Oakland, CA’s Trails and Ways is a band built on plurality. Their songs never shy away from personal and political heavy-lifting, while making some of the most compelling pop music we’ve heard in some time.
The four bandmates, (Hannah and Keith on guitar, Ian on drums, and Emma on bass) cast off from the co-op houses at UC Berkeley in the depths of the great recession. They headed to live as far afield as Ceará in Brazil and Galicia in Spain before reuniting in Oakland to start the DIY bedroom recording project that became Trails and Ways.
The sound they cultivated is a fascinating mix of the melancholy of bossa nova, the fearlessness of basement indie rock, driving grooves from the end of disco, and the slick shine of radio pop. Call it what you will; hearing it is like stumbling into the warmth of an intimate dance party among friends.
When the band first sent out their early track “Nunca” to a few blogs the zeitgeist must have been blowing through Oakland, and they were staggered by a sudden rush of attention: 70,000 plays in a single day – something rarely seen from an unsigned artist.
This surge of popularity galvanized the band, and wary of becoming another flash-in-the-pan blog sensation they set out with determination to refine their art and take advantage of the unexpected groundswell of support. They quickly got to work crafting a powerful live show, quit their day jobs, ran two national tours, and played festival stages at Outside Lands, Capitol Hill Block Party, and Firefly, and landed a record deal with Seattle, WA’s Barsuk Records.
Pathology, their debut LP, was recorded at home in Oakland in 2014, amid the unrelenting crawl of the California drought and the surge of tech-company capital in the Bay Area. The album is a work of multiple hands, multiple hearts, and multiple voices — vibrant, emotional, political and personal.
If you’re inclined, there’s plenty to analyze in these 11 tracks. It reckons with social and ecological crises, but with music that’s personal and joyful in a way that most “political” or “activist” bands rarely are. The lyrics borrow from different languages, exploring their wordplay and musicality (Keith has a penchant for singing in Portuguese, and Emma in Spanish).
The songs integrate the particular voice of places where band members have lived, layering in city noises from Brazil, Oakland and Spain. In a band that runs itself as a cooperative, each member pens and sings at least one of Pathology’s tracks.
Of course, you don’t need to deeply analyze the songs to enjoy Pathology – this is music flush with pleasure. The lively beats of songs like “Skeletons” and “Downright” get your body in the groove. Big hooks and guitar lines pull you into the wild outdoors on “Mtn Tune”, and the rich harmonies that open “Say You Will” feel like a plunge into Pacific water. This is the music of warm colors to enjoy any day, any place on our planet.