Trails and Ways
Review by Kent Manthie Self-Released, 2013
Oakland-based indie delights Trails and Ways have just released Trilingual, an EP that this Bay Area quartet recorded on their own, with no label support, in a collective “house”-cum-studio in Oak-town, called T. Rex Manor. The four of them, two guys and two gals, Keith Brower Brown, Emma Oppen, Hannah van Loon and Ian Quirk, have just put together five tracks that appear on this brand new EP, Trilingual, an aptly titled album for a band who mix together songs with lyrics in English, Spanish and Portuguese.
This whole project of Trails and Ways started after Keith and Emma, the vocalists, had graduated from UC Berkeley and then went abroad in their separate fashions. Keith traveled to Brazil to get a first hand working knowledge of the country’s renewable energy sector by getting “hands-on” experience. This noble endeavor is not atypical of the modern college graduate; many go to Europe or Asia or other parts of the globe and either do further studies or spend a year or so roaming around, seeing the world and “finding oneself”. Well, this is how Keith spent his time.
On the other side of the Atlantic, Emma Oppen went to Spain, where she indulged in something a bit different: she immersed herself in a quest for spiritual awakening, adventure and in search of good waves for surfing.
After this time living abroad, both came back to Oakland and crafted a vision for a sound of music that was a hybrid of all they had experienced and added some original stuff to it as well; Keith brought back a mind full of ideas that included bossanova and Brazilian Jazz; Emma brought back with her a concise, tightly woven songwriting craft that the two put together. The third element that was added was the addition of more familiar but nonetheless stunning and warm but sometimes rough and raw fringes of “basement-based” dream-pop.
When they’d returned to Oakland, the two hooked up with two more mates, classically-trained musicians, Ian Quirk and Hannah von Loon, both of whom had been musical since their childhood. Ian has been an evolving,constantly practicing and learning percussionist who is now at ease with the drums, drum machines and various types of rhythm treatments. Von Loon, on the other hand, was raised as a child to play violin as well as piano – things she took up at the tender age of three. But it wasn’t until she was in high school that she really fell in love with what would become her passion: guitar. She did a great job in that area by learning the many-faceted grooves of the Beatles catalog.
The four of them have combined to create a fascinating, layered, textured, springy brand of what is indeed trilingual – their lyrics being in a fluid mix of the three aforementioned languages – the tongues of the countries the former two had been as well as their native English.
One of the tunes that stick out right away on Trilingual is “Nunca”, a comfortable layering of equatorial splendors and American club beats and a mesmerizing fluidity of vocals, shared by both Keith and Emma. The first cut, “Como Te Va” has a little of the Cocteau Twins’ sound injected into it as well as a beginning that made me think of Stereolab, but not as high up in the clouds. On “Tereza” Emma sings with a breathless energy that is both plaintive and seductive.
With the travels Keith and Emma did, far and wide as well as the extensive musical accomplishment of Ian and Hannah, this EP has a special vibe to it, one that is not derivative or a knock off of 100 other bands you hear coming and going all the time on FM radio. It’s not edgy or raw, not too ethereal, but a swimmingly pop sunbath. I sure hope that more is heard from this quartet of unique individuals soon.