“Preacher’s Daughter” – Ethel Cain Album Review

Written by on October 9, 2023

Review by Tyler Restucci

We need to talk about Ethel Cain. The singer/songwriter released her first album, Preacher’s Daughter in May of 2022 under her own label, Daughters of Cain Records. 

For her debut Cain released a concept album, that tells the heartbreaking story about a young woman trying to find herself, but coming to a tragic end.  

We open with the song “Family Tree (Intro)” where we hear a preacher speaking to his congregation. Within seconds, the theme of religious trauma reveals itself. Lines like “Give myself up to him in offering/Let him make a woman out of me” and “Remind me of who I used to be/And Christ, forgive these bones I’ve been hiding/Oh, and the bones I’m about to leave” express Cain’s discontent with her religion, and how the person she is-is not the person they want. Not only that, but later in the album we discover that she ran away from her community, yet this song represents the connection that she still has with her family, whether she wants to or not. 

In the nine minute song, “Throughfare,” Cain describes meeting a man in Texas, someone who would soon become her lover, and agreeing to run away with him. She joins him on his journey, and she explains how she feels drawn to him because “Cause for the first time since I was a child, I could see a man who wasn’t angry.” Though this relationship quickly turns sour. The next song “Gibson Girl” is immediately different from the country sounding song that came before. The music takes on a more sultry sound, but the lyrics tell a different story. As we hear how the relationship has devolved, as the lover character exploits and gaslights Cain, and how she rebels against him every chance she gets. 

The story comes to a head in the very next song “Ptolemaea.” The title is in reference to Dante’s Inferno, where Ptolemy is the third section of the ninth circle, which houses her namesake. The song begins with the demonic voice of her lover, just before he kills her. The song ends with Cain’s guttural screams for him to stop before she stops and the demonic speaking continues. The instrumental track that follows after, “August Underground,” is eerie and dissonant. Reflecting Cain’s final moments where she cannot move or speak. Another instrumental song follows. “Televangelism” is a beautiful and moving piano piece, depicting Cain’s ascent into heaven.

The final two songs on the album, “Sun Bleached Flies” and “Strangers” are from the perspective of Cain in heaven as she reflects on her life. In “Sun Bleached Flies,” Cain expresses her longing for her home, even if she felt like she didn’t belong there saying, “What I wouldn’t give to be in church this Sunday/Listening to the choir so heartfelt, all singing/”God loves you, but not enough to save you”/So, baby girl, good luck taking care of yourself.” “Strangers” makes for an even more heartbreaking end to an already tragic story. Cain thinks aloud about how her death will impact her mother. Imagining a scenario where her mother sees her missing photo on a milk carton in the grocery store and waits for the daughter who will never come home. The album ends with the devastating lines to her mother, “Mama, just know that I love you (I do)/And I’ll see you when you get here.”  

I had heard about Ethel Cain for the first time a couple weeks ago, where a podcast I listened to recommended it. I only knew a small amount of the story, but it was so intricate that I was eager to listen to the whole thing. I was not prepared for how emotionally charged the album would be. There was several times during the last few songs that I was moved to tears. The story of this album is like nothing I have ever heard before, and the sound of each song is a perfect complement to the storytelling. The entire album is very ethereal sounding, but some songs have a more country sound and others rock, which parallels Cain’s place in her journey. This was an incredibly ambitious album and it delivers on all fronts. I know for me, Cain has earned a lifelong listener.

Image from Amazon Music