Ethel Cain
Preacher's Daughter


5.0
classic

Review

by Jesper L. STAFF
May 15th, 2022 | 409 replies


Release Date: 05/12/2022 | Tracklist

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.

Preacher’s Daughter 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.



s
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user ratings (94)
4.1
excellent
related reviews

Inbred


Comments:Add a Comment 
JesperL
Staff Reviewer
May 15th 2022


4436 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

turned out a lot more intense than i intended. cw (sexual) abuse



Digging: Dream Dolphin - Dolphins Talk to You

theBoneyKing
May 15th 2022


22162 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0 | Sound Off

Hell yeah, perfect coverage for this wonderful album Jesper, I agree entirely with your thoughts, you summarized probably better than I could have articulated just what makes this so great (particularly the nature of narrative/character and the way Anhedonia uses it to process her own experiences here). I know it sounds silly to say but this really is a heavy, heavy album that has completely taken over my world the last few days and I know is one that will stick with me for a long time. I loved Inbred to death too but this is such an amazing complete package and vision. Praise be to Mother Cain.

Digging: Ethel Cain - Preacher's Daughter

JesperL
Staff Reviewer
May 15th 2022


4436 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

thanks boney!

i fully agree, album's made me break down in tears more than any other new release in years.. i also genuinely feel like i need an hour to recover after every listen lol

Sowing
Moderator
May 15th 2022


40956 Comments


Album is entrancing, stunning, sad, and at times downright terrifying. I love all the soulful guitar solos sprinkled throughout, and there are plenty of surprises ("Ptolemaea"...holy fuck). Great job of capturing this thing's essence.

Digging: Zach Bryan - American Heartbreak

YoYoMancuso
Contributing Reviewer
May 15th 2022


16168 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0 | Sound Off

The EP had its moments but the praise this is getting has me intrigued. Great writing as always

Digging: Ethel Cain - Preacher's Daughter

theBoneyKing
May 15th 2022


22162 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0 | Sound Off

YoYo, this one lacks most of the features that I think put some people off Inbred a bit, namely the autotune and emo-rap features (essentially, it’s far more like the second half of that than the first), so I think it’ll go down more smoothly for a lot of folks.

tyman128
Contributing Reviewer
May 15th 2022


3138 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

fantastic review jesp! freakin adore this album

Digging: Zach Bryan - American Heartbreak

GhandhiLion
May 15th 2022


15304 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

Ooh this looks interesting. I like crying

Digging: Myra Melford Extended Ensemble - Even the Sounds Shine

JesperL
Staff Reviewer
May 15th 2022


4436 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

thx guys < 3

everyone should join in on the cri for sure, it's the best cri

someone
May 15th 2022


4465 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5 | Sound Off

I'm feel like the biggest buzzkill now.

DDDeftoneDDD
May 15th 2022


20137 Comments


Need to check

Digging: Famyne - II: The Ground Below

neekafat
Contributing Reviewer
May 15th 2022


23127 Comments


What does this sound like

InfernalDeity
May 15th 2022


75 Comments


This year has soooooo many better releases than last year. Its a bit overwhelming. Beautiful record.

theBoneyKing
May 15th 2022


22162 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0 | Sound Off

neek, this is like if Lana Del Rey was darker and did slowcore and ethereal/darkwave (with some dabblings into Americana and horror soundtracks).

Sunnyvale
Staff Reviewer
May 15th 2022


3802 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Really great review Jesper! I've heard this once and not entirely sure how I feel about it (an absurd amount of great releases this week).

theBoneyKing
May 15th 2022


22162 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0 | Sound Off

Yeah, the buzz for this is definitely building a bit more slowly due to the crazy week it dropped but I am certain it will get its moment in the spotlight - Pitchfork hasn’t covered it yet but due to their previous coverage of her I expect a very strong score that will bring in a lot more indie folks, as well as a likely high chart debut on RYM. I am fairly certain she will blow up big time though, already there was a lot of hype building up to this (check out some of the features posted on NYTimes and Billboard etc, and she’s already had several Spotify sponsorships).

JesperL
Staff Reviewer
May 15th 2022


4436 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

thx sunny! i can definitely recommend a fully dedicated listen while reading along to the lyrics, as long as you're prepared to feel a little shattered afterwards



really hoping this will get as much attention as it deserves, def has everything going for it

Gyromania
May 15th 2022


34460 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

wow the hype is through the roof. hopefully this makes for good music to shop for groceries to!

parksungjoon
May 15th 2022


42920 Comments


somebody should write her a bio on the artist page

parksungjoon
May 15th 2022


42920 Comments


that said cool writeup

though i aint gonna lie every time i read about fiction being framed as escapism its a bit of a sandpaper to the bollocks. also i may be missing something here but doesnt it clash a bit with the idea that the album's story was a way for the artist to process abuse etc



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