High Road

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Half of a pair of thematically linked discs that were released separately on the same day, High Road features 11 quirky synthesizer-based indie pop songs by singer/songwriter Marty Anderson. Anderson used to be the leader of the Bay Area post-rock act Dilute, but a life-threatening illness, Crohn's Disease, curtailed his ability to tour (according to a 2005 profile in SF Weekly, Anderson is on an IV drip for up to 16 hours a day) and led to the more insular sound of Okay. Although not entirely a one-man band project (various guests, including Dilute's rhythm section, help out here and there), High Road is built on Anderson's synthesizers, drum machines, and effects boxes, which he applies to everything, often including his vocals. (Even unornamented, Anderson's voice has an odd nasal quality, like a cross between Gordon Gano of the Violent Femmes and Alvin & the Chipmunks, that may be a dealbreaker for some listeners.) This gives the songs a distancing quality that makes it hard to connect with the album at first, but after a couple of listens, Anderson's facility with simple, bouncy pop tunes allows the songs to sink in, and also reveals his knack for puckish, sweet and sour lyrics that alternate between sunny optimism and dour, cynical ruminations, often within the same song. High Road is not an easy listen at first, and is best compared to other singer/songwriters who can't help but put an unsettling spin on even their sunniest tunes (East River Pipe's F.M. Cornog, and the Magnetic Fields' Stephin Merritt come immediately to mind), but a bit of patience reveals the album's peculiar charms.

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