It’s hard to imagine a better title for Crumb’s self-released debut album than Jinx. Across ten songs and a brisk 28-minute runtime, the Brooklyn-based indie quartet twine hazy production with bewitching lyrics, crafting mesmerizing psych-pop that feels equally indebted to the lounge aesthetics of mid-’90s Stereolab as it does Madlib’s crate-digging, jazz-sampling hip-hop production.
Perhaps it’s unfair to immediately compare Crumb to legendary forebears. To their credit, Crumb is making music that sounds utterly their own, thanks in no small part to lead singer and guitarist Lila Ramani’s lilting vocals. Singing with a cadence that is simultaneously domineering and subdued, Ramani pulls you closer, almost whispering over instrumentation that’s both droning and engaging. When everything clicks, it’s nearly impossible to not be enraptured by Jinx.
Nowhere is this synthesis more apparent than on “Fall Down,” the interminably groovy fourth track. Ramani’s lyrics are hurried, desperate for a satisfying sexual encounter: “Soaking up the sweat / Till I’m putting you to bed / And you’re sleeping like you’re dead,” she murmurs, seemingly putting her shoes back on already as she offhandedly sings a few “la”s on her way out. Her lyrics captivate, but the band hypnotize with a metronomic drum pad, a rhythmic bassline and deceptively simple keys. The best moment on “Fall Down,” though, comes from its use of negative space; for only half a beat, Crumb cut everything from the song, only to return with an explosively atmospheric synth mixed deep in its recesses. Seconds later, they build to the same trick, but instead bake everything in reverb and pull a guitar solo out of the ether.
There are moments like this around every corner on Jinx. Not all are as pronounced, but they’re all effective. The songwriting on the album falls primarily on Ramani, but the other players in the band—bassist Jesse Brotter, keyboardist Brian Aronow and Jonathan Gilad on the drums— all deserve their due credit. In particular, Brotter writes grooves that just don’t quit, poking out from underneath the haze that Aronow casts with his keys and synths with ease. Gilad is equally game, never taking the spotlight away from his bandmates, but basking in the small drum fills that populate the record. If nothing else, Crumb sounds immensely confident, owning their genre-agnostic sound with earworms that bury their hooks deep in your mind, revealing added depth with each successive listen.
Despite this knack for infectious songwriting, Crumb aren’t afraid to lean into abstraction. This is a blessing and a curse, offering peaks and troughs in Jinx’s quality as a singular and coherent collection of tracks. Lyrically, Ramani’s narratives can get muddied, sometimes only giving the illusion of profundity that’s found elsewhere. “The Letter,” for example, loses itself in the weeds of a poorly-defined familial dynamic, while album highlight “And it Never Ends” offers a nuanced (if understated) perspective on self-perception and anxiety that is perfectly paired with meandering and misty instrumentation.
Certain songs have runtimes that likewise feel undercooked. The premature endings stand out as Jinx’s biggest weakness, particularly on the front half of the record. This is most evident on lead single “Nina”, which has a prolonged fade-out that hints at a stronger conclusion; based off of Crumb’s past discography, it’s not hard to picture an alternate ending that turns the volume back up for just a few moments and offers a more finite climax to an otherwise great song. The same can be said of “Ghostride” and “MR,” though the latter at least concludes with an interesting surf rock-via-jazz outro that leads into Jinx’s better second half. While the songs are far from bad, they tantalize a conclusion that just isn’t there.
Yet, this weakness almost feels like a strength when looking at the album as a whole; by leaving the songs inconclusive at the top of the album, Crumb leads you deeper into the woods only to make you yearn for more, more, more. It’s easy to imagine that this might lead to some listeners to feel underwhelmed by the end of their first listen or two, but it also might be what lures listeners back for repeat spins of Jinx.
It should come as no surprise, then, that Jinx saves its sublime title track for last. The clearest distillation of the band’s style to date, the song has it all—serpentine synths, jazzy guitar, Ramani’s bewitching vocals and, indeed, an inconclusive ending. “I see the hazy scene unfold / Through my lenses they’re cracked and old / We’re all OK that’s what I’m told / But it’s taken hold,” she sings of a dark spirit as the instrumental fades out behind her, lingering in ambiguity for just long enough as everything gets replaced by the sound of raindrops on a car windshield. When the song finally fades back in, Ramani’s vocals are murky and worried. “Don’t take me with you,” she repeats as another hexing guitar solo takes shape to close out the album. It’s too late for her. It might be too late for you, too; you’re already under Crumb’s spell.