Pretty Sick

Pretty Sick stay sick on "Come Down"

On their sophomore long-playing record, Come Down, Pretty Sick push the needle even further into the red than before when it comes to being both pretty and being sick and then they take that needle and stab you in the f***ing heart with it (another way of pushing it into the red) but in a way that’s not lethal like you’d expect but just the opposite so that after the music’s over you feel something like Uma Thurman must‘ve felt with a hypodermic needle sticking out of her chest after ODing and feeling gobsmacked by what just happened but also equally grateful for being brought back to life by a rush of adrenaline injected straight to the heart.

So yeah, they stay sick.

Last year’s Deep Divine opened with a short instrumental called “Comedown", a state of being embodied by dirgy bass and grinding guitar and slow pounding drums. But the comedown cleared pretty quickly on that record with something approaching a state of ecstatic release over the next six tracks, though still with plenty of rough edges and the occasional dreamy reverie. But this new one takes those rough edges and reveries and puts them at the center of things.

On Come Down’s centerpiece songs (e.g., the advance singles “Bet My Blood” and “Devil In Me”) Pretty Sick bassist/vocalist/songwriter and master of sickitude Sabrina Fuentes and her musical co-conspirators go into full on shred mode including the shredding of vocal chords and of bougie standards of decency and decorum which of course have always been applied most harshly to women. But other track are shred-averse leaning into ambience and minimalism, or full on "bedroom pop" on the album closer. In a way it's like a movie sequel where they take what people liked about the original and push those qualities to new extremes in every direction ("into the red") to the point of incoherence at times. But the approach works better here than it did in Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.

The album opens with a song called “Dumb”—a track that predates even Deep Divine and acts as a bridge between that record and this one. It's also a throwback in that it sounds like a long lost outtake or forgotten b-side from Bossanova, but sung by Kim Deal who was mostly absent from that album on vocals, in that it’s a hook-laden mid-tempo rocker but with a very non-Pixieish music video to match that should maybe come with a disclaimer warning “prudes beware but sickos welcome.”

Next up is “Bet My Blood” which gives the listener a feel for where things are headed with its grunged out, Big Muffy guitars and raw riot grrrly vocals, all in service of a catchy and well-constructed song that is until it implodes, crashing in on itself with a quickening pulse and babbling spirit-possessed glossolalia and growingly unhinged musical backing to match before ending with the sound of a feral creature's panting. And if that’s not enough to get your goat there’s a music video featuring some quite possibly un-board-certified nurses including Ms. Fuentes wielding a hypodermic needle (see paragraph one) with a glint in her eye and administering fatal care to a few pretty young patients.

On track three (“She”) the album takes another turn with a stealthy, stalking rhythm section and shuddering guitar melodies over which Sabrina takes on yet another new vocal persona that's by turns breathy and bleating and then finally primal screaming and pushing the audio into the red again, before settling back down into a reverb-laden refrain of “Shee-eeee la-la-la-la-la-la-la” as if words alone no longer do justice to how she feels about the titular femme fatale. And by this point I'm starting to think Miss Pretty Sick may be angling for a career in voice acting à la Mercedes McCambridge after it's all said and done.



And here we reach the exact midpoint of the record, a song called “Self Control” as in "(I Ain’t Got No)", where the overarching theme gets laid bare as it's been hinted at elsewhere in lyrics lamenting/celebrating said lack of control—“punish myself for years after / but I can’t help myself"—a theme that works its way into the music itself, repeatedly teetering on the edge of order and chaos with the latter engulfing the former more than once on the album. 

The next couple songs begin the descent down the other side of the mountain—i.e., the comedown of Come Down if you will or even if you won't—with “Pillbug” floating by on slow waves of woozy harmonics for a full four minutes before ending with a vow to “curl right up and roll over for you." And then comes “Bare” which fittingly is a stark, tender love song with Sabrina singing in unison with her bass and in harmony with herself and it's not unlike some of the more minimalist post-Last Splash stuff the Breeders have recorded (sorry for double-dipping on Kim Deal but I can't help myself either). And then on to the penultimate track “Devil in Me” where there's a return to stable destabilized alt-rock territory. But this time it feels any control issues may have abated somewhat, or a state of acceptance achieved at least. Because “the Devil in me likes the Devil in you” sounds like a healthy way to cope and a good line for couples therapy. And even when the song spins off its axis it feels like more of a climax than a comedown.

And at last we get “Physical" a song that strays into panda-eyed dream pop territory with synthy strings and intense ominous whooshing custom made to appear in Twin Peaks Season 4 (one hopes) and yes I’ll accept that music consultancy position, Mr. Lynch. Except that the Julee Cruise/Chromatics vibes are mixed with some NYC grit (and some London grit since it's Pretty Sick's current base of operation) and probably only a born-and-bred city kid could be so seen-it-all jaded to write lines like “now that the party's done / [...] now that thе glamour's past / and everyone's come down / I know I won’t be remembered well” before turning 20. But it's also like a city kid to declare “I know I will never let myself down" which somehow I doubt many Pretty Sick fans will feel let down either by a record that, comedown or not, is such a shot in the arm. (Jason Lee)

   

Pretty Sick explore the "Deep Divine"

Deep Divine is the “coming out” LP or EP or whatever you want to call it (seriously these terms mean next to nothing today) from the rock combo Pretty Sick. Regardless, both the band name and the record name are spot on. Deep Divine is the sound of teenage kicks colliding with the imperative to “just grow up, be adults and die” in the words of one Veronica Sawyer--a deep dive into the muck and the majesty of teenhood and early adulthood. 

Lead singer, songwriter, and bassist Sabrina Fuentes self-reportedly wrote the songs heard here between ages 12 and 20 and the intensity of these transitional years bleeds into every note. Pretty Sick are indeed pretty sick (double-entendre no doubt intended) and appear to be influenced by early, ground-breaking releases on labels such as Sub Pop, Matador, and Kill Rock Stars--a sound that even a generation later is effective sonic shorthand for surviving adulthood with some degree of mental functioning, passion, and sick humor intact. 

Deep Divine not only captures but updates these sounds and sentiments from the past--for one thing the gender fluidity at play in Fuentes’ lyrics is a clear marker of the contemporary moment (he’s and she’s are pretty much interchangeable). The cover image of the record too is a clear riff-on-cum-update-of a certain iconic album cover for this one old record you may have heard of by some band or other, but minus the dollar bill on a hook seeing as record labels aren’t handing out too many million-dollar contracts these days.

Finally this is also a New York City record to the core. The grungetastic 54-second-long instrumental intro called “Comedown” (perfect place to start!) merges straight into “Allen Street” with its subject staring “out on Allen Street at 7:00 in the morning” the song turns into a mini-travelogue taking the listener from the titular LES location to the “Bowery at midnight in the summer” finally ending up “back in Harlem now you won’t even call me / cut myself up now it makes me feel more holy.” Punny-ness aside this last line captures the tightrope act that Pretty Sick has already mastered: balancing hookiness and grittiness and lower bodily stratum and spiritual elevation. (Jason Lee)