The Crabs, a remarkable Anacortes, Washington-based twosome (Jonn Lunsford and Lisa Jackson) that produced four fine, full-length albums plus a few singles in the mid- to late-1990s and ceased activity in 1999 with “Sand and Sea” (K Records), seems to have both arrived and left the scene so quietly that today it’s hard to find much written about them. Even when they were active, they seem to have worked in a kind of shadow.
From their beginning, with “Jackpot” (K Records, 1995), The Crabs had a power and presence and lyric style that should have hooked the press as much as it did their fans, searching as everyone was then for a way to explain the DIY “low-fi” thing exploding from the Pacific Northwest. There’s always been rebellion and rebels in this river country of rain and fog and introspection, and the aesthetic of The Crabs fit the landscape and culture perfectly. But then, with the release of “Sand and Sea” in 1999 they stopped.
What happened to The Crabs? I have a theory (I have lots of theories). My theory is there was a shadow, a huge shadow to be sure, called Beat Happening. Lunsford’s brother, Bret, launched his Beat Happening first, and he quickly slipstreamed into a mighty wave of new songwriting energy and musical entrepreneurship swirling around Bret, Knw-Yr-Own Records, Calvin Johnson, and K Records. A lot of talented people and bands jumped out at the same time as Beat Happening. It was one of those perfect moments in regional music, with new labels and new bands and new friendships. Then regional became national. It’s a big history. And a big, competitive dynamic that would affect any artists working in such a space.
The Crabs’ style was and remains very much part of that history (if not quite as ‘hooky’ of a sound as Beat Happening, or as lyrically experimental). Their four full-length records still maintain a sense of identity and artistic growth that would be impressive for any band. But listening to them today is a somewhat nostalgic experience, as they fit so perfectly with their late-1990s milieu. There’s even an innocence that floats through their four records, the innocence of the time, a nervousness and edginess about the brave new century just around the corner, an innocence that has utterly vanished today.
Now, The Crabs are back again with “Shut the Door,” their first release (an EP) in 15 years. Three short, sweet songs that feel a little like a musical reset back to their mid-career. I personally think if you’ve mastered your skills in any art form, why stop? But they did. So I have another theory. I wonder if starting a family had something to do with the break in the band’s activity. Children can certainly redirect the creative energies of even the most career-driven of artists. Today’s band has grown in terms of personnel on this EP, with four members: Lunsford and Jackson, joined by their children Zinnia (keyboard) and Vince (drums). I tracked them down on their Bandcamp page, currently the only source for this download. Bob Vaux plays drums on the song “Stop the Start.” “Shut the Door” was recorded at The Unknown Studio, produced by Phil Elverum (Mount Eerie/The Microphones) and recording engineer Nich Wilbur.
The giant post punk/nu metal/angst fuzz wave that Mark Arm (Green River/Mudhoney) famously labeled “Pure grunge! Pure noise! Pure shit!” has roared over this coastal landscape and left its legacy and memories and scars. Now The Crabs have returned. Although the new EP isn’t as bright, production-wise, as their still sparkling “Sand and Sea,” these three new songs slipstream easily into their overall catalog. DIY has never been easier in music, though it’s lost its power to shock. Their new song “Ain’t Nothin Changed” suggests that the band knows exactly where they are today. They’ve given us three new songs for now, but I want more. We need bands like The Crabs. We need artists who go their own way, and keep going. It’s instructive. We’re caught in a giant corporate apathy that grinds everything down based on market and profit. Maybe The Crabs can help us find a new kind of innocence again, for a new century, one that leads away from the cynical apathy we live in today. The Crabs are back and just as clever as ever. I want them to stick around this time.