Album Review: Ethel Cain offers up a hauntingly potent tale on debut album “Preacher’s Daughter”

Ethel Cain
Photo by Helen Kirbo

Ethel Cain‘s debut album Preacher’s Daughter might feel prescient with its rebuff of organized religion and the extremism it can beget. Especially as viewed through the eyes of those brought up in its confines. But Cain, whose real name is Hayden Silas Anhedönia, makes it a point to throw light on the fact that her elucidations about the effects of faith on culture and family, despite her ethereal spirit, come not from clairvoyance — but from looking back.

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On the album opener “Family Tree (Intro),” amidst the kind of hauntingly potent religious imagery she’s become known for, Cain puts it in starker terms: “Jesus can always reject his father / But he cannot escape his mother’s blood / He’ll scream and try to wash it off his fingers / But he’ll never escape what he’s made up of.” Preacher’s Daughter is a revelation about Anhedönia’s own escape, about leaving behind a childhood raised as the daughter of a deacon of a Southern Baptist church after coming out as gay and later as a transgender woman.

All of it is seen through the eyes of her alter-ego Ethel Cain, who she crafts the loose narrative of the album around, the album is informed by her own visceral experiences with substance abuse, domestic violence, death, and trauma. But leaving behind the congregation led to anything but a clean break, as the heavy religious themes in her music evidence.

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There are the heart-wrenching pangs of loss and guilt that gut you on “A House in Nebraska” and the rapturous scorn of “Family Tree.” Across the sweeping orchestrations of Cain’s darkly melodic ballads and gothic Americana, turmoil is wrought not just within her own soul but the ones of everyone around her. “American Teenager,” a soaring anthemic piece that shines in the dourness, tracks the experiences of growing up in adolescence amongst the lies of community and under the pressure of expectation. “And jesus, if you’re there, why do I feel alone in this room with you?” Cain asks, each verse an evisceration even as the song goes ecstatic with glittering riffs and synths.

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“Thoroughfare” cheerily revels in the open road and other American myths pursued, like heading west and finding love — only to mistake it for co-misery as it turns into another trap on “Gibson Girl.” Here lies one of the more telling themes of Preacher’s Daughter and the terrifying mysteries of life: that we might fall in love with the things that hurt and control. If there ever was a more earnest understanding of the ruinous aftermath a person leaves such cults as it’s Ethel Cain’s tale of a woman finding faith in herself to not just run but to find a reason to keep living.

Catch Ethel Cain live in Los Angeles at This Ain’t No Picnic festival on Aug. 27. She also has a San Diego date at Humphrey’s (Here & There fest) on Aug. 28. Visit Ethel Cain’s website, Twitter, and Instagram to stay updated on new releases and tour announcements.

Listen to Ethel Cain’s new album Preacher’s Daughter below

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Ethel Cain tour:

07/14/22 — Bloomington, IN — The Bishop

07/15/22 — Chicago, IL — Pitchfork Festival

07/18/22 — Detroit, MI — El Club

07/19/22 — Toronto, ON — Horseshoe

07/20/22 — Montreal, QC — Le Ritz PDB

07/22/22 — Boston, MA — Brighton Music Hall

07/23/22 — Philadelphia, PA — Johnny Brendas

07/24/22 — Washington, DC — Union Stage

07/27/22 — Richmond, VA — Richmond Music Hall

07/28/22 — Asheville, NC — The Grey Eagle

07/30/22 — Gainesville, FL — High Dive

07/31/22 — Tallahassee, FL — 926 Bar

08/5/22 — Denver, CO — Vortex Fest

08/20/22 — Seattle, WA — Neumos

08/21/22 — Vancouver, BC — Wise Hall

08/22/22 — Portland, OR — Mississippi Studios

08/2522 — San Francisco — The Independent

08/27/22 — Los Angeles, CA — This Ain’t No Picnic

08/28/22 — San Diego, CA — Humphrey’s (Here & There)

08/30/22 — Phoenix, AZ — Valley Bar

09/1/22 — Austin, TX — ACL Live @ Moody Theatre (Here & There)

09/2/22 — Dallas, TX — Ruins

09/6/22 — Atlanta, GA — The Earl

09/7/22 — Nashville, TN — Basement East

09/9/22 — NYC — Bowery Ballroom

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