Ethel Cain
Inbred


5.0
classic

Review

by theBonerKing USER (19 Reviews)
March 20th, 2022 | 93 replies


Release Date: 2021 | Tracklist

Review Summary: Updating ethereal music for Gen Z, your new slowcore obsession has arrived

Ethel Cain is an enigma, the kind of artist whose music shouldn’t work on paper but who manages to create a unique world all her own which, once it reveals itself, becomes completely addictive. The brainchild of Floridian songwriter Hayden Anhedonia, Ethel Cain is a sort-of character through which the artist filters aspects of her Southern Baptist upbringing, combining dusty genres like slowcore and dream pop with a witchy atmosphere and appropriately Gothic subject matter but filtering them through a distinctly modern lens. Inbred, Anhedonia’s third EP/mini-album as Ethel Cain, is her peak so far, and presents a fully-formed vision of an artist poised to take the music world by storm.

Inbred is best analyzed as two distinct halves, though the two work together to form a cohesive whole. While the first couple Ethel Cain releases, 2019’s Carpet Bed and Golden Age, were mostly nocturnal, the first half of Inbred is a comparatively bright affair, three tracks that conjure a sun-drenched atmosphere despite their slow pace and often-depressive subject matter, all essentially perfect, addictive pop songs. “Michelle Pfeiffer,” a duet between Cain and emo-rapper lil aaron, invites the listener in with its slow guitar strums that give way to Cain’s sultry vocals, lethargic slowcore drums, and, eventually a glowing chorus. Even better is “Crush,” Cain’s most popular song yet and deservedly so, a delicious slow-pop nugget anchored by the lyric’s fascinatingly detailed character sketch and yet another absolute earworm of a chorus. A sort of bedroom pop stalker ballad (the key lyric: “Can you read my mind? / I’ve been watching you”), the song is the best representation of Cain’s penchant for writing about the darker side of obsession (“Good men die too so I’d rather be with you”), beating Lana Del Rey at her own game.

The oxymoronic sunniness of the EP’s first half concludes with the album’s centerpiece, “God’s Country,” an 8-minute ambient pop journey that effortlessly conjures images of wide open spaces. Centered around glistening, nostalgic sophisti-pop synths (and incorporating another emo-rap feature, this time from Wicca Phase Springs Eternal), the song drifts and builds to a gripping climax with all the grace of a post-rock song. Perhaps the most unlikely road trip song ever, the track encapsulates the feeling of driving purposelessly through seemingly endless highway roads with no one else around, young and angry at a world that doesn’t seem to understand you, representing the contradictions of small-town Americana as well as any country artist.

Things take a turn for the darker after “God’s Country,” the last three tracks being more representative of Cain’s prior work. “Unpunishable” is another tale of dark obsession, but much more visceral than what precedes it (the opening lyric: “Down bad and nasty / Sacrificial angel, dirty slut with needs”), with some psychedelic guitar work, droning bass, and of course Anhedonia’s soaring vocals adding to the allure. The following title track is even more fucked up, best representing the witchy images on the EP’s cover with a deeply nocturnal atmosphere, the obscure lyrics presenting a haunting sketch of a collapsing family focused around the narrator’s defense of her “White trash dick” older brother, the details of the song and its title implying that her care for him goes beyond the purely platonic. Like other tracks here, the song builds from near-silence to an explosive conclusion, the lyric “I’m not scared of God / I’m scared He was gone all along” encapsulating the dark contradictions that Anhedonia so loves.

While Anhedonia’s entrancing vocals and lyrics anchor much of the rest of the EP, final track “Two-Headed Mother” covers everything with a shoegaze haze, layering Anhedonia’s more mumbled voice atop itself and culminating in a wordless outro. While not as outwardly impressive or unique in its combination of styles as much of what precedes it, the track is nonetheless an effective conclusion for the EP that makes Anhedonia’s grounding in ‘90s indie styles more obvious.

Taken holistically, Inbred is, simply put, a triumph. It’s certainly not for everyone, and it is a grower in the truest sense, but it sows its seeds in you immediately and keeps you coming back to it to make sense of its strange, alluring world, and at a slim 31 minutes, the EP is extremely replayable, especially those pop gems that make up its first half. Anhedonia’s characters feel deeply real, their self-destructive obsessions and their anger at God and the world perfectly encapsulating the melodramatic emotions of youth who struggle to reconcile their love of home with the oppressions that often come with it, especially for one like Anhedonia herself, a trans woman raised in a deeply religious setting. But the music is just as impressive, adding a modern sheen to genres in which other revivalists often seem content to settle for what’s been done before. Anhedonia has refined her craft here to create a fully cohesive vision that belies how early she still is in her career, and she deserves all the success that may come her way. One can only hope that what comes next will deliver on Inbred’s massive promise.



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user ratings (48)
3.7
great

Comments:Add a Comment 
theBoneyKing
March 20th 2022


24378 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

This one’s been brewing for a while. Probably a bit too gushing, a bit of a ramble and essentially a track-by-track, but in the wise words of Bill Callahan, it feels good to be writing again.

I didn’t mention it in the review, but Ethel Cain just announced her debut LP Preacher’s Daughter will drop May 12th, so now is the perfect time to get into her! It doesn’t seem others here have enjoyed this as much as I have, but it’s creeped on me very slowly over the course of the last year to become one of my favorite things recently.

Sowing
Moderator
March 21st 2022


43942 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Wow, big time hype based on that eerie cover and the Boney 5. I'll check this out this week for sure to see what I missed last year.

YoYoMancuso
Staff Reviewer
March 21st 2022


18853 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Is this an EP or an A24 movie

TVC15
March 21st 2022


11372 Comments


"Is this an EP or an A24 movie" Lmfao yeah cover gives me Saint Maud vibes

Nothing wrong with a track by track review when it's well written ;] awesome seeing you review again after nearly 4 years!



theBoneyKing
March 21st 2022


24378 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Thanks folks! Like I said, I’m not sure what people will think of this but I’ll be happy if this gets just a bit more attention (and now I have a place to drop lyric posts every week ;-P)

I was kind of sus of the cover art when I first checked this but the songs in the second half especially conjure that ~vibe~

parksungjoon
March 21st 2022


47231 Comments


pos'd

theBoneyKing
March 21st 2022


24378 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Thanks!

I will say that my 5 feels a bit unfair given the way that Anhedonia has referred to this and the other EPs as her developing the Ethel Cain character and setting the stage for the LP, which she’s been working toward for a while, but as obsessed as I’ve been with this it feels right enough for now. I may drop it later if the LP ends up delivering in the way I hope it will.

Nikkolae
March 21st 2022


6602 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

"Is this an EP or an A24 movie" holy shit i almost choked hahahaha



yeah this has a very l i m i n a l vibe to it

BlushfulHippocrene
Staff Reviewer
March 21st 2022


4052 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Really really lovely write-up. Had no clue there was an album announcement, very excited!

BlushfulHippocrene
Staff Reviewer
March 21st 2022


4052 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Also new song is great!!! Very The Weeknd.

fogza
Contributing Reviewer
March 21st 2022


9738 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

Nice boney, will check it

theBoneyKing
March 21st 2022


24378 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Yes Blushful the album is finally coming! “Gibson Girl” is a strong single, feels a bit like a refinement of “Unpunishable.” The Weeknd is a good comparison. I’ve also been listening to the cover of Britney Spears’ “Everytime” that she released for International Women’s Day on repeat, so good.

Lmk what you think fogza!

Slex
March 21st 2022


16513 Comments


Legit possibly my most anticipated album of the year now

theBoneyKing
March 21st 2022


24378 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Yessss Slex! I have a feeling that the album is going to blow her up big time. Have you heard this? If not it’s definitely up your alley I’d say.

Slex
March 21st 2022


16513 Comments


I have! I'll have to listen again to properly rate but I remember a strong 4-4.5

New song is too good

theBoneyKing
March 21st 2022


24378 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Nice nice, def revisit - it only gets better with repeat spins!

fogza
Contributing Reviewer
March 21st 2022


9738 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

Not really working for me, there's always some choice in each song that jars. perhaps later releases will refine this a bit, but there's potential

theBoneyKing
March 21st 2022


24378 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Fair enough, FWIW my initial reaction was similar but I get that this is the kind of stuff that either clicks or doesn’t, as I kind of alluded to in the review.

Pheromone
March 21st 2022


21324 Comments


Holy shit a boney review and boney 5 means insta-check

will read over night tea later

parksungjoon
March 21st 2022


47231 Comments


> I will say that my 5 feels a bit unfair given the way that Anhedonia has referred to this and the other EPs as her developing the Ethel Cain character and setting the stage for the LP, which she’s been working toward for a while, but as obsessed as I’ve been with this it feels right enough for now. I may drop it later if the LP ends up delivering in the way I hope it will.


homie

it is alright to feel however you feel no matter who agrees or disagrees

dont worry about numbers and shit like that if you love it you love it let people know why and hopefully it will resonate with someone

as for artists yea a lot of them are understandably always aiming to surpass themselves in some way



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