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This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at PSU chapter.

I recently started listening to Ethel Cain and bonded over it with my friend. We talked the other week about her “Preacher’s Daughter” album, which was released on May 12, 2022.

My friend ended up telling me that Hayden Silas Anhedönia is the real artist behind the album, and Cain is her alter ego. “Preacher’s Daughter” tells Cain’s story and the life, love and trauma she lived through.

The album is set in 1991. That is a decade after her father, the town preacher, died.

Anhedönia shares that she wanted to show “how your parents’ or your grandparents’ actions can affect you.” She wanted to show the lineage of women and how all their lives are connected.

The first song, “Family Tree (Intro),” sets the tone of this album. We hear ominous warnings and are cautioned about what waits ahead.

“American Teenager” is a more upbeat song from the album, but the lyrics still show gothic themes. We hear about Cain’s life in this song and the type of world she lives in.

In her lyrics, she writes, “Jesus, if you’re listening, let me handle my liquor. And Jesus, if you’re there. Why do I feel alone in this room with you?”

This is when Cain starts to waver in her faith and begins to notice and respond to the horror around her. The song shows the idea of the American Dream and the struggle to obtain it.

It shares the stories of those who fall short of their dreams because of their economic and social status.

“A House in a Nebraska,” the third song in the album, is about how Cain misses her lover and thinks back on their time together. We hear this in her first verse: “We had nothing except each other, you were my whole world. Then the day came, and you were up and gone.”

Cain is left in solitude at the house she and her lover shared and she misses his company. She goes on to sing about how silent the house is and how everything reminds her of him.

Her last line continues to show Cain’s sadness and loneliness: “I’m so alone out here without you, baby.” Her voice gets softer as she sings this line and her words echo for a couple of beats, really enforcing the feelings Cain’s going through.

Anhedönia at the house mentioned in “The House in Nebraska”.

“Western Nights” demonstrates Cain’s attempt to move on from her old lover.

Her new lover, Logan, is more reckless and outgoing than Cain. This relationship is Cain’s idea of stepping out of her old life and into a new one. Logan and her commit robberies and run from the law.

We hear how obsessed Cain becomes with Logan. She claims to do whatever he asks and clings to him.

Cain sings, “Even if you lose what’s left of your mind. ‘Cause you know I’ll still be right behind you. Riding through all these western nights.”

We see her love for him and how she wants to be near him. He offers her the freedom she desires, and she doesn’t want to let it go.

“Family Tree” is the full version of the first song of this album. It details the aftermath of robbing the bank. Logan ends up getting shot by the police.

In this song, we see a darker version of Cain emerge. She fully removes herself from her past life and personality.

Cain is sick of the constant pain she lives through and wants out. She feels hopeless in this vicious cycle of trauma and violence and finally breaks.

“Hard Times,” the sixth song, shares the abuse Cain faced from her father.

This song is vulnerable and brutally raw, as seen in her lyrics: “I was too young to notice that some types of love could be bad.”

Cain’s faith wanes because she can no longer believe in the religion that brought her pain. She runs away.

“Thoroughfare” is the longest song on the album, almost ten minutes long. This song has a very country/adventure tone to it. It gives the listener hope, and we see that Cain has hope as well.

At the beginning of the song, Cain is wandering the highway. She’s eventually picked up by a man named Isaiah who offers her a lift from Texas to California.

During their drive, Cain is no longer bound to her past and revels in her newfound freedom.

Isaiah and Cain eventually fall in love. She sees Isaiah as a different type of man than she’s used to seeing and clings to him.

Cain sings “Cause for the first time since I was a child. I could see a man who wasn’t angry.” Cain sees that not all men are like her father, and they won’t all treat her like he did.

“Gibson Girl” is the first song I heard from this album, and it’s forever been my favorite. Cain has this way of singing in a soft deep voice that washes over you.

“Gibson Girl” is seductive and dark. We hear that Cain was sold into sex work by Isaiah and has become addicted to money and drugs.

The song crescendos slowly as the song moves on. We see how Cain tries to take back the power of her abuse by acting like it was her choice. She says, “You want to get these clothes off and hurt me.”

She’s trying to change the narrative, but knowing the backstory, we see the pain she’s going through. The climax in this song is meant to embody Cain breaking from what Isaiah put her through.

“Ptolemaea” is the darkest song on the album and the climax of Cain’s story. The song is titled after Ptolemy, known as the worst circle in “Dante’s Inferno.”

In this song, Isaiah attacks Cain. We see how that, mixed with the drugs, are causing hallucinations.

The song opens with a very ominous noise that almost sounds like moans of pain. We also hear what sounds like flies buzzing around before the first verse begins.

The song addresses Cain’s feeling of being submitted to men and religion.

At one point we hear a blood-curdling scream, shouting “Stop.” We can see how Cain is trapped in her head and this cycle of pain.

She wants out. She wants peace in her life.

“August Underground” is named after a film of the same title, which follows two serial killers as they film their victims’ last moments.

This song has no words, just vocals. We only hear Cain’s moans and breaths as Isaiah kills her.

“Televangelism” is a piano solo. There are no lyrics in this song either, which feels like a moment of silence for Cain.

The focus of this song is geared toward what’s happening in Cain’s head as she moves to heaven. We hear the warping of tapes in the background which adds a wonky element to this song.

Some fans believe that, like the film, “August Underground,” Cain was being filmed in her last moments and that she may get justice for the acts performed on her.

“Sun Bleached Flies” is Cain singing from heaven. It is such a beautiful and powerful ballad.

She battles with wanting to believe in something, but is constantly let down: “God loves you, but not enough to save you. So, baby girl, good luck taking care of yourself.”

Cain comes to terms with her life: “But I always knew that in the end, no one was coming to save me. So I just prayed, and I keep praying and praying and praying.”

Cain accepted what happened and saw that it was out of her hands. She wished she could have had a simpler life but never had the chance.

We see a callback, as she mentions “A House in Nebraska,” and she wishes she was there with her first love. She seems to reunite with her faith as the song ends.

“Strangers” is about what happened to Cain’s body after she died.

She shares that Isaiah consumed her after killing her: “If I’m turning in your stomach, and I’m making you feel sick…You’re so handsome when I’m all over your mouth.”

Cain weaves a semi-love song, so the true theme is hidden.

Her last verse is so beautiful as she talks to her mom: “Mama, just know that I love you (I do). And I’ll see you when you get here.”

She holds nothing against her mother, and we hear how she offers reassurance to her. Cain waits for their reunion in heaven.

After knowing the whole back story of this album, the experience while listening is intense. We hear how Cain changes and struggles as her life unfolds.

Anhedönia put a lot of work into this album and created a beautiful story about family, religion, love and sadness. I would definitely recommend listening to this album even if it’s only once.

Olivia is studying English and Advertising. She's a sophomore at Penn State University. She lives around thirty minutes from State College in a town called Port Matilda. She aspires to be a book publisher when she graduates. Olivia loves to read and has recently gotten into writing. She works part-time at Wegmans, where she stocks dairy products. When Olivia isn't writing, she's reading, watching Netflix, listening to Lana Del Rey, or cuddling with her cat, Peeta.