Trails and Ways

Trails and Ways

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.

Social Studies

Naming their sophomore album Developer is a bold move for the still-young band Social Studies. But it is as apt a descriptor as you're likely to find for how the sound of this San Francisco-based five-piece has flourished, matured, and, yes, developed over the past two years.

The band - led by Natalia Rogovin (vocals, keys) and Michael Jirkovsky (drums), who were joined in 2009 by bassist Jesse Hudson and guitarist Tom Smith and this year by second guitarist Ben McClintock - has already won a loyal fan base thanks to their arch take on modernist pop as heard on 2010 release Wind Up Wooden Heart. Social Studies has become a force to be reckoned with in concert as well, transfixing audiences at the CMJ Music Festival, SXSW, and Noise Pop, and bringing their unique energy and spirit to stages shared with tUnE-yArDs, Wye Oak, Lotus Plaza, Thee Oh Sees, Dodos, Dungen, and Au Revoir Simone just to name a few.

Now, on their new album, the goal was to strip things down to the basics, straighten out some of the more jagged lines of their previous work, and put the focus more on texture and mood.

“Before, we were rebellious. We fucked with things just because we wanted to push limits and boundaries," says Rogovin. "Developer is a more adult record. We tried to explore sounds and draw out parts to write more moving and focused songs."

They enlisted the able ears and hands of engineer and co-producer Eli Crews (tUnE-yArDs, Deerhoof, Thao & Mirah) who helped hone this new barebones attack as well as reflect the excitement of their live show.

On Developer, all the pieces have come together perfectly. The clear-eyed production helps bring out the dark, sexy heart of these ruminations on life, love, pain, and pleasure. The themes of the album are as complex as the songs are streamlined.

"The album is about art, but it's also a cinematic exploration of those turning points in life that you didn't see coming and didn't realize were important until much later," says Rogovin.

Lead single Terracur calls the bluff of a headstrong friend threatening to leave in the middle of a torrid situation, while Away For the Weekend turns the tables to justify a departure: “Ever discover another that makes you feel good, you always feel right/ the notion of fleeing the corporeal being/Just run to your other life.”

In Developer, Social Studies has succeeded in evoking a set of feelings and emotions that will linger with listeners long after the last notes have faded away. Warm, cold, or downright chilling, there is a connection between the personal and universal that the band taps into through a set of fearless, powerful and gripping songs.

Astronauts, etc.

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