They said that emo was just a phase. That the quirky theatricality of mid-’00s pop punk had washed its face of dramatic black eyeliner and pushed the swoop bangs out of its eyes. Not if Fueled by Ramen’s Meet Me @ The Altar has anything to say about it. The first Black-woman-led act signed to the distinguished indie label, and frankly, the buzziest act on their current rooster—MM@TA is ushering the brand into post-Pandemic relevance.
It is so strange to write that the trio’s latest release, Past // Present // Future is their first official studio album to date. Churring out frequent bops since forming in 2015, MM@TA already has a substantial body of work predeceasing this release. “I want this album to be very, very big for us, which I think it will be,” vocalist Edith Victoria said speaking to Them.Us.
And “big” it is. Produced by John Fields—known for his collaborations with Disney-era Miley Cyrus, Demi Lovato, and Jonas Brothers—helped the band reach poppier, punchier heights. This works so well with the band’s established sensibilities, resulting in a super-tight, never-dull album. Clocking in at a tight 30 minutes, Past // Present // Future launches you into a Y2K nostalgialand with a whole bag of new tricks.
As the album opens with its lead single “Say It (To My Face)—released late last year—and I can’t help but be reminded of Radiohead’s In Rainbows opener”15 Step”. But there is no Thom here, instead drummer Ada Juarez is met with Victoria’s sweetly coy vocals, which call back to Canadian babes Skye Sweetnam and Fefe Dobson.
Conceptually? I’m annoyed. But the trio behind the moniker has enough original ideas to avoid an audible sameness that keeps the listening experience fresh, and surprising while being pleasantly familiar.
“We always found ourselves being drawn back to that time period,” guitarist/bassist Téa Campbell says of the band’s undeniable 90s/2000s influences. “That’s what really helped shape the sound for this album. But at the same time, we wanted to keep it really modern, because we’re influenced by so many different things — not just bands in the scene. I feel like you can really hear the mix of everything going on, and that mix is what you don’t hear in albums today.”
Thematically, Past // Present // Future is a confrontation that takes aim at everything from the TikTok haters and problematic ex-lovers to the overcoming debilitating anxiety of self-doubt.
Occasionally self-critical (on “Try”, for example), Victoria’s limber vocalizations hold little punches when it comes to unapologetically calling out the bullshit behaviors and criticisms of the miserable. But look out for one of my favorites, the track “Rocket Science” which is the smart-mouthed motivational speech we all need from time to time. As well as that head-snapping belt Victoria treats us to on “Kool”.