” Anderson has been on the down low. Three years later, “Huggable Dust” finally surfaces. The record proves to be worth the wait.
Anderson has a beautiful feel for pop music. While his voice might take some getting used to, particularly after being pushed into the forefront in the initially awkward opener “My,” it quickly becomes essential to the album. His dark, raspy vocals and subdued delivery often harken memories of another brilliant songwriter who has also occasionally been overshadowed by tragedy, Sparklehorse’s Mark Linkous. Unlike Linkous, Anderson’s songs don’t use too many intricate metaphors and are as simple and straightforward as his one-word song titles. A number of songs revolve around the repetition of lyrics, but instead of sounding redundant, the different backdrops and shifts in urgency give the tracks a quaint charm. “Nightmare” repeats “What a nightmare to love” over and over again, but Anderson’s voice seems to describe a different feeling every time he recites the line. “Tragedy” is wonderfully bouncy and instantly loveable with a similarly simple tagline that’s repeated throughout. This simplicity in lyrics along with shifts in the music is a theme throughout the album and it makes it that much more accessible for someone who wants to follow every word.
Despite the melancholic lyrics that rear their head throughout record, there is plenty that is undeniably playful about these songs too. “Only” has a cheerful guitar and Anderson gleefully sings, “I want you to know that you’re my only / I want you to know that you’re my life.” “Loveless” and “Peaceful” are just as happy as their predecessor “Nightmare” is downbeat. “Beast” ends marching along with the lyrics “There’s always a down side / There’s always an upside.” If things ever get too downtrodden, there’s a xylophone or a kazoo right around the corner to remind you of the upside.
“Huggable Dust” showcases a songwriter in top form. Anderson’s life has helped carve his distinct style, but the music by itself is something to behold. The fact that he can do this despite his circumstances shows what an amazing songwriter he is and that there is indeed plenty of life in his frail frame. While he undoubtedly has a tragic past, music like this should push his bright future into focus. Okay’s sophomore effort will likely remain a hidden gem all year for those who bother to reach out for it, but that shouldn’t matter. For all the cool kids in the know, it will turn out to be one of 2008’s finest moments in music.