ETHEL CAIN – ” Preacher’s Daughter “

Posted: May 14, 2022 in MUSIC

On her first full-length, Preacher’s Daughter, the Florida-reared artist Ethel Cain digs into the seedier sides of small-town life, the tumultous of youth, the strictures of conservative religion, and the pitfalls of getting ensnared in all of the above. She has so far released “Gibson Girl,” “Strangers,” and “American Teenager” as singles from “Preacher’s Daughter”.

Ethel Cain eulogises the seedy all-American glamour over doomy, expansive pop-rock sounds. Her debut album features breathless depictions of badly behaved men (“He’s never looked more beautiful on his Harley in the parking lot, breaking into the ATMs”), idealised romantic setups, road trips filled with motels, diners and pistols, and the cold glitz of a strip club.

Yet, as the title suggests, the album’s other preoccupation is religion. Cain’s father was a deacon, and as a teenager she was ostracised from the Southern Baptist church she grew up in after coming out as gay (she later realised she was transgender). 

Between last year’s monster EP “Inbred” and a slated performance at the Pitchfork Music Festival, Ethel Cain is on a brilliant ascent. “Inbred” solidified her position as a force to be witnessed in American music as she wrestled with the uniquely Southern version of the American dream that shaped her young life. The divinity of gospel, the audacity of heartland rock and the frankness of 2010s Tumblr-era pop collide into an arresting narrative spectacle, portraying the experience of a woman who is intimately familiar with depraved violence, the gospel and the strict social hierarchies of the South and the Plains.

The EPs have only revealed a portion of Cain’s lore, but on her whopping 75-minute long debut LP “Preacher’s Daughter“, Ethel Cain, the narrative figure and the musical sensation, manifests a breath taking account of a woman, her mysterious partner and her troubled family. Much as “Inbred” mangled Americana, ambient folk and slow-core into a terrifying sonic experiment, “Preacher’s Daughter” is a sound all its own.

As the album progresses, however, the pop sensibility loosens: “Televangelism” is an intermittently warped piano instrumental; “Ptolemaea” recalls Arca’s fractious, challenging sound. By the end it’s impossible to ignore the fact that this is a long record with flagging momentum. But it’s also impossible to ignore this intriguing debut’s promise. “Preacher’s Daughter” has lyrical richness and atmospheric potency to spare.

There’s the glamorous and aphrodisiac sound of Lana Del Rey is undoubtedly there, but the thematic and instrumental elements on “Preacher’s Daughter” possess a weightiness and impulse away from ironic glamorization of the American dream and toward outright criticism that render the comparison only so relevant.

At times the record throbs with a noisy, immersive intensity before transitioning into the kind of epic guitar solos that decorated the cult of rock personalities in generations past. This collision of dark ambient and rock is uniquely American in the best way conceivable.

But on ‘Thoroughfare’, the album’s most epic track, Cain strips things down to acoustic guitar and harmonica, evoking the music of her youth, when the only non-Christian music she was exposed to were the country acts her dad would play in the truck. After outing her tumultuous relationship with father figures throughout the album, it makes sense that she subverts those tropes at this crucial point in the story: leaving home to chase a dream that turns out to be unattainable, the characters stumble upon a deeper kind of connection, and the promise of freedom suddenly seems more tangible than ever: “In your pickup truck with all of your dumb luck is the only place I think I’d ever wanna be.” Things then slowly take a turn, moving through songs that twist and bleed with images of violence, sexuality, and death, before disintegraing into something harder to pin down with two dark, ambient-leaning instrumentals.

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