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Trails and Waves offers Gardner as a place of healing

Photo by Xiaoxuan Yang
Photo by Xiaoxuan Yang
Photo by Xiaoxuan Yang

By Halley Freger

Trails and Ways delivered a therapeutic set of indie-pop on Wednesday night.

Before they even started playing, guitarist and vocalist Keith Brower Brown described their music as “anti-capitalist dream-pop.” The audience seemed to breathe a sigh of relief — this was much needed. It had been a difficult day, and Grinnellians were still trying to process the results of the presidential election. This show served as a space to unwind and reflect.

Pop music is often in the mainstream, and therefore assumed to be apolitical. However, contemporary pop music is discovering new ways to infuse catchy songs with political power. Whether it’s the black feminism of Beyoncé’s “Lemonade” or the environmentalism of Anohni’s “Hopelessness,” 2016 has seen a new era of political pop.

Trails and Ways may not be as well-known as Beyoncé, but they still operate within the pop genre and create music that is often decidedly political. During their set, they played “Border Crosser” off of their 2013 release “Trilingual.” Brown referenced his own family members who came to the country as refugees and acknowledged the relevance of this song given the reality of the recent election.

On their earlier releases, their politics often feel playful, such as on their song “Skeletons” that imagines an ecologically devastated world thousands of years in the future. However, on their newest album “Own It,” they are unafraid to present anti-capitalist critiques with full force. On “Coral Bleach,” they once again return to themes of environmentalism, but this time explore the complacency on climate change within a corporate context. The song “Ursela” is about anarcho-socialist/feminist author Ursela K. Le Guin.

Before the show, the band posted on their Facebook page, “In worse regimes than even this threatens to be, musicians made space for rebellion, movement, laughter: Nina Simone, Los Prisoneros, Chico Buarque, Pussy Riot, Thomas Mapfumo — the list is endless, and so is what we can learn from them. Trails and Ways will play our anti-xenophobia and anti-capitalist songs loud, and we will hang after shows to talk and hug and plot however you want.”

And that’s exactly what they did. We were lucky to have them come to Grinnell at this time. Although the crowd was small, it felt like an intimate space of both political thought and healing, all facilitated by lush guitars and dreamy, layered vocals.

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