Crumb, the New Face of Modern Psychedelia

Written by on November 3, 2019

Front cover of Crumb’s “Jinx” record which was released on June 14, 2019. Courtesy of Crumb Records.

Neo-psychedelia has experienced a warm embrace in our decade. Under that neo-psych umbrella, dream pop is included which is a “subgenre” that I’m less familiar with. It always feels kind of pretentious to throw these labels out there.

I have always been fascinated with anything related to the world of psychedelia which primarily stems from my love affair with the sounds of the sixties. Psychedelic pop and rock were impressively fused together by the duo of MGMT and that mix was only amplified by the mind of Kevin Parker. Personally speaking, I especially loved Foxygen’s 2013 psych-pop release, We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace and Magic.

I’m strictly speaking the pop and rock combo because, in the world of psych-rock, King Gizzard and Oh Sees have put forth some absolute gems. I want to direct attention to a group that is somewhat fresh off the press with their own colorful sound and that is Crumb.

As stated earlier, dream pop (those damn labels again) stems from the world of psychedelia and Crumb’s music overlaps into that realm. I’m not even going to try and be some fraudulent music snob that plans to break down the difference between psych-pop and dream pop. To me, the differences would have to be pretty meticulous and even then, it would probably sound like a load of bull—- explaining it to someone, hence the “subgenre” attachment.

Crumb is composed of four members: Lila Ramani (vocals/guitar), Brian Aronow (synths/keyboards), Jesse Brotter (bass) and Jonathan Gilad (drums). Coming together while attending Tufts University, Ramani already had songs that she had worked on by herself. They were ready to go from the start, crafting a sound that is familiar yet fresh. They’ve rightfully been compared to bands such as Quilt and Broadcast.

I caught onto the group rather late, as I was introduced to them earlier this year. “Locket”, their big 2017 single served as the basis for this fated meeting. Once the song was over, I was interested to see more of their work. For one, the music video that accompanied the song was as trippy as they come. The bustling, distorted motion picture was akin to Hunter S. Thompson’s acid riddled adventure in sin city. Directed by Haoyan of America, it was stated in an interview with Pitchfork that the process behind their videos has a DIY approach. Yet, the visuals are as sophisticated as they come.

Another important aspect of the music video that impacted me was the music itself, of course. That’s actually more important. The arrangement is quirky and unsettling. Reverb bounces in the distance as the keys and Ramani’s vocals are at the front, leading the show. The first verse sung by Ramani is blanketed before becoming audibly clear in the second verse. From there, her voice acts as an angelic guide in an otherwise dizzying, psychedelic experience.

I say that with good faith too. Crumb isn’t a group that’s riding the dream/psych-pop aesthetic or some band for artsy kids. Instead, they offer much more than that. I started noticing a recurring sound in their songs such as “Bones”, “Thirty-Nine” & “Nina” which was a melancholic one. At times, it was even haunting. You could feel some underlying loneliness and yearning for comfort. Even with those emotions floating around, there is a sweetness at the core of their arrangements that is undeniably intoxicating. They do not saturate their sound with unnecessary production to the point where it is some soulless, bubble-gum pop that is cheap and gimmicky.

Crumb is able to fuse jazz into their palette that adds an engaging dynamic to their music with the best example being “So Tired” off of their self-titled EP. After the first verse, Brotter and Gilad break into a transitional jam that is groovy and makes the song swing. Furthermore, during the second verse, Brotter’s bass playing elevates the song entirely. As Ramani sings with a bouncy cadence, the bassline is melodic and thick, the kind of traits that you love to hear. That was the selling point for me.

I will not rule out Aronow’s essential groundwork handling the keys and synths throughout their discography with “Ghostride” being a spotlight moment. I’m a sucker for bands from the 60s that had organists. That admiration has fittingly carried over into the groups of today that feature synths or electric keyboards.

Crumb also has this contemporary R&B kind of vibe nestled within their style too. I’d go as far as to say that I could see their music being sampled in hip-hop in the same way MGMT’s music was sampled. Fusing elements of jazz with rock isn’t anything new. The catch arises at the group’s ability to construct it within the context of a dream/psych-pop backdrop that isn’t trying to replicate psychedelic music from the past.

I want to make it clear that I am not trying to play the role of a publicist here nor am I trying to say that every song that they’ve made is a home run. Instead, I’m glad that they give a damn to seek new ground. What’s not to say that they might push the envelope with their sound and see what else they can incorporate?

That’s a good thing for the psychedelic music of tomorrow.

Crumb released their debut studio album Jinx back in June and are currently in the final stretch of their fall tour. There is also cool live footage of the band circulating on YouTube with the Audiotree sessions standing out above all.

My guess on where they go from here is as good as yours (if you listen to them). And really, I don’t care to predict anything. I don’t care if their next EP or album touches upon shoegazer, slacker, psych-rock with free jazz and synth-pop mixed with dream pop or whatever the hell critics say to describe it.

I just know that I’ll be keeping a close eye on this young band that has piqued my interest.

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