A preacher's voice echos out a muffled sermon, before giving way to Ethel Cain’s ethereal and hypnotic murmurs, sounding out like a soft battle cry. Cain (aka Hayden Anhedönia) returns with her debut album ‘Preacher's Daughter’, a sonic journey in which the character of Ethel Cain simultaneously embodies and rejects the role of the archetypal All-American Girl. Following the ‘Inbred’ EP and marking a stark growth of stylistic confidence, the record weaves ideas of trans-generational trauma, cultist Christianity and toxic relationships in a queer matrimony with epic soundscapes, Cain’s prodigious voice repeatedly and ruthlessly demanding the emotional response of the listener.
Permeated with a wave-like ebb and flow, the tracks move through Ethel’s soft laments of lost childhood, to ‘Western Nights’ dark obsessive love, to the cannibalistic climax of ‘Strangers’, her voice circling haunting piano’s, grunge guitars and muddy sound worlds of production in a swarm of energetic chaos.
Clear standouts such as ‘American Teenager’ hold the ferocious energy of youth, epic synths and booming drums drive the powerful hooks as Cain sings with an infectious abandon, painting a picture of the American teen that is tinged with a certain darkness.
Hayden found her voice early in life singing in her church's choir and here it echoes out across ‘A House In Nebraska’ in fittingly angelic melodies, layers of reverb twisting around each other with dizzying clarity.
Influences from Hayden’s life are prevalent thematically and sonically throughout, with her appreciation for Gregorian chants finding a place in ‘Ptolemaea’, a song that structurally falls far from the more classic pop form of ‘American Teenager’ and summons flashes of the Florida landscape with its buzzing flies, gradual chanting build and muddy, doom metal guitars, peaking mid-song with a goosebump conjuring scream. Her love of horror movies is also not lost on the sound with the words “I am no good nor evil, simply I am” spat out by a demon-like voice over rasping strums of guitar.
‘Gibson Girl’ drips with an American-gothic eroticism, with stylistic echoes of Lana Del Rey that instead show the raw truths of a failed American dream rather than bedazzling it with glamour.
Similarly, Cain‘s exploration of religion pushes listeners to confront what is seen as good and pure, stripping back the layers and exposing just how nuanced faith can be. Lyrics such as “And Jesus, if you're there, why do I feel alone in this room with you.” Present a profound loneliness while “Give myself up to him in offering, let him make a woman out of me” arguably marries Christian themes with the re-inventional nature of trans-ness.
Hayden Anhedönia’s own musical journey and her longtime DIY approach to writing, recording and producing her projects reaches a new height with ‘A Preacher’s Daughter’, a truly realised culmination of style and composition.
In this exploration of Ethel Cain’s world, pieces of that world are transformed as she diverts for better or worse from norms of faith, gender and relationships and in turn creates new pathways. A heart-wrenching collection of songs that urges the listener to give themselves over to this album as much as Ethel Cain gives herself over to you.
Words: Oshen Douglas McCormick
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