Once in a blue moon, a song comes along that hits you in exactly the right place at exactly the right time. A couple years ago, when listing out some of my favorite songs of 2016, I wrote about how when a song like that comes along, I tend to repeat it mercilessly. “Cuff” is the latest of those, and I’ve been living in it for a few weeks now. It’s the second single from Illuminati Hotties’ upcoming debut album, Kiss Yr Frenemies, and it’s a departure from the snarky peppiness of the album’s first, “(You’re Better) Than Ever.”
Instead, “Cuff” simmers and wallows, and then bursts into flame. It begins woozy and slow, an extended ambient intro (cut down for the single edit we’re premiering below) pinging and popping into life. Sarah Tudzin’s voice is mealy-mouthed and hesitant, a crackling ember: “It takes a troubled type of freedom to drink all night/ If you’ve already nailed the sequence, am I worth your time?” she sings, and out of nowhere the track instantly transforms. Whatever was bubbling underneath suddenly bursts forth in a tower of noise that sounds like an impenetrable wall.
“I cuff my t-shirt sleeves/ And grit my teeth/ How else can I tell myself I can do most anything?” she asks of herself, reiterating the defense mechanisms she’s built up to appear outwardly confident and strong. But the verses betray that, demonstrating the insecurities behind the facade: “Thank you for being cool and uncross/ ‘Bout what my hands did or didn’t,” she mumbles out in the second one, before launching into yet another wall.
It’s an aural adrenaline rush, the equivalent of the psych-up you give yourself before you have to do something potentially life-altering. The ending provides some sort of resolution, as Tudzin changes the chorus slightly — “You cuff my t-shirt sleeves/ And kiss my cheeks” — that suggests maybe she’s found someone reliable to shoulder some of life’s burden.