It is usually a good sign when I find myself at a loss for words after listening to an album. This was definitely the case with NG’s — junior Noah Gunther — completely self-made album, “Make Me Sick.” The album was composed and recorded over the summer by Gunther while he interned at the Worm Farm Institute. It not only encompasses a huge variety of sounds, but also documents Gunther’s experience and feelings in poetic way.
“Make Me Sick” was mostly fueled by Gunther’s sudden isolation from friends and desire to express his emotions via music. During the school year, he started playing more music with friends, mostly in the punk group “Small Boys.” Although not in the Conservatory, he loves creating music, but often did not have the time to. At the farm, he had the time and means, but not the friends to share ideas with.
Thus, this album was an introverted one, assembled solely with his vocals, instrumentals and field recordings. While he loves being able to feed off others’ creativity in a band, he also enjoys working alone, as he can move the artistic focus in any which way and let the creative juices flow without censorship and compromise, some things one might not experience in a band.
It is immediately clear when listening to the album that Gunther placed a heavy emphasis on experimentation. The listener is brought through a collage of noises, sounds, instruments and affected vocals. A main technique he utilized was taking recordings of nature and other ambient sounds, often manipulating them and layering them with other more conventional sounds such as guitar.
Gunther’s approach to composing and recording was a unique one and hard to figure out by just listening to “Make Me Sick.” Most interestingly, the songs were written and recorded chronologically, almost like a musical diary. Despite this, the songs were not usually true to events, but rather how he was feeling and what he was thinking about. They were also assembled somewhat formulaically — on average, he recorded a layer everyday, typically completing a song a week.
Greatly influenced by “The Diary of Anaïs Nin” — a diary which embellishes everyday life, making it out to be more intriguing or bizarre than it really is — Gunther wanted to do the same with his summer. Just like Nin, his goal was, as he puts it, “to show how mundane everyday existence can be, but also how through poetry, art and music, you can sort of shape it into what you want it to be and share that with other people.” I am not able to relay the events of his summer by means of the lyrics, but, regardless, my interest in his experience was piqued due to the presentation and medium, thus succeeding in his goal.
The album was really effective at pulling the listener in, both with its vocals and everything else contained in the dense collage. It begins with “No Good,” probably the simplest and most accessible song. It features laid back guitar, a snare drum, bird samples and relaxing spoken word. This first track was the only one not recorded on the farm, setting it apart from the others.
As the listener hears the rest of Gunther’s musical diary, it gets more abrasive and chaotic, in all the best ways. The lyrics get far more surreal, sarcastic and dark. The backing tracks get denser, with more layers and more intensity. It is almost as if the listener gets to hear Gunther experiment with his minimal gear and realize the full potential of what he can do with it. By the last song, “~@~,” the listener is brought back again to a similar point that the album started with, making the journey both Gunther and the listener took feel complete.
It is important to go into “Make Me Sick” with an open mind. Be prepared to hear anything, and try to let the album transport you to the Worm Farm Institute. I went in not knowing at all what would occur and had an incredible experience. For better or for worse though, due to reading this review, there will be preconceived notions when listening. The background, goals and other aspirations attached to the album are known. So think about this before, after or even during, if you can handle it all: How does this change the experience? What will be added or taken away?
You can find “Make Me Sick” on Bandcamp. Enjoy your trip to Noah Gunther’s mind at the farm.