Meet Ethel Cain, the Cult Artist Penning a New Sonic Testament
Photo: Silken Weinberg
You would be forgiven for mistaking Ethel Cain as a transfixing cult leader or falling under the spell of her difficult to define genre-blurring hex. Dubbed Mother Cain by her growing following of Daughters, "the tall glass of lemonade on a humid sun-drenched day" pulls from cult-like imagery and the mysticism of backwoods Americana to create an entrancing sonic aesthetic that calls out to you like a siren's call at witching hour.
It's a degree of intoxicating world building that is partially informed by Cain's own upbringing. Raised a backwoods churchgoer in the deep south, the sounds that inform her critically-lauded debut EP, Inbred, place equal weight on deeply-devoted religious iconography as they do fatalistic stories of romance and heartbreak. Single-handedly producing, mixing, and writing the EP from the basement of a church in Indiana, its defining moment arrived in the image of its breakout single, "Crush."
A smoldering slowburn, "Crush" finds an anti-hero in one of Americana's most worshiped tropes - a man in the middle of a small town who is long past his prime. It's a thematic tradition rife with juxtaposition. "He looks like he works with hands / And smells like Marlboro reds" fantasizes Cain directly besides lines like "He hasn't tried coke / But he's always had a problem saying no," deftly hinting at a sense of destruction hiding just beyond the horizon. Even when it comes to expressing her carnal attraction, it arrives as a murky mixture between love and hate. "I owe you a black eye and two kisses / Tell me when you wanna come and get em," sings Cain in an ethereal lull evocative of Lana Del Rey.
And while fans of the aforementioned pop star will likely find parallels between the two's unique, hushed vocal lilts, much of Del Rey's discography calls to mind the long-forgotten glitz and glamour of old Hollywood, while Cain's haunting music manifests a much more ominous portrait of the American tradition. The latest taste of which arrives in the form of "Gibson Girl." Wrapped in velvet, Cain drifts across a soundscape that carries with it all the seductive power of sinister R&B and the uncompromising indie rock vision of its namesake.
The languid, bewitching single signals not just a new era for Cain but word of her highly-anticipated debut album. Preacher's Daughter is set to arrive March 12 as a new testament written on Southern soil, weaving together the withered branches of a family tree plagued by the greatest sin - human nature.