REVIEW: Trails and Ways - Pathology

Kelly Kirwan

Trails and Ways have a hippie soul and sophist mind. They’re like the grandchildren of Summer of Love activists; politically charged poets with keen eyes on our crumbling environment and humanitarian failings. The four-piece band met at UC Berkeley as America grappled with its mortgage-inspired recession, and I imagine they spent a lot of time sitting cross-legged on the quad, drifting between topics of Sartre, fracking and Fannie Mae.

Together, their music has the eclectic taste of their roots and travels. It’s a blend of California dream pop and indie rock, influenced by Brazilian styles like bossa nova (the Latin love child of samba and jazz) and the Spanish flamenco. Their lyrics alternate between English, Portuguese, and a touch of Spanish, proving Trails and Ways are the global citizens that their wanderlusting title implies.

Their new LP, Pathology, was a democratic venture. While their instrumental roles are technically divvied up with Keith Brower Brown and Hannah van Loon on guitar and keyboards, Emma Oppen on bass, and Ian Quirk on drums, each member had a significant hand in the lyrics and vocals. No lead-singer ego or envy here.

Pathology is a finely knit arrangement of soft falsettos and compelling beats, with tracks that explore everything from young (at times troubled) love, to diseased ecology and crises of the human condition. Take "Skeletons," the irresistible opener. The song was sparked by a kind of existential flash-forward Brower Brown had at an underground dance club. “What would be left in this underground space in 1,000 years after our society has turned the earth into shambles…?” he mused, and later answered with "Skeletons'" catchy hook, "I know what they’ll find / Skeletons dancing at the scene of the crime."

The great finesse of Trails and Ways is that these deep perspectives are wrapped in warm dance beats that never skitter into self-righteous inaccessibility. This album would fit perfectly as the soundtrack to some offbeat summer rooftop party, where people oscillated between dancing and having thoughtful discussions on what it all means. “Pathology” is, after all, an inadvertent nod to a science that aims at discovering the root cause of diseases and their effects. It’s a study that mirrors Trails and Ways' own exploration; the genesis for this LP came from a group hike taken past diseased oak trees in their native Bay Area. It was this juxtaposition of amusement and underlying worry that set the tone for their album: “lush physical fun but with real trouble inside it.”

I imagine Pathology as a pooling of their respective journals—genuine and emotionally versatile, looking to get lost in funky, synth-bass fun while still absorbing the greater message of their lyrics. Along with "Skeletons," another standout track is "Mtn Tune," which uses complementary vocals to create an upbeat conversation on longing. Lines like "I told you to fall for me / Just to test the line," quickly sink into your skin, making this a more profoundly resonant summer anthem than we've gotten used to.