Sarah Tudzin knows how to milk a moment. You hear it in “MMMOOOAAAAAYAYA,” the onomatopoeic pop–punk rager that she put out under her Illuminati Hotties moniker this past April. At the song’s climax, she lets forth a gasp, a villainous cackle, and then squeals into the microphone: “If you’re not laughing, baby / then you’re not making money!” The title of her new album, Let Me Do One More, makes things abundantly clear: She has the stage, and she has no intention of getting off until somebody kicks her off. And Tudzin couldn’t have chosen a better moment to release these deranged and tender songs into the wild.
However, that wasn’t always the plan. The songs that make up her new album were originally supposed to come out two years ago under Illuminati Hotties’ former label Tiny Engines. That is, until several of the label’s bands came forward with accusations of financial mismanagement. Rather than letting her greatest work go down with the ship, Tudzin decided to build herself a lifeboat. That lifeboat was Free I.H: This Is Not the One You’ve Been Waiting For, a 23–minute mixtape that fulfilled her contractual obligation.
In the next few weeks, anyone who follows music news will read plenty of headlines describing this new record as “the one we have been waiting for.” But that does a disservice to the gonzo, MacGyvered charms of Free I.H. This is an album where the first lyrics on the opening track are “Let’s smash / to a podcast / tomorrow mornin’ we’re cryin’ into a Dennys’ grand slam.” Tudzin’s raunchy, absurdist sense of humor was always present in her work, but Free I.H. put it front and center.
Following through on that promise, Let Me Do One More is a really funny album. “Joni: LA’s No. 1 Health Goth,” is a “Judy Is a Punk” homage dedicated to the coolest girl in Los Angeles county. But the lyrics do the title one better: “Joni’s in the first band / Joni has a cool hand / Joni knows the problem is systematic.” Meanwhile, “u v v p,” which draws inspiration from the Shangri–Las, features a gloriously corny spoken word outro courtesy of Big Thief’s Buck Meek. Crooning in a deep–fried southern drawl, she hilariously relegates this man, responsible for some of the best guitar playing of the past five years, to “having too much tumbleweed in [his] blood.”
A fascination with Wall of Sound production is obvious in Tudzin’s flawless work, who self–produced all of Let Me Do One More. This is not surprising; her engineering CV includes Amen Dunes’ Freedom, Weyes Blood’s Titanic Rising, and even the soundtrack to Hamilton. Illuminati Hotties was originally conceived as a way to advertise for new clients, but Let Me Do One More is on another level entirely; the album is practically the musical equivalent of high definition. On “Pool Hopping,” which was the song of the summer for anyone who was paying attention, each instrument is mixed with perfect clarity and just the right amount of fuzz. This is a great record, but it’s also a killer resume; there’s no good reason at this point that Tudzin shouldn’t be producing the next Olivia Rodrigo album.
Speaking of Olivia Rodrigo, this is the album for anyone who wished every song on SOUR sounded more like “good 4 u” and “Brutal.” Or anyone who still can’t get enough of Travis Barker, even after his collaborations with WILLOW and Machine Gun Kelly. It’s impressive knowing that so many of these songs were written and recorded over a year and a half ago when they line up so synchronously with our current pop–punk revival. Of course, this trend didn’t emerge out of nowhere; bands like Charly Bliss have captured audience attention, and critics have been busy reevaluating Paramore since they released After Laughter in 2017.
Earlier this year, Rodrigo was accused of stealing the aesthetic of Brooklyn indie band Pom Pom Squad (call it the Prom Queen–Cheerleader Dichotomy). Those visual similarities could be synchronicity at best or shrewd bandwagoning at worst, but there’s an impulse to root for the DIY tenacity of bandleader Mia Berrin versus a Disney star with presumably an entire team managing her brand image. Pom Pom Squad also make pop–punk, but they have different influences—mainly 90’s riot grrrl and '60s girl groups. With these as touchstones, it’s no surprise to learn that Sarah Tudzin had a hand as co–producer in this year’s Death of a Cheerleader.
Obviously, Tudzin cares more about elevating the musicians around her than dragging down the ones at the top of the charts. Let Me Do One More was the first release on her newly–founded imprint, Snack Shack Tracks, whose manifesto is pulled from the lyrics of “Pool Hopping:” “All Riprs No Skiprs Since 2021.” These tracks are, as advertised, all rippers and no skippers, but they also have the quality that so many of their contemporaries lack. “good 4 u” and “t r a n s p a r e n t s o u l” are damn good songs, but they aren’t subverting the status quo. They're punk in genre, sure, but Illuminati Hotties songs also have a punk ethos. They’re funny, raunchy, and ballsy in their release and the scathing truths they dispense–a real deal triumph in the music industry.