Album Review: illuminati hotties – “FREE I​.​H: This Is Not the One You’ve Been Waiting For”

Posted: by The Editor

Last Fall, the prominent indie rock label Tiny Engines became embroiled in scandal. Stevie Knipe, the bandleader of Adult Mom, took to Twitter to expose that the label had failed to make royalties payments to the tune of 8,000$. The label owned Knipe’s masters, and while they won them back, the fate of many artists still on the roster remains up in the air. 

One such artist is Sarah Tudzin, who performs as Illuminati Hotties. Her debut, Kiss Yr Frenemies, came out on Tiny Engines in 2018. That record was a witty, exuberant dose of power pop, and gained Tudzin a good deal of notoriety. While she had her sophomore record nearly finished, Tudzin shielded it from the fate of releasing on a crumbling, mismanaged label. She turned to writing, and at the start of 2020 had formed the chaotic mix of songs that make up her new mixtape.

FREE IH: This Is Not the One You’ve Been Waiting For clocks in at 23 minutes, with nearly every song burning fast and bright like the swipe of a match. It’s explicitly not an album – there is no emphasis on perfectionism here, only experimentation. Tudzin channeled her frustrations towards the situation by letting her sound branch out, and it led to her making some of her best music yet. What an added layer of satisfaction for a piece of art that is essentially a middle finger in the air.

During the mixtape’s brief, mysterious tease under the name Occult Classic, the only song left off is an interlude entitled “K-Hot AM 818.” which finds Tudzin playing a cheerful radio announcer. She ends the broadcast telling the listeners to “hang on to your masters, folks.” They left this track off, presumably because it makes Tudzin’s identity explicitly clear, ruining the mystery, but perhaps also because it is the least coded reference to what went down. More than a fun piece of publicity, it is nearly impossible to overstate how good this record is.  

The opening cut, “will i get canceled if i write a song called, ‘if you were a man you’d be so canceled’” immediately kicks the door down and delivers one of the year’s most memorable and most written about lyrics – “let’s smash to a podcast.” It falls into a hypnotic, strutting rhythm that serves Tudzin well as she goes from singing lines drenched in swagger to screaming. If the record’s tone wasn’t clear from the mugshot on the cover, it is after this song. 

While nearly every song on this is fantastic, there is something particularly special about “content//bedtime.” It’s the only track that tops four minutes and takes its time to grow. After a hall of leering guitar rings out, Tudzin whips up a storm of Priests-esque post-punk. She commands a crowd to repeat what she says back as the music bounces off the wall. It draws you in and makes you wish you could be one of those voices shouting back. Knowing Tudzin had planned to tour this mixtape in a series of basement shows, you could have been. 

While the record emphasizes furious screams and shredding guitar, there are a few spots where the storm breaks and Tudzin gets to calm down. The scathing, floating “free dumb” offers a more clearheaded indictment of selfish behavior and asks “as the world burns / how could you care about a fucking record?” That line predates the pandemic and only feels more prescient now. The closing number, “reasons 2 live” rests upon a delicate guitar strum. After spending the last 20 minutes venting every toxic feeling, it acts as a moment of reflection on the importance of friendship and support systems. 

Tudzin has made more than the most out of an unpleasant circumstance. Before the music world knew this record was her work, fans and critics alike proclaimed it as one of the best of the year. Watching this record, a staunch kiss-off to those who have wronged artists, gather plaudits will only feel better and better with time. Perhaps the most remarkable thing about it, though, is that its formation during the roughest portion of Tudzin’s career is both natural and necessary. When you have nothing to lose, why not give yourself the space to grow and experiment?


Eric Bennett | @seething_coast

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