Album Review: Crumb – Ice Melt

[Crumb Records; 2021]

The rise to indie buzz-worthiness for Brooklyn-based psych-poppers Crumb is a fairy tale come true. Hot off the heels of 2017’s Locket – a four-track EP that owed a great deal of debt to pioneers in trip-hop, dream pop, and psych – the quartet witnessed their stock rise rapidly and with it their streaming numbers. Branded as ‘chill’, the band’s 2019 debut album Jinx was an easily-accessible introduction for many that did wonders for a band already on the upswing toward indie-stardom. With their second album, Ice Melt, Crumb do almost the exact same thing – only better.

There’s a moodiness to pre-Ice Melt Crumb; layers of lounge and vibey guitars, warbles and pedals, chimes, and shimmers all paint a picture of a band just laying on the floor writing music in some dilapidated basement apartment. It wouldn’t be a stretch for someone to lose themselves in the negative space of “Recently Played” or to trip out to “Ghostride”. Crumb’s frontperson Lila Ramani has this faint vocal style, reminiscent of Melody Prochet of Melody’s Echo Chamber. For Ice Melt, Ramani is clearer, an asset that is displayed from the off as she’s bolstered by fuzzy trip-hop production on opener “Up & Down” – an ovation-worthy way to kick off the album.

In fact, Crumb have honed all their skills on their second album, resulting in a fuller sound that implements their experimental propensities in a subtler but more satisfying way. Jinx was excellent in its journey to the center of pop experimentalism, whereas Ice Melt feels like it’s graduated from that center and moved the needle just a smidge towards pop accessibility. Some of this is thanks to the production from Foxygen’s Jonathan Rado, who seems to have helped them find the right balance between psych and trip-hop. This isn’t new territory for Crumb, a lot of these hallmarks can be found on Jinx, but here it sounds fuller with Rado’s assist.

“L.A.” is a prime example of how Crumb have grown since their early days. Where once they were content with allowing their compositions to just overflow without any concise direction, “L.A.” creates a warm and woozy border for its white-hot center, with Ramani fully supported by Jonathan Gilad’s on-point drumming. “Balloon” has a trip-hop ending that complements what came before, while penultimate track “Tunnel (all that you had)” trails off into an otherworldly setting that, while feeling loose in direction, is admirably focused even in its brevity.

Lyrically and vocally, Ramani has also strengthened her talents. Her vocals are still light and earnest, but the band are stronger in their support of her nuances this time. Her voice is highlighted on standout “BNR”, but it still has a plush and hazy feel that dangles like a rugged hangnail on the chorus as she sings “black and red / my disease.” On “Trophy”, her rhythm and cadence highlights the pre-chorus in fine fashion, “Take your time ‘cause it’s all over / You’re a deadbeat doll loner / House, car, bed, trophy / Someone there to hold, if only.” Even the hook on “Balloon” sounds like a bolder step for Ramani, “Something’s inside me / I feel like a God / Everything shaking in my eyes I see spots,” she sings with some warbling for added gusto.

Everything about Ice Melt is grander and more direct than what’s come before. While still soft, it’s undoubtedly louder, and the band sounds as tight as ever on each track. Crumb have done their homework on how to go bigger and better on their sophomore record, avoided the slump and solidified themselves as one of the more intriguing acts in indie and psychedelia. There’s inevitably a Portishead vibe throughout, but it doesn’t hinder the sound of Ice Melt or reduce Crumb to imitator status – it simply compliments the ethereal sound they’re going for, and remarkably succeed at.