Preachers Daughter: Ethel Cain’s World of Ambient Faith


While only having a few EPs in her discography, Hayden Silas Anhedönia, known by her stage name Ethel Cain, has long since defined the nostalgic ambiance of her musical style. Seemingly overnight, this former film school student has gained immense popularity with over 2 million monthly listeners on Spotify. In a few short years, and especially after the release of her debut album, Preachers Daughter, Cain has become the new face of morbid americana, a character of pure, or at least honest, gothic gospel.

Taking inspiration from her childhood in a southern baptist community, Anhedönia’s character, Ethel Cain, is the whimsical romanticization of her conservative upbringing in the church. Cain is feminine and dreamlike, pictured weaving through fields in white lace, brandishing a worn American flag. Because of her floating voice and feminine flair, Cain has been compared with a few other charming and nostalgic artists, most often Lana Del Rey. But unlike Del Rey, Anhedönia makes clear that the character of Cain, although flamboyant, is not a gimmick. 

“Here’s the line between Lana and me. Lana is all facade, she is glamor, she is old Hollywood, she is the peak opulence of the American Dream. And for me, I’m like, that’s just not what America is to me,” said Cain. “For me, the American Dream is not real – and if it is, it’s built on the backs of all the people who never see any profit.

While emphasizing the humble upbringings of the unseen working class, Cain is an expression of an experience in a secluded Baptist community, one that did not resonate with Anhedönia but instead became a personal inspiration. 

“They say that artists should create from the heart, this is what’s in there”, said Cain.

At first glance, some lyrics seem hateful, almost to the point of sacrilegious. However, Cain explains that her childhood memories of church and community actually have a special, although a less sacred, role in who she is today. 

“Whether I like it or not, God always has and always will be a huge part of my life”, said Cain. “Whether He’s being used as a comforting figure or a threat, I’ve always been surrounded by it. It’s not really something you can walk away from”. 

Past the echoing, eerie voice that remains a constant throughout the album, the production in this album doesn’t fall short in its experimentation with sounds, with church bells in A House in Nebraska and poetic preaching at the beginning of Strangers

The energy of the album is also something that is not a constant, from the ethereal piano instrumental Televangelism to the Taylor Swift reminiscent hit American Teenager, while all the songs have a coherent theme and overall feeling. With its dark lyrical simplicity, each song is a story, full of emotion felt through the gentle waves of Anhedönia’s floating vocals. 

Cain doesn’t hide her story behind metaphors. Instead, words weave together to create coherent rhetorical stories that are easy to understand and empathize with. Her lyrics are beautifully and brutally honest, reading like poetry, her voice raising to the words “God loves you but not enough to save you”, raw and bleak, ringing like prayer. 

If you enjoy experimental or ethereal music, this Preacher’s Daughter is a must-listen. Cain has created breathing poetry through her vocals, lyrics, and character. This album is not only a masterpiece but also an experimental experience, a story of a southern girl forging her own faith and keeping her roots like a covenant.