There’s no space between pressing play and the start of “Don’t Knock,” the lead track from Marcel Anton’s new release, OTG. But even though the song is a punch of sound, a rev of the sonic engines, it’s also instantly smooth, silky in its funk groove and relaxed in its deep pocket. Guitars and background vocals track right to left, floating in space, while the drums come from everywhere. The spatial construction of the sound alone takes it beyond any basic blues formation, but it’s easy in its experimentation, at peace with its inner weirdness and content to strut and sway no matter who might be watching.
“I’m a poet but I don’t want to show it,” Anton sings on “Fall in Love.” The song has a light touch and an intense impact. The verses are spacious, allowing the front man to explore his vocal. That voice — in moments thick and chewed off, at other points fleet-tongued, sometimes nasal, occasionally reminiscent of Sly Stone — is an instrument in and of itself. While the guitar melodies are lithe and complex, there’s no spotlight-hogging solo. Instead, the instrumentation is a team effort, all parts benefiting the whole.
The intro to the title track (BTW, OTG stands for “off the grid”) takes its cues from more standard blues fare before almost immediately rerouting into spoken word and then psychedelic rock. Here, Anton showcases his decades of experience as a musician and a showman, but colors the song — which could easily be a platform for his ego — with spiritual wanderings. There is a guitar solo here — metallic, scratchy and mean — but its balanced by shimmering percussion, cool, alkaline keys and vocals allowed to rage and swoop like gale winds.
Anton has a knack for marrying spoken word to sung vocals. “Ya Been Taught,” already swaggering and bold, slides easily from The Funky Meters to “Deacon Blue”-era Steely Dan. It’s almost schizophrenic, except that the piloting from one tableau to the next is masterful. There’s a kind of magic to witnessing an artist ace a trick; Anton’s performance on OTG is athletic. There are some gravity defying moments where he’s airborne and yet totally in control.
“Inspire,” one of several romantically inclined tracks, has a slow build and an aptly stuttering percussive pulse thanks to hand drums. “We don’t have to worry / like we used to do, before love was true. / A wise one never hurries / my heart already belongs to you,” Anton sings in the lead-up to the bridge. And there, as the music expands — growing more intense, though not necessarily harder or louder — it become apparent that the love interest could be human or interest, or the experience or self-acceptance. The depth of the soulful lyrical intention comes from experience — so does the patch-working of musical styles and textures, the turn-on-dime time signature changes and easy transitions from crunchy electric guitar solo to sleek keyboard melody.
But for all the spiraling in of OTG, the album still hits the hips immediately. Geek out on the content or just add it to a party sound track or private kitchen dance session. It’s an album that has a lot to say, yet doesn’t need to be plumbed for depth. The music is confident in its worth, its phonic range and its nimble execution.