Ethel Cain – Preacher’s Daughter

Ethel Cain - Preachers DaughterSince 2023 is not even two weeks old, we instead take a look at one of last year’s forgotten gems. Cue Ethel Cain’s Preacher’s Daughter.

Don’t you just hate it when you hand in your top ten album list at the end of the year and you somehow stumble upon what may and perhaps should have been your undisputed album of the year just days later? I know I do and it’s just what happened with Preacher’s Daughter, which was released way back in April of 2022. The debut album by Ethel Cain, a pseudonym for Hayden Silas Anhedönia, an American singer-songwriter hailing from Florida, first caught my attention through its evocative artwork. There is something innately creepy and deeply unsettling about the distorted picture and the woman in the chair trying to stare straight into your soul. It has an immensely sinister feel to it and when artwork is able to be that emotive, checking out the music is the logical next step.

I was not disappointed one jot. Preacher’s Daughter is a masterclass in auditory storytelling that tells the tale of the eponymous Cain who, coming out of an abusive relationship, meets a stranger with whom she travels the country. He turns out to be just another in a long line of abusive men in her life, pimping her out in strip clubs and eventually ending up brutally murdering and cannibalising her. It’s a disturbing tale to say the least, and the music is just as disturbing. After the opening Family Tree (Intro), which is a precursor the album frequently calls back upon both lyrically and musically, things start off pleasantly enough. American Teenager is a sprawling pop song telling the tale of the American Dream™ and how, at least for the album’s protagonist, it would always be unachievable. Cain then flips the table and dives head first into gloomy Americana with A House in Nebraska, building a melancholy story of days long past in little under eight minutes. The music writhes and pulsates, culminating in a wonderfully crunchy electric guitar solo at the end.

As the story presses on, so does the music, and it’s testament to Anhedönia’s talent as a songwriter that every song is a distinct musical reflection of the story and its lyrics. When she reminisces and ponders in Family Tree or Hard Times, the songs take on a brooding and almost dreamlike quality; when she meets a stranger who promises her a ride into the sunset on the album’s centrepiece Thoroughfare, the music turns more upbeat and hopeful again. When she turns to stripping at the hand of her new boyfriend and soon to be murderer, the music reflects that in its dark eroticism whilst the distortion drives home the drug-addled fever dreams the character is having. It’s tremendously dark stuff, but nowhere does it become quite as nightmarish as on Ptolemaea, an almost industrial doom metal song where she descends into drug-infused hallucinations and utter darkness. The guitars become louder as do Ethel’s continuing cries of stop, stop, stop before things end with a blood-curdling shriek that will set the hair on your arms on end.

The closing twenty minutes of the album are more reflective and sad, as Ethel finally meets her fate in August Underground and ascends to heaven on Televangelism through ambient noises and austere piano playing. Preacher’s Daughter ends with the fantastic Sun Bleached Flies and Strangers, and the entire experience will leave you both exhausted and immediately wanting more. I have been living and breathing this record for weeks now, attempting to learn its intricacies and investing myself in all the tiny details. It’s a meticulously crafted work from start to finish that’s equal part Americana, folk, dark ambient and pop. It’s also a truly effective American Gothic horror movie of the mind that both terrifies and enthralls, with Anhedönia as the enchanting centrepiece of it all. She reminds of Lingua Ignota in her fury, can be both dreamy and heavy like Chelsea Wolfe and can belt like an American Florence Welch; she does nothing but impress over the course of the album’s thirteen songs.

Preacher’s Daughter is not for everyone and is probably not meant to be either. It’s an impressive and evocative piece of art, both more than just a tale or just a selection of songs. As an album, it’s incredibly strong and cohesive and will undoubtedly make a lasting impression regardless of whether you love or hate it. Ethel Cain’s debut album is best enjoyed undergone in one sitting, preferably with headphones on and the volume dialed up so you can really soak up the story and the mood of the thing. It also might very well be one of 2022’s best albums and a very highly recommended if not mandatory listening experience.

Label: Daughters of Cain

Buy it here:

Track listing:

  1. Family Tree (Intro) (3:41)
  2. American Teenager (4:18)
  3. A House in Nebraska (7:46)
  4. Western Nights (6:05)
  5. Family Tree (7:11)
  6. Hard Times (5:03)
  7. Thoroughfare (9:28)
  8. Gibson Girl (5:42)
  9. Ptolemaea (6:24)
  10. August Underground (3:40)
  11. Televangelism (3:03)
  12. Sun Bleached Flies (7:36)
  13. Strangers (5:44)

Review by RP


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