Sounding joyously youthful without seeming ridiculously immature is a balancing act not every artist can pull off, especially when they're edging up on the age of 30. But Sarah Tudzin is clearly not your typical pop-punk. Tudzin is the producer, songwriter, and instrumentalist behind Illuminati Hotties, who likes to call her revved-up blend of punk, indie rock, and smart pop "tenderpunk." She's also made an engaging and sometimes glorious album that fuses teenage bliss with a grown-up's hard-won wisdom on 2021's Let Me Do One More. If it hadn't come out in the depths of autumn, the opening track, "Pool Hopping," would have a fair chance of becoming the song of the summer with its abundant hooks, snappy guitars, crisp harmonies, and edgy push and pull between sunny high spirits and uncertainty about relationships. "MMMOOOAAAAAYAYA," "Joni: LA's No. 1 Health Goth," and "Cheap Shoes" are a bit more angular but every bit as savvy and beguiling, and much of Let Me Do One More plays like great pop music for folks who think they're too smart for great pop music. However, Tudzin has more up her sleeve that sunshine, lollipops, and rainbows, and she's capable of bringing the same kind of craft to the dark introspection of "Threatening Each Other re: Capitalism," the cool, smooth atmospherics of "Protector," or the 3 a.m. musings of "Growth." Even when this music isn't great fun, it's too clever, passionate, witty, and daring to not connect, and it's hard not to be awed by the talent on display here. Tudzin wrote the songs, played most of the instruments, handled all the vocals, and produced and engineered the whole shebang, and her musical instincts never fail her, while her studio savvy makes this album sound every bit as good as it deserves. While the first two Illuminati Hotties albums, 2018's Kiss Yr Frenemies and 2000's FREE I.H.: This Is Not the One You've Been Waiting For, were the work of an artist with talent to spare, Let Me Do One More makes the leap from "very good" to "great," and this is pleasurable and full of grand surprises in the way that great pop music connects with the listener. You need to hear this.
Let Me Do One More
(CD - Hopeless Records / Snack Shack Tracks #HR 30202)
Review by Mark Deming