Crumb Groove Their Worries Away on AMAMA

The beloved New York band’s third album features transient, lyrically minimal recollections over a collage of jazz, pop and psych-rock.

Music Reviews Crumb
Crumb Groove Their Worries Away on AMAMA

If AMAMA—the third studio album from New York band Crumb, produced by Johnscott Sanford and Foxygen’s Jonathan Rado—does one thing exceptionally well, it’s finding its groove from the moment you press play until “XXX” rings out. Opening track “From Outside A Window Sill” gears the listener up for what’s to come on the album, masterfully diverting your attention between Lila Ramani’s gorgeous vocals, the band experimenting with synth patches and just how well the drums are mixed. The song also samples a police radio scan about a flock of geese crossing a bridge in Ramani’s hometown of Gowanus, Brooklyn—which can be heard as an interlude between verses.

Unorthodox song structure is the name of the game on AMAMA, which allows Ramani to flex her storytelling chops. Her lyrics are sparse but still manage to fill the space of each song in good measure. “Side By Side” is a particularly confessional entry, as Ramani ruminates on her existential turmoil brought on by touring: “I change myself, degrade my health / For you, for you / So you can keep on doing well / We made this thing a mess / I drank away the stress,” she sings over a backbeat from percussionist Jonathan Gilad and bright synths from Bri Aronow.

The lyrical ethos of this record follows the group’s several years of touring, which often sparked fairly novel encounters. One such moment lands in the outro of “The Bug,” a song that had been living in Ramani’s head since Crumb’s early days when the band got bed bugs in their Nebraska motel room. Ramani tirelessly wandered around the motel singing “Bit me in the nighttime / In the nighttime it’s the first time / That we slept in the same bed but I got.” The vocals in the outro are so distinctly layered that the lyrics grow indiscernible if you’re not reading along, mimicking an illustration of nagging restlessness.

The amount of fun the band had in the studio making this record is palpable on tracks like “Genie” and “Crushxd,” the latter being a song dedicated to a turtle named Sam that was accidentally killed by Crumb’s tour van. Despite its silly premise, “Crushxd” has one of the most memorable instrumentals on the whole project. Jonathan Gilad’s jazz-inspired drumming keeps up with Aronow’s synths and Ramani’s fiery, distorted electric guitar. “Genie” has a similarly impressive feat of drumming (Gilad is truly the star of AMAMA), and absolutely earns its near six-minute runtime—acting as a prime centerpiece for the album altogether. Crumb do well on their promise to try as many synth patterns as possible, reminiscent of any given fan-favorite MGMT cut.

Standout track “Sleep Talk” is a musical bait and switch—starting out as a dreamy, downtempo ditty about partners moving in together, and ironically, after the line “and take it slow,” doubles in tempo for an uptick that’ll make you correct your posture. It’s imperative that you give the beat switch of “Sleep Talk” your full attention, and the outro on the song is just as electric—with some of the most interesting and unforgettable electronica on the entire project, though you’ll likely be left wishing it went on for longer than just 30 seconds.

The issue of ideas not having enough room to breathe is the Achilles heel of AMAMA. The two instrumental interludes—“Nightly News” and “Swarmed”—are brief and underbaked, to the point where they feel entirely unnecessary in the album’s chronology. The artificially slowed beat on “Swarmed” feels especially awkward and out of place sonically with the rest of the album. Closer “XXX” feels similarly half-realized, and would’ve likely been more enjoyable had it switched places in the tracklist with a song like “Crushxd.” But AMAMA is a record that reminds me that music is supposed to be fun—it doesn’t need some greater cultural indication or grand artistic statement to be good or worthwhile. Sometimes Crumb’s transient musings about strawberry seeds and deceased reptiles will do the trick. Rest in peace to Sam—you would’ve loved AMAMA.

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