Pretty Sick – Makes Me Sick, Makes Me Smile

A stunning debut album that doubles as a coming-of-age tale...

NYC-by-way-of-London Pretty Sick have released their debut album ‘Makes Me Sick, Makes Me Smile’: a claustrophobic gasp for air set somewhere at the intersection of Tompkins Square Park and Peckham Rye. An explosive, incredibly vulnerable portrait of their tangled transatlantic roots, Pretty Sick’s debut is a grungy tour-de-force in honest lyricism and paralysing instrumentals. Front-woman Sabrina Fuentes, only in her early-20s, speaks with the candid wisdom of someone beyond her years. In doing so, she powerfully reckons with coming-of-age in a way only a sensitive Pisces and hardened New Yorker could. 

An album of duality – Sabrina’s fuzzy vocals mingle with purging shrieks and warbling, somber musings, conveying a wide range of paradoxical emotional reckoning. Too angry to be smooth, too happily guilty to crave virtue, ‘Makes Me Sick, Makes Me Smile’ is a blunt, raw, and stubbornly-romantic reckoning with location and identity. Across an odyssey of short-stories and vividly illustrated scenes from a life, reality and fantasy run parallel along the dimly lit streets of New York City, as Sabrina uncloaks both the numbness and intensity found in her experiences. Drawing on painfully real heartbreak and contrived ideas of what one could have done differently,  the album stands as a time capsule of adolescence, as well as a space where the hazy fog of her early years running around NYC solidify into something greater.

The concept of detailing “coming-of-age” in an album is in no way novel, however the bleak honestly imbued into Fuentes’ sincere and unreserved storytelling is shockingly refreshing. Unlike most of her contemporaries, Sabrina possesses a beautiful capability to strip back a glimmering facade as oneself to expose a stark underside. One that is neither good nor bad, but simply the universal experience of maturing amidst the chaos of life (in a truly grunge fashion).  Across the album, Sabrina not only leans on punk and grunge influences, but draws from storytelling-driven folk and astrological concepts of growth during ambiguous adversity, perhaps most seen in the visceral ‘Saturn’s Return’ or spiritually-driven ‘Bound.’ 

Pretty Sick – Makes Me Sick, Makes Me Smile

Standout tracks ‘Yeah You’ and ‘PCP’ (the album opener and closer respectively) showcase Pretty Sick’s capability in creating snapshots of coming-of-age experiences, laying out all their cards and refusing to hide any dark underbellies of their stories. By opening with “yellow roses in Tompkins Square Park,” and cathartically proclaiming “what am I supposed to do it’s a small town?” in the album’s outro, Sabrina allows familiar discomfort to saturate her storytelling.  Running through real-life experiences like scenes from a fever dream, moments of Sabrina’s life pass by feeling wholly universal. Asphyxiating relationships, lost friends, and an ever-pervasive debate between nihilistic comfort and anxious self-destruction permeate throughout the album, resulting in something entirely personal yet universally relatable. Pretty Sick concludes ‘PCP’ in a  spontaneous combustion into flames – illustrating the inexplicable phenomenon of being so guilty of desire, so consumed, so determined, so extreme, and above all the realisation of oneself as a holistic encompassment of location and relationships detailed across the 12-tracks.   

Pretty Sick has been a decade in the making, having had a rotating cast of bandmates each imparting their own flair. Starting with home-friends Ava Kaufman and Ella Moore, to a New-York dominated incarnation by incorporating ex-Virgins guitarist Wade Oates and Onyx-Collective member Austin Williamson, Pretty Sick has developed with each era of members. The current iteration of Pretty Sick developed naturally: from meeting guitarist Orazio Argentero at university to linking back up with drummer Kaufman, creating ‘Makes Me Sick, Makes Me Smile’ with legendary producer Paul Kolderie (the man behind Hole, Radiohead, and more). About to embark on a UK and North American tour, and off the heels of playing around the UK summer festival circuit, Pretty Sick has skyrocketed from a DIY-passion project into incredible heights, now possessing a rock-star-like status. On ‘Self Fulfilling Prophecy,’ Sabrina’s candid “I wanted to be someone like me, but here I am now and I wish I wasn’t lonely” cuts through nostalgic instrumentals, beautifully illustrating a pride in Pretty Sick’s growth, however still reckoning with the incongruous idea of “getting everything you ever asked for.” In the end, despite the constant push and pull of indecision, Fuentes’ trust in herself persists and triumphs throughout the album. ‘Make Me Sick, Makes Me Smile’ asks a lot of questions: about New York, ourselves, the people around us, where we are and where we’ll be. “Maybe we can ride off in the sunset,” she remarks acerbically on ‘Heaven,’ but what she really means is: maybe our fate isn’t something we’re victim of, but something we can aspire to after all. 

Above all, an unconditional love of music is truly the most beautiful and central aspect of ‘Makes Me Sick, Makes Me Smile’. Pretty Sick has been Sabrina’s pride and joy for over 10 years now, a constant force during the ever-changing, always-unfamiliar experience of adolescence. Surviving a revolving door of experiences and a transatlantic relocation to London, Pretty Sick has always been rooted in an unabashed, unquestioning, and whole-hearted passion of music, and more importantly has served as a way to vocalise the difficulties of coming of age for Sabrina. Overall, ‘Makes Me Sick, Makes Me Smile’ is beautiful, explosive, and honest – and a stunning debut for Pretty Sick. 

9/10

Words: Ruby Carter

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