"I am, in a sense, old-fashioned," sighs Katrin Hahner a.k.a. MISS KENICHI, with just the hint of a smile. "I don't care about being up to date. I want things to have meaning. I search for and am intrigued by stories, music and messages that can last longer than a summer. That's why this needed to sound ancient, like a memory." Hahner is specifically discussing "Tale Of Two Rivers", the opening track of her startling new album "The Trail" but she could in fact be referring to any of the album's songs. It's a bold way to open her third record, sparse and weary to such a degree that it sounds exactly like the ghosts that the song describes so eerily: just the sound of a wheezing pump organ to accompany the haunting voice and, later, a single distant snare drum. It sets the tone for what follows perfectly because "The Trail" is, quite simply, timeless; it lingers in the air like smoke over a battlefield, ominous and yet mysteriously beautiful, its origins nebulous, its presence felt and yet intangible.
On first listen it seems so delicate as to be barely there. But, given a little time, The Trail sounds like it's been with you all your life, and the lives of many before you. Though her first two, low key albums were more than well received in her homeland, "The Trail" is a huge leap forward, the work of a mature and confident performer, its songwriting subtle and captivating, its arrangements imaginative and complex. Miss Kenichi, now based in Berlin, felt the need to expand her horizons, having focused much of her writing around the guitar. "I just got bored," she concedes. "I did not want to repeat what I had done before. I experimented with the way I play, and how I could take weight off the guitar and move towards other instruments, opening up my playing for bigger arrangements. I wanted to give it more power without losing the space and the fragility." Something that helped too was her growing alliance with Earl Harvin, a collaborator with the likes of Air, Seal and Joe Henry and currently the drummer for Tindersticks. Having joined Miss Kenichi increasingly on tour and in rehearsal studios over the preceding two years, he was a natural choice as co-producer for the record. She describes him as "intuitive, humble and badass," and her affection for him and her delight in what he contributed are evident. "The Trail" was recorded mainly in Berlin's Chez Cherie studios, a huge room with no booth, that forces all those not playing to remain silent during the takes. "It is as if you record the attention and excitement of the others too." she marvels. With the help of a number of other musicians - amongst them Terry Edwards (Gallon Drunk, Tindersticks) and Chris Bruce (Meshell Ndgeocello, Chris Connelly) - they carefully nurtured "The Trail" towards its final configuration. Dark like the woods, but with shafts of light piercing through the trees, "The Trail" is a record that initially seems full of shadows and glooms, but whose beauty lends it a vital optimism. Leaning lyrically upon the nature amid which she grew up, with frequent references to mountains, rivers, storms and skies scattered throughout, "The Trail" is full of songs that outgrow their origins, thriving and blossoming as they develop. With "The Trail", Miss Kenichi has created an album that is boundlessly immersive, full of wisdom, grace and wonder. (Wyndham Wallace)