Illuminati Hotties Dares You To Laugh
A few years ago, in the earliest days of Illuminati Hotties, a funny thing would happen when you'd post about the band on social media: Inadvertently, you'd get follow requests from a few spammers ready to recruit you to an ancient brotherhood – an absurdist unintended consequence for a band name chosen on a whim.
And though the non sequitur name Sarah Tudzin gave her project almost always inspires a laugh (or scamming secret society bot) or two, there's serious skill and intent happening behind the hilarity. With Let Me Do One More, out Friday, Tudzin's issued an invitation into her expansive, expressive and ever-widening musical world. Featuring a Pop-Tart name-drop, a delightful appearance from Big Thief's Buck Meek as a forlorn cowboy and, according to the album credits, "All the Attendees of an Over-Capacity Housewarming Party," it's proof positive that ambition doesn't have to be all-out serious, and that moments of vulnerability can also be hooky-as-hell rippers.
Let Me Do One More builds on the balance of humor and heart that defined Tudzin's 2018's self-produced debut, Kiss Yr Frenemies. There, deflated fake flatulence sounds shared space with lines about missed connections and misunderstandings, all-too-relatable saving-to-checking transfers and hype talks from honest friends. It was a fitting introduction to Tudzin's self-coined "tenderpunk" M.O., and to her impressive studio chops, too: A distinctively clever songwriter, Tudzin's also a Berklee College of Music-trained producer, engineer and mixer. (Her credits from her post-college years spent working under producers like Chris Coady span the dial, from Hamilton to Weyes Blood to Logic.)
This time around, Tudzin doubles down, almost daring you to laugh along. Take the tongue-in-cheek public service announcement ("made possible by contributions from Lil' Shredders like you") delivered by her cousin just ahead of the snotty, acerbic "Joni: LA's No 1 Health Goth," or the incendiary "MMMOOOAAAAAYAYA," a screw-you single with a slimy video where Tudzin ultimately gets the last laugh.
But more often than not, for Tudzin, the punchlines are akin to processing. "I think I am guarded in this way where I would rather make a joke about something that is really quite serious," Tudzin says. "Without really trying to undercut my own feelings, I am not comfortable in a vulnerable position, and I often subvert that in whatever way I can."
Sometimes the subversiveness is in the style. On Let Me Do One More, Tudzin's ability to toggle between sounds – sometimes even in one song, like "u v v p," an ode that's equal parts surf rock and cowpoke confessional – feels seamless. The fact that a genre-hopping album can function as a cohesive body feels like a testament to Tudzin's singular vision.
With polish and point of view, Illuminati Hotties felt fully formed from the jump. Her debut garnered critical praise and opening slots on tour with PUP and American Football, among others. But in 2019, a number of artists signed to Tiny Engines – which released Kiss Yr Frenemies – alleged financial mistreatment, including breach of contract for royalty payouts. Tudzin's negotiated exit from the label required another project, resulting in her 2020 mixtape, Free I.H.: This Is Not The One You've Been Waiting For, recorded in rapidfire fashion in early 2020 just ahead of the pandemic shutdown. And while the stakes for that project were smaller – to satisfy a legal requirement – the irony was, for those already in the know, any new music from I.H. was highly anticipated.
Though Let Me Do One More follows Free I.H. chronologically, the record features tracks that were developed prior to the mixtape. And now that she's putting out the project that's been in progress dating back to pre-pandemic times, it feels like a watershed moment for Tudzin, both as an artist and producer. In the years since Kiss Yr Frenemies, Tudzin has also produced, mixed and engineered Pom Pom Squad's full-length debut, Death of a Cheerleader, plus tracks from Lou Roy, Guppy and Dolly Valentine, among others.
For Sadie Dupuis of Speedy Ortiz and Sad13, her choice to enlist Tudzin for mixing on her 2020 record Haunted Painting was a blend of experience and circumstance. Dupuis says she had listened to Kiss Yr Frenemies on tour, and had known Tudzin was based in L.A., but they didn't really know each other prior to the session.
"Part of why we became friends is because we're overworkers" Dupuis says. "I'll come to the session with 300 files, and she'll be like, 'I'll stay up all night to do it.' I really delight in the process of spending hours to get this sound, and she's got those tendencies too."
That level of pull-an-all-nighter, tireless ambition has always been an undercurrent throughout Illuminati Hotties' discography, even if it isn't always obvious. But more than ever before, Let Me Do One More feels emboldened, intentional and purposeful – which is saying something for an artist with a track titled, "will i get cancelled if i write a song called, 'if you were a man you'd be so cancelled.'" Like on Free I.H., there's a willingness to go all in (see "Threatening Each Other re: Capitalism," where even the local farmer's market isn't spared), with sharp analysis that also happens to be highly listenable.
"Why only go halfway when you know you have something sharper and more pertinent to say than weaving it through metaphors?" Tudzin explains.
With an expanded audience also comes a new period of autonomy. Let Me Do One More will be the first release on Snack Shack Tracks, Tudzin's own imprint with Hopeless Records. And this winter, she'll co-headline her own tour with Fenne Lilly, Pom Pom Squad and Katy Kirby. It's all part of Tudzin's vision, what she describes as a dream scenario, with a goal to eventually foster a roster of artists and equip them with financial resources and reach to make an impact.
"Artists that I have followed [their] careers for a really long time that I'd never thought I'd be in the room with are asking me to work on stuff," she says. "It's just so exciting to really feel like the things that I dreamt up could be coming true."
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