Mariah Russek / Courtesy of the artist
A few years ago, in the early days of Illuminati Hotties, a funny thing would happen when you posted about the group on social media: inadvertently you would have follow requests from a few spammers ready to recruit you to an old brotherhood – an absurd unintended consequence for a band name chosen on a whim.
And while the non-sequitur name Sarah Tudzin gave her project almost always inspires a laugh (or a secret society bot scam) or two, there are serious skills and intentions behind the hilarity. With Let me do one more, released on Friday, Tudzin’s launched an invitation into its expansive, expressive and ever-expanding musical world. With a Pop-Tart name, a charming appearance by Big Thief’s Buck Meek as the desperate cowboy, and, according to the album’s credits, “All Participants in an Overcapacity Housewarming Party,” it’s proof that ambition doesn’t have to be all serious, and that moments of vulnerability can also be eye-catching rippers.
Let me do one more draws on the balance of humor and heart that defined Tudzin’s self-produced debut in 2018, Kiss An Frenemies. There, deflated false gas sounds a shared space with lines on missed connections and misunderstandings, savings transfers to check overly relevant information, and fashionable discussions of honest friends. It was a fitting introduction to Tudzin’s self-invented “tenderpunk” MO, as well as his impressive studio chops: a distinctly intelligent songwriter, Tudzin is also a producer, engineer and mixer trained at Berklee College of Music. (His credits from his post-graduate years working under producers like Chris Coady cover the dial, from Hamilton to Weyes Blood at Logic.)
This time around, Tudzin doubles up, almost daring you to laugh. Take the tongue-in-cheek public service ad (“made possible by contributions from Lil ‘Shredders like you”) delivered by her cousin just before the brat and acerbic “Joni: LA’s No 1 Health Goth” or the arsonist “MMMOOOAAAAAYAYA” , a screwed up bachelor with a slimy video where Tudzin finally gets the last laugh.
But more often than not, for Tudzin, punchlines are akin to treatment. “I think I’m kept that way where I prefer to joke about something that’s really, really serious,” Tudzin says. “Without really trying to minimize my own feelings, I’m uncomfortable in a vulnerable position, and I often subvert that in any way I can.”
Sometimes the subversiveness is in the style. At Let me do one more, Tudzin’s ability to switch between sounds – sometimes even in a song, like “uvvp,” an ode to both surf rock and confessional cowpoke – seems transparent. The fact that a genre album can function as a coherent body testifies to Tudzin’s singular vision.
With polish and point of view, the Illuminati Hotties felt completely formed from the jump. His debut earned him critical acclaim and opening slots on tour with PUP and American Football, among others. But in 2019, a number of artists signed to Tiny Engines – who released Kiss An Frenemies – allegations of financial ill-treatment, including breach of contract for the payment of royalties. Tudzin’s negotiated release from the label required another project, culminating in his 2020 mixtape, Free IH: not what you expected, recorded rapidly in early 2020 just before the end of the pandemic. And while the stakes for this project were smaller – to satisfy a legal requirement – the irony was, for those who were already in the know, all new music from IH. was highly anticipated.
Although Let me do one more follows Free IH chronologically, the record features tracks that were developed before the mixtape. And now that she’s releasing the ongoing project that dates back to pre-pandemic times, it feels like a turning point for Tudzin, both as an artist and as a producer. In the years that followed Kiss An Frenemies, Tudzin also produced, mixed and designed Pom Pom Squad’s first feature film, Death of a cheerleader, more pieces of Lou roy, Guppy and Dolly valentine, among others.
For Sadie Dupuis of Speedy Ortiz and Sad13, her choice to enlist Tudzin to mix on her 2020 record Haunted painting was a mixture of experience and circumstances. Dupuis said she had listened Kiss An Frenemies on tour, and knew Tudzin was based in LA, but they didn’t really know each other until the session.
“Part of the reason we became friends is because we’re overworked,” says Dupuis. “I’ll come to the session with 300 files, and she’ll say, ‘I’m going to stay up all night to do this.’ I’m really excited to spend hours getting that sound, and she has these trends too. ”
This tireless and relentless level of ambition has always been an undercurrent in the Illuminati Hotties discography, although it is not always obvious. But more than ever Let me do one more feels emboldened, intentional and determined – which says a lot for an artist with a track titled “Will I be canceled if I write a song called “If You Were A Man You Would Be Canceled So Much.'” Like on Free HI, there is a willingness to go all the way (see “Threatening Each Other Regarding Capitalism”, where even the local farmer’s market is not spared), with a sharp analysis that also happens to be very listenable.
“Why only go halfway when you know you have something more specific and relevant to say than weaving it through metaphors?” Tudzin explains.
With a wider 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 will co-title hers to visit with Fenne Lilly, Pom Pom Squad and Katy Kirby. This is all part of Tudzin’s vision, which she describes as a dream scenario, to eventually create a roster of artists and endow them with financial resources and the ability to have a impact.
“The artists I followed [their] careers for a very long time that I never thought I would be in the play require me to work on stuff, ”she says. “It’s so exciting to really feel that the things I dreamed of could come true.”