Lila Ramani, the lead singer and guitarist of Crumb, once described the band’s songs as music you’d listen to alone. So, perhaps against her best judgment, I grabbed a couple of friends on a Sunday afternoon and took a little road trip to see them live that night. Then, we enjoyed an evening packed into a crowd like sardines alongside fellow fans who, too, likely prefer to listen to Crumb alone. It’s also not music you would really sing along to in a group setting, but we all sang anyhow. We all listened to Crumb — not alone — and liked it.
The quartet is so dynamic (literally) that just when I felt some Sunday-night sleepiness coming on, the stage would explode with sound. From the skillfully syncopated heartbeats of the bassist and drummer to the occasional squealing sax solo, Crumb’s musicianship was something to behold in a live setting. Songs like “Nina” were simmering — but not quite boiling — with excitement.
Crumb is comprised of Brooklyn-based musicians Lila Ramani on lead vocals and guitar; Jesse Brotter on bass and backing vocals; Brian Aronow on the synthesizer, keyboard, and saxophone; and Jonathan Gilad on drums. The four members met in Boston at Tuft University, where they played in various music groups within their college community. The band’s first two EPs, Crumb and Locket, were independently released using songs that frontwoman Ramani had started writing in high school in college.
“There’s a quality on the first two EPs that’s very innocent and unfiltered because those songs were literally some of the first things I wrote,” Ramani told Pitchfork. “I feel like people can pick up on that.”
But “innocent” and “unfiltered” are putting it humbly. This four-piece act is effortless, seamlessly integrating influences of jazz, psych-rock, dream-pop, and R&B into their instrumentation. It’s a more sophisticated sound than other up-and-coming groups within these genres. Crumb’s lyrics are cryptic and self-contained. The sound is dreamy and dark — a seemingly appropriate soundtrack to a wave of daytime sleepiness or nighttime insomnia. There’s something about the jazzy elements — the freeform feel, light-as-air percussiveness, and quiet confidence — that carries you into a dizzy yet introspective state.
However, Ramani has said that she wouldn’t want to “chill” to their music. Well, maybe it’s just because it’s her own. I’d argue that bands whose style can be described as “psychedelic” or “trippy” can be “chill” music. This aspect doesn’t detract from its complexity, though; the intentionality is clear in every track and musical decision, even if there’s still a film of lo-fi fuzz layering it.
In the true introspective and evolutionary spirit of Crumb, each song’s studio version is by no mean its definitive version. They’re always evolving, both in performance and meaning. Ramani has even described her songwriting process as a compilation of thoughts that are strung together in the moment, but the lyrics’ stories and meanings might reveal themselves as something else later on. When it comes to the exploration of their own music, the band can easily find themselves falling down a rabbit hole — and fittingly, listeners can feel themselves falling into that same world of possibility.
Needless to say, I was ecstatic to discover another Crumb-related rabbit hole aside from their music to fall into: their visually-elaborate music videos. A director professionally produces the videos, helping translate the music’s laidback psychedelia into trippy visual journeys. But make no mistake; the musicians still care to preserve DIY elements in the videos and will step in as cast and crew members. For instance, the 2018 video for “Locket” features a 360-degree view of the band warped as if in a funhouse mirror.
The artists’ success, nonetheless, has been almost exclusively self-made — self-written, self-recorded, self-produced, self-managed. They’re an independent band in every way, and it has paid off quickly. With their most-played track on Spotify sitting around 20 million streams now, people are giving attention to a band whose name humbly reduces itself to a fallen speck of food, like nothing more than an afterthought. Crumb considers themselves lucky, which is an interesting juxtaposition to the title of their newest LP, Jinx.
Having captured listeners’ attention with two consecutive EPs before this recent release, Crumb makes every second count on Jinx, the indie group’s freshman full-length record. Arguably, it’s some of the most hypnotic, palatable psychedelic rock out there. One of the standout tracks, “Part III,” opens with uptempo energy that eventually reels itself back into a more trademark tempo with the dazy, lazy lyrics to match: “I waste my time in the morning and evening / Caught in a feeling / I lost my mind looking up at the ceiling / It’s just a feeling.”
The band has also said they find the final line of the album, “Don’t take me with you,” to be emblematic of its theme. The words are part of drummer Gilad’s poem he wrote after a car accident while Crumb was on tour, which presumably harkens back to the title of Jinx. It’s possible they fear that an unpreventable obstacle will halt their endeavors and break the lucky streak.
But as long as the musicians are meshing, the quartet is an unstoppable machine with a vision. They’re even slowly letting others into their enclosed sonic world to help out. Aronow told Pitchfork, “Everyone who is a part of our team works hard, and we’re friends with all of them. It’s about keeping a group with the same intentions.”
This cohesive four-piece collection of crumbs has left its trail, blazing a path as an example for future independent and experimental musicians.
Featured Image: Popscure