Photos by Shelby Kraut
I Found God at the Ethel Cain Show
Review of the breakout goth rock star’s record release show at Market Hotel
By Layla Passman
Within the past month, the subject of Ethel Cain became unavoidable. Sitting in the car with friends, somebody brought up the new Kendrick Lamar album, and quietness flushed over the car before my friend mentioned the new Ethel Cain album, Preacher’s Daughter. We all erupted in agreement, as the singer’s debut album had been echoing through multiple audio sources from different rooms throughout my apartment since it came out in May. I’d mentioned her in almost every conversation, ranging from friends to my father, like I was spreading the gospel of impending stardom. Cain, whose real name is Hayden Silas Anhedönia, was set to play her first headlining show in New York at Market Hotel.
Just as her layered vocals seemed to fill up the blank spaces in her music, Market Hotel seems to reverberate with her dark, drowning voice in a chorus of fans singing every word right back to her, a testament to the obsession her album has garnered since its release only weeks prior. I push to the front, trying to get as close as I can to her wall of sound. Her voice, in addition to the reverb-y guitar and drums, covers the room in a dark glow; the low notes ring deep in your stomach and tilt your head, and you have no choice but to be hypnotized by Cain’s voice. She picks up the harmonica for the sprawling story of “Thoroughfare.”
She keeps steady in her stage presence, just her, an oversized button-down and jeans, a bear-shaped bottle of honey she nurses in between each song, and even a harmonica at times. I look around to see an audience clouded in Edwardian white dresses in an attempt to emulate the cover artwork for Preacher's Daughter. Market Hotel begins to resemble a gathering of Puritan women more than a pop show.
It seems that everybody wants to emulate her in some way, intentional or not. Cain brings us into a part of her world that seems so familiar to many, walking through America’s ruins, marked by pain and decay, both in her environment and within. However, with the pain that comes with being here right now, Cain finds the beauty in all of it. Even in flies, dirty mattresses, and corner stores. As I listen, I can’t help but see the more divine side of the city puddles and car fumes I walk through. She has uncovered a new point of view, a different way to look at the world, that has drawn so many of us in, hoping to see what she sees.
After the show, the entire audience idles on the sidewalk. I look through the layers of people to see Hayden, not Ethel Cain, greeting, hugging, and talking to everybody that sang with her just moments before. As people step forward one by one, waiting for a moment of intimacy with the artist, we can sense that these moments are special. Despite Cain’s impending U.S. tour, weekly editorial features, and growing streams, she seems to deny any glimmer of fame, instead preferring to be on the gum-stained sidewalk, under the train tracks, just like the rest of us.