Review Summary: love's never meant much to me
Where would we be without stories? This is not a rhetorical question as much as it is a leading one: would we, as individuals, be able to mean anything to anyone without stories? Would we be able to handle being alive without the tales we tell ourselves, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant? It’s hard for me to imagine a world without works of fiction as forms of deceptive escapism, or imaginations restricted to nothing but the present, concrete, and factual.
I’m not sure I’d be anywhere if it weren’t for my mind’s ability to transform my own experiences into altered slices of reality; fictionalised memories as a means of processing things that really couldn’t
have happened. Somewhere in the black mass between dissociation and fabrication is a space where trauma’s omnipresent destruction delayed itself enough to ultimately allow for genuine, professional help to be reached. This space is one Preacher’s Daughter
seems to orbit as well. The 75-minute long opus details the fictional story of Ethel Cain, yet palpably, painfully and persistently intersects with reality through constant moments of haunting beauty. Her story is one of devastation, false glimmers of hope, and ice cold annihilation. It’s more than a reflection of a brilliant mind’s darkest processes: in many ways, it is the intersection of that brilliant mind’s darkest processes and its fictionalised counterpart.
is a record that breathes authenticity while reframing and reshaping its creator’s experiences, seemingly in hopes of finding some sense
or purpose. While mastermind Hayden Anhedönia refers to the character of Ethel Cain as her ‘evil twin’, all the evil appears to be entirely external: if anything, the character is the ultimate, all-American victim of the most ***ed up all-American circumstances. ‘American Teenager’, one of the record’s most straightforward cuts, wraps its satirical cultural commentary in washed out ambient pop while setting up the bleak scenery of a small town in the early 1990s. Elsewhere, ‘Western Nights’ and ‘Gibson Girl’ detail two separate moments of abuse by two separate partners, yet package the torment in entirely different soundscapes: from ethereal to explicit, from dreamy to danceable. This contrast somehow makes perfect sense in the context of the record’s story: it both exemplifies the range of despair to be found within Preacher’s Daughter
, while subtly confronting the very nature of such trauma. In a sense, the framing of Ethel Cain as a victim of her circumstances is the most uplifting thing about the record. Whether intentional or not, the character does not appear to blame herself at any point. Even if every turn and choice is shrouded in utter darkness, it is clear that she is not a victim of herself: if anything, her resilient mind is the one thing allowing for rare glimmers of hope.
One such glimmer comes in the form of the incredible nine-minute centrepiece ‘Thoroughfare’. The song presents a chapter of pure escapism in Ethel’s short life: as a charming stranger offers her a ride in the song’s chorus with the words “Hey, do you want to see the west with me? / ‘Cause love’s out there and I can’t leave it be
”, each subsequent repetition adds a layer of beauty and apparent optimism. By the song’s climax, the protagonist’s response of “Honey, love’s never meant much to me
” is entirely overshadowed by an explicit sense of hope and freedom. Yet, as Preacher’s Daughter
progresses, these exact words linger in the most oppressive and destructive of ways. It’s a small moment that ultimately defined the course of Ethel’s life: a seemingly insignificant decision that would cause so much pain, so much suffering. It’s not just an entirely haunting moment on repeated listens: it’s the kind of memory to drown in a thousand imagined potentials; the kind of moment that simply shouldn’t end up defining anyone.
Yet, on top of its expansive and narratively interwoven moments of torment, Preacher’s Daughter
encompasses several entirely explicit heartbreaking chapters. The aforementioned ‘Gibson Girl’ crafts an addictive chorus out of the haunting phrase “If it feels good / Then it can’t be bad
", something I didn’t consider myself capable of enjoying until this record. ‘Hard Times’ puts forth the record’s most devastating song, yet does not lose itself in the heaviness of its subject matter. Instead, the track impressively conveys the struggle of not being able to hate those you know you should hate, or more concretely, your abuser. How easy it would be to despise that person, or hell, even just
their actions. How easy it would be to not have had to transform that absence of hatred into a concoction of shame and self-hatred. How easy it would be to not have to deal with the imprints of someone you know you should hate every single day.
I could talk about every single moment on Preacher’s Daughter
. I could expand on the sheer genius of translating Ethel’s death into two gorgeous instrumental tracks, the chilling yell in the total dissociative eclipse of ‘Ptolemaea’, the way the character achieves a haunting sense of purpose in ‘Strangers’, or write another three paragraphs about ‘Thoroughfare’. I won’t. Ethel Cain’s debut album is an astonishing accomplishment; one that is as painful as it is constantly bathing in the most beautifully dreamy arrangements. Every moment serves to enhance the conveying of the record’s story, and refuses to shy away from the unconventional, intense, or drawn out. I wish Preacher’s Daughter
and its story didn’t have to exist, but I’m eternally grateful that it does.