Ethel Cain could also be haunted by the previous, however her eyes are set on the long run. She realizes there’s no escape: “The destiny’s already fucked me sideways,” she confesses on the introductory monitor to her masterful debut album, which encapsulates lots of the themes she later properties in on: spiritual trauma, repression, the shadows of a fraught American household. She’s realized sufficient from historical past to know that we’re certain to repeat it, but feverishly clings to damaged goals and doomed relationships looking for some inkling of hope. The album’s lead single is called after Evelyn Nesbit, the artists’ mannequin who was idealized as a ‘Gibson Lady’ over a century in the past and for Cain serves each as a reminder of female grace and the impossibility of reaching any preferrred of perfection. Within the gothic, desolate panorama that spreads throughout Preacher’s Daughter, you marvel how there might be any house for the kind of defiance that fuels the synth-rock anthem ‘American Teenager’, however Cain’s willpower finally strikes via her discomfort with the titular archetype: “I’m doing what I need and rattling, I’m doing it nicely/ For me,” she sings.
Such sparkles of resilience push us via the huge stretches of longing and loneliness that mark Preacher’s Daughter, however it’s the wrestle that stands on the heart of the story. Because the artistic outlet of Hayden Anhedönia, Ethel Cain represents a unique kind of battle: the artist herself is disenchanted by the concept of a star, however needs Cain’s affect to be as wide-reaching as doable, even when it entails fame. She’s a self-aware persona drawn from a Southern Baptist upbringing and the cultural influences that provided a peek into the true world – nevertheless distorted – from horror tales and true crime TV to the web fandoms she immersed herself into as an adolescent. Whereas she appears to have extra artistic management over the challenge than many rising stars – the LP was largely written, recorded, and produced alone in her bed room – she additionally speaks of Ethel Cain as the results of some sort of possession. But these twin realities stay largely within the background of Preacher’s Daughter, which unfolds as a gripping and fully-realized assortment all its personal.
The sound and aesthetic of Cain’s earlier releases – together with 2021’s wonderful Inbred EP – drew comparisons to the likes of Lana Del Rey and Florence + the Machine, and if platforms like Tumblr meant something to you rising up, you possibly can most likely inform why. However Preacher’s Daughter begins to carve out Cain’s legacy in ways in which her prior work couldn’t, and it reveals a a lot wider scope. The music on the album – brooding, visceral, brutal and dramatic – appears to reply to the calls for of the narrative greater than any nostalgic signifiers. For probably the most half, it’s extra in keeping with the work of metal-adjacent singer-songwriters like Midwife and Chelsea Wolfe, straddling the border between their takes on “heaven steel” and distortion-heavy doom people respectively – a tune just like the disturbing ‘Ptolemaea’ hews a lot nearer to Abyss than something off Ultraviolence. It might have taken a number of years for Wolfe’s music to be seen as greater than a moodier model of Del Rey’s Americana, however Cain’s imaginative and prescient right here is so instantly daring and highly effective that you just couldn’t mistake it for anyone else’s.
What separates Cain from her contemporaries is that her music does show the grand ambition and fearless theatricality of a contemporary pop star – it’s simply that it has little bearing on how these qualities manifest themselves. It might need been Bruce Springsteen that referred to as Lana Del Rey considered one of America’s finest songwriters, however how typically do you hear younger artists impressed by the sort of romanticism they’re each related to fill their first album with as many guitar solos and energy ballads as Preacher’s Daughter? (Heartland rock won’t be a time period you’d count on to learn at this level within the assessment, however wait until I get to ‘Thoroughfare’.) As a lot as she embraces her time spent listening to Weapons N’ Roses and Def Leppard Biggest Hits CDs, it’s clear that she makes use of these options to convey the emotional dynamics that belie the songs. With lots of the tracks stretching over the 8-minute mark, the primary beat of the drum can really feel as huge as a revelation, and when a guitar solo arrives, it gives catharsis as a lot because it merely extends the strain that’s been boiling beneath the floor.
However on ‘Thoroughfare’, the album’s most epic monitor, Cain strips issues all the way down to acoustic guitar and harmonica, evoking the music of her youth, when the one non-Christian music she was uncovered to had been the nation acts her dad would play within the truck. After outling her tumultuous relationship with father figures all through the album, it is smart that she subverts these tropes at this important level within the story: leaving dwelling to chase a dream that seems to be unattainable, the characters come upon a deeper sort of connection, and the promise of freedom all of a sudden appears extra tangible than ever: “In your pickup truck with your entire dumb luck is the one place I feel I’d ever wanna be.” Issues then slowly take a flip, shifting via songs that twist and bleed with pictures of violence, sexuality, and demise, earlier than disintegraing into one thing tougher to pin down with two darkish, ambient-leaning instrumentals. However Cain reemerges with a monitor whose lush, glowing manufacturing might need you searching for a Jack Antonoff credit score even when it wasn’t referred to as ‘Solar Bleached Flies’, although it’s apparent she doesn’t want a megaproducer to make it shine.
As thematically complicated as Preacher’s Daughter is, the time spent sprawling out the songs has the impact of exposing the essential feelings that run via its core – the isolating vacancy of ‘A Home in Nebraska’, the troubled romance of ‘Western Nights’, the pure exhaustion of ‘Onerous Occasions’. But within the total development of the album, the protagonist’s progress turns into evident in refined methods. Take ‘Western Nights’, the place Cain proclaims, “Present me how a lot I imply to you whereas I’m mendacity in these sheets undressed” – given how the singer’s obsession casts a shadow over the opposite individual’s true intentions, you possibly can hear the road as Present me how a lot I’m into you; that’s the place the true rush is. On the ultimate monitor, ‘Strangers’, her language stays simply as startling as she yearns for a unique sort of validation: “Simply inform me I’m yours/ If I’m delivering your abdomen and I’m making you are feeling sick.” But when there’s any lesson to be gained from the journey, it’s you could solely handle your self – there’s no salvation, solely prayer. “I can’t let go when one thing’s damaged/ It’s all I do know and it’s all I need now,” she declares.
After I spoke to Hayden Anhedönia final 12 months across the launch of Inbred, she was passionate in regards to the EP however was already keen to debate her subsequent challenge, saying that “the imaginative and prescient that I’ve of Ethel Cain can’t be absolutely realized till that report is out.” Having completed that objective, you would possibly count on a 75-minute album like Preacher’s Daughter to be each the start and maybe the tip for this iteration of the challenge, or at the least an opportunity to step again and contemplate what the long run would possibly appear like. However in a new New York Occasions profile, Anhedönia teased two extra albums in addition to books and movies spanning three generations of girls; in spite of everything, the story of Preacher’s Daughter is a cyclical one. Cain might need already created her personal world, however one can solely think about her universe increasing as she digs into her private historical past and makes use of all the things at her disposal to journey far past it. “I’m no good nor evil, merely I’m,” she sings amongst deafening guitars on ‘Ptolemaea’, “And I’ve come to take what’s mine.”