Ethel Cain


(Copyright © 2023 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of Use )
Preacherís Daughter (2022), 7/10 Links:

(Clicka qua per la versione Italiana)

Pennsylvania's singer-songwriter Hayden Anhedonia, aka Ethel Cain, released the EPs Golden Age (2019) and Inbred (2021), in a Lingua Ignota-lite vein (notably in Inbred), before the ambitious album Preacherís Daughter (2022), a 75-minute gothic rock opera set in the deep south of the USA and ostensibly "centered around the character Ethel Cain, who runs away from home only to meet a gruesome end at the hands of a cannibalistic psychopath". It's 75 minutes of sinister, stately, crawling, quasi-slowcore elegies inspired by church music, and of Southern gothic tales with religious overtones. The eight-minute A House in Nebraska is paradigmatic: implacable sedate waves of fatalistic angst-filled crooning over dense and martial piano-driven orchestration. Meanwhile, the gloomy and lithurgical Family Tree Intro has set the tone for the whole album. In the first part there is actually a bit of variety, but it requires deep listening: the seven-minute Family Tree, a display of her vocal range over bluesy guitar jamming, the radio-friendly Taylor Swift-esque American Teenager (with echoes of Journeyís Donít Stop Believin), and the fragile waltzing country ballad Hard Times, perhaps the most Mazzy Star-esque moment. The nine-minute psychodrama Thoroughfare, which begins like a somnolent remix of Florence and the Machine's Dog Days Are Over and soars into a vibrant hymn before decaying into free-form wordless agony, splits the album in two. Gibson Girl descends into a cold and dark atmosphere over a subdued hip-hop beat and an almost Pink Floyd-ian guitar solo. Next, in rapid sequence, come the lugubrious and mostly instrumental Ptolemaea (again, echoes of Animals-ra Pink Floyd), the wordless, horror, Grouper-esque mantra August Underground, and the piano sonata Televangelism, signaling the protagonist's transition to heaven. The narration (from the otherworld) resumes in the seven-minute Sun Bleached Flies, which also marks a return to dense and martial orchestrations, which could be on a Kate Bush album, while the closing chapter of Strangers swings between grandiose apotheosis and the simpler style of American Teenager. At best, her austere and floating vocals are as impactful as the Gregorian chants that inspired her. At worst, the music repeats itself without adequately accenting the narrative. Either way she pioneers a new kind of rock opera, of fictional storytelling with the limited instruments of popular music, and at the same time revived the character of the erudite singer-songwriter.

(Copyright © 2023 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of use )