Following an impressive roll-out that began in February, Illuminati Hotties–the musical outlet of LA-based producer, engineer, and “tenderpunk pioneer,” Sarah Tudzin–dropped their debut album, Kiss Yr Frenemies today (May 11).
Tudzin is an exceptionally skilled musician and even better songwriter who, through clever turn of phrase and thoughtful prose, reminds us that it’s fine to not always have our shit together, and that it isn’t a burden to lean on those around us sometimes.
Take the album’s lead single, “(You’re Better) Than Ever.” A jarring feedback and spastic percussion intro quickly gives way to fuzzy guitars, a driving beat, and a tale about the frustration in learning your ex is flourishing. Putting her own personal growth into perspective, Tudzin insists, ‘It’s not to say that I’m unfortunate / Or that I haven’t been succeeding / But I’m a hushed and quiet resonance / When I wanted to be screaming,’ over an airy chorus replete with “ooh” and “ahh” harmonies.
Prior to release, if “(You’re Better) Than Ever” gave you any preconceived expectations of what this album would sound like, then “Cuff” quickly dashed them. The track builds slowly, with an ambient intro transitioning into barely-above-a-whisper vocals that dare you to lean in close before erupting into a chorus about steeling yourself in the face of that which tears at us: ‘I cuff my t-shirt sleeves / And grit my teeth / How else can I tell myself I can do most anything.’ A great moment in the final chorus sees the line changed to ‘You cuff my t-shirt sleeves / And kiss my cheeks / How else did you expect that I can do most anything,’ a sweet acknowledging of the people who make us stronger.
A similar theme is on display in album high point “For Cheez (My Friend, Not The Food),” in which Tudzin recounts a reassuring birthday phone call from a friend, culminating in the promise of a donut date. The track blooms slowly, growing subtly more complex until it can no longer contain the horn-driven wall of sound that explodes forth from the line ‘Sarah, please / Keep in mind everything’s temporary.’
“For Cheez…” is followed by third single “Paying Off The Happiness,” a power-pop singalong about navigating mountains of financial and emotional debt. The tonal differences between the two songs is a testament to how well Kiss Yr Frenemies is paced. The album allows slower moodier tracks to play off those that are more anthemic and silly in a way that seems natural and establishes a signature sound for which the term “tenderpunk” actually makes total sense.
If you only get one shot at a first impression, then Kiss Yr Frenemies is one hell of a statement. It’s fun and funny, sentimental and unafraid to be vulnerable. It’s an album full of small endearing moments and sonic flourishes that puts Tudzin’s arsenal of talents fully on display.
Perfectly timed to hold your attention all Summer, Kiss Yr Frenemies will easily rank among the year’s best.
Kiss Yr Frenemies is out today, May 11, on Tiny Engines.