Illuminati Hotties’ second album, Let Me Do One More, opens with “Pool Hopping”, a post-breakup burst of hedonism—ice cream, “smoking sayonara”, window shopping for a “clean rebound”. Tudzin outlines her unimpeded frolics between mouthfuls of peanut butter as bouncy guitars and propulsive drums exude vivacity. It’s a significant starting point in a collection of songs that conclude at a somber place of rest. Along the way, the album charts a re-coming-of-age journey and detours through riot grrrl waters, ironic country pastiches, and ’90s high school movie soundtrack vibes, all led by the band’s frontwoman and primary songwriter Sarah Tudzin.
Now on her own label, Snack Shack Tracks, and a sour dispute with her previous label in the rearview, the self-christened “tenderpunk pioneer” is as sagacious as ever. Some of LMDOM’s tracks interpret her sub-genre label as one word, landing on a Liz Phair middle-ground between snarl and soothe. But it’s no less effective when Tudzin separates the two, leaving the blast of slushy riot grrrl punk “Joni: LA’s No.1 Health Goth” absent of tenderness and removing any trace of punk from poignant closer “Growth”. Tudzin is likable and charismatic either way, making you care more during the tender moments and eager to break stuff during the punky ones.
The jocose guitar riffs on the first two tracks, “Pool Hopping” and “MMMOOOAAAAAYAYA”, are blocked together like LEGOs without instructions, playful and awkward, but they somehow click mathematically into place. “MMMOOO…” was the album’s lead single, an unlikely choice considering its penchant for dissonance and malicious vocal delivery, the lyrics of which approach S&M territory: “Love me, fight me, choke me, bite me.” Another stand-out is “Cheap Shoes”. Seemingly a straight-up pop-punk goofer, in actuality, bands like Neck Deep have gone their whole careers without writing a hook nearly this joyful and infectious.
There’s a danger of Illuminati Hotties’ music being defined by these, her most gleeful and attention-seeking songs. Still, after her sunscreen washes off in the pool and the mist of icing sugar settles, it’s her more measured, perhaps overshadowed, tracks in which the album’s heart is found. “The Sway” is one of these, arguably the best song on the album. It’s a personal, delicate offering, grounded by a light, clicky drum loop and a syncopated acoustic guitar pattern. It arrives at just the right time, too, after a rambunctious three-song digression that starts with “Joni” and ends with “Toasting”. “And this is all that matters / The kitty-corner patterns / Our favorite friends’ catchphrases / The flat collage of faces,” she reveals on “The Sway”. Amidst uncertainty, it’s natural to reduce life’s complexity to a pocketful of simple treasures. After the bolshiness of preceding tracks, this feels like a moment of introspective clarity, even if Tudzin’s realization is quickly marred when her date passes out on the couch and, as she intones, “You couldn’t bear to bring me downstairs in the morning.”
The reverby “Protector” is of a similar ilk. It sees Tudzin questioning a relationship—”I’m not sure if you’re my screen door, honey”—over warm acoustic guitar and floaty synthesizers. “Knead” taps into a nostalgic, I-swear-I’ve-heard-this-before territory with its fizzy lead line and sparkly chords, the perfect encapsulation of ‘tenderpunk’. And the Buck Meek (Big Thief) collaboration “u v v p” has doo-wop energy that conjures a 1950s beachside diner with its lap steel and Meek’s ironic southern drawls. It’s one to skip after the novelty wears off.
It could be argued that the album’s propensity for genre-hopping means it suffers from a lack of cohesion. However, Tudzin’s rocketship wit, most pertinently, ties the songs together so that there is somehow still congruity. Her ultra-specific lyrics—” corduroy couch”, “peanut butter mouth”—effortlessly hold our attention. There’s no enigmatic cloud obscuring the meaning, and the crisp, focused production means we can hear every word she says.
On “Threatening Each Other re: Capitalism”, Tudzin wants to go to a party so that she can “suck on air from people having fun”. It’s a marked contrast from the top two tracks, where she is the life of the party. The album comes full circle more than once, though. At the end of the evocative final song “Growth”—part ode to her late dog, part lamentation of adult relationships and adulthood itself—she says, “I’m gonna do one more.” It’s not because she’s a perfectionist, as the album’s scrappier moments evidence. Rather, the music provides her—and us—with an escape from having to pretend everything is normal. “Growth” is where she most explicitly, openly confronts that part of her mind, with only a spare, detuned acoustic guitar to back her, leaving us miles from where we started and ready to do it all over again.