Album Review: illuminati hotties – Let Me Do One More

[Snack Shack Tracks; 2021]

Last year illuminati hotties mastermind Sarah Tudzin took the skewer to her former label Tiny Engines in the year’s best middle finger gesture in music. The indie label had screwed over multiple artists out of payments for their work, and naturally Tudzin wanted out – badly, and quickly. She hastily threw together a DIY mixtape that found her coalescing dissimilar styles perfectly and released it with no payment from the label.

The mixtape, appropriately titled Free I.H: This is Not the One You’ve Been Waiting For, was not intended to be the follow-up to her breakthrough – 2018’s Kiss Yr Frenemies – but it ended up as such – and it was an exhilarating and messy ride. Tudzin’s gift for genre amalgamation is unparalleled in pop-punk these days, and the mixtape was a strong indicator that illuminati hotties were not going away.

On her second proper album, Let Me Do One More, Tudzin and her hotties dial back the aggression found on Free I.H. and pick up where Frenemies left off. It’s a less audacious but more focused effort that finds Tudzin searching for that warm center for the project. Even more surprising is that it branches off from the rambunctious nature of Frenemies and shows vast maturity, especially after the tumultuousness of recent years.

The one-two punch opening of the giddy “Pool Hopping” and frantic “MMMOOOAAAAAYAYA” is slightly misleading for Let Me Do One More. Both are rippers that condense everything we’ve come to love about illuminati hotties into two songs. The former is a jaunty romp, the kind of jam that would perfectly soundtrack the party scene from a teen comedy, and the latter starts with an antagonistic guitar line coupled with Tudzin harnessing her inner Katie Alice Greer before flipping it into a sing-along pop gem.

Remarkable juxtapositions like these are one of Tudzin’s best qualities as a songwriter; she can turn the most sadistic sounding intro she’s done yet into a dance number for the punk scene. It’s a shame, then, that after the opening couple of tracks, these moments of unpredictability all but vanish. Third track “Knead” is a standard slice of indie pop, competently written and performed, but is a bit of a comedown from the bangers that came before it.

Let Me Do One More doesn’t recapture the frenzied energy felt on the start until after the midway point, with “Joni: LA’s No 1 Health Goth”, a speed-punk thrasher. However, much of the first half of the album is full of various detours that almost never feel forced or unnecessary. There’s a dream-pop gentleness found on “Protector”, while “Threatening Each Other re: Captialism” finds Tudzin doing her best Doug Martsch homage while musically she offers a 90s alt-rock aesthetic – and it works spectacularly.

Unlike previous outings, Let Me Do One More features some guests. Big Thief’s Buck Meek lends his morose twang to the outro of “u v v p”. As pleasant as it is, it’s a jarring transition found dead center of the album and slows things down considerably. More successful is the assist from Alex Menne of Great Grandpa, who lends some beautiful harmonies to the brisk “Toasting”.

Much happened between the construction of Let Me Do One More and its release, and not just the Tiny Engines situation. Tudzin lost her mother last year, around the time of the release of Free I.H., and as a result this record is dedicated to her. The album’s closer, “Growth”, may be about the loss of her dog, but keeping in mind her other loss makes it feel that much more damaging. It’s the unique hotties song that isn’t overtly upbeat, and Tudzin’s longing for her dog isn’t just tear inducing, but also life affirming given what she’s overcome in the two years since. Free I.H. may have been Tudzin’s war cry, but Let Me Do One More is a comfort record. It shows resilience and passion from one of indie music’s most intriguing risk takers.