Gen Z has spearheaded a resurgence in pop-punk – one of the many periodic moments in the sun the sub-genre has enjoyed since its late-70s birth, somewhere between the release of the first Ramones album and Pete Shelley becoming lead singer of Buzzcocks. You can hear it in the work of Willow Smith, Machine Gun Kelly and at least some of Olivia Rodrigo’s Sour, by some distance the biggest pop debut album of recent years.
Meanwhile, the sound of Meet Me @ the Altar – a trio of Florida-based early twentysomethings described as “the saviours of pop-punk” by the New York Times, and the first band made up of women of colour to be signed by august emo label Fueled By Ramen – speaks loudly of childhoods spent watching Paramore and Fall Out Boy ascend to platinum sales. Their debut album, Past//Present//Future, features scratching effects on opener Say It (To My Face) and a tendency, during faster songs, to drop into half-speed tempos that carry nu-metal’s lumbering gait. The band clearly grew up during pop-punk’s early-00s Disneyfication, an era that saw Lindsay Lohan’s character in the 2003 remake of Freaky Friday front a band called Pink Slip. Meet Me @ the Altar picked John Fields as Past Present Future’s producer specifically because he’d worked with the Jonas Brothers, whose early albums stretched the definition of pop-punk to the point where “punk” became a very moot descriptor indeed.
Fields joins a supporting team of big-hitters that also includes regular One Direction songwriter John Ryan and former Semisonic frontman Dan Wilson, who went on to co-write Adele’s Someone Like You. The record company cash that has been lavished on Past//Present//Future clearly hasn’t gone unnoticed: its first lyric finds vocalist Edith Victoria decrying accusations that the band are an industry plant.
But it’s tempting to suggest that they got their money’s worth. The songs here are compact, fat-free and decked out with production touches – including an unexpected burst of Daft Punk-ish filtering on Kool – that never overwhelm them or sound gimmicky. Most are over and done in less than three minutes; on many tracks, chugging, muted guitars burst into power chords when the chorus hits. Melodies soar in a manner that shows off Victoria’s powerful voice: she is particularly good at drawing out notes for bars and bars.
The lyrics are at their best when applying bratty angst – which has been part of pop-punk ever since the Descendents posed the eternal question “Parents – why won’t they shut up?” – to affairs of the heart. Many songs come equipped with sharp, funny lines: “I wiped all my pictures off my phone, I forgot the smell of your cologne – thank God, I kind of hated it,” snaps Victoria on It’s Over for Me. But you suspect the band’s heart lies with the songs that deal with a more earnest brand of relatability, depicting anxiety and self-doubt in terms that range from potent – as on TMI – to inspirational poster-ready: “Flowers only bloom if you get through the rain,” Victoria offers on Rocket Science. The band have expressed the hope that their songs will help others. You can almost visualise the TikTok posts saying they have, although anyone looking to see their anxiety and self-doubt reflected in the lyrics of today’s pop music is a little spoilt for choice.
Past//Present//Future suffers from a sense of sameness – compact or not, the songs eventually blur into one mass of pop hooks and distorted guitars. That feeling isn’t fully ameliorated by the mid-tempo acoustic guitar-driven A Few Tomorrows, which veers into pleasant pop-rock blandness that suffocates Meet Me @ the Altar’s personality. An occasional injection of the rawness that marked out the trio’s harder-hitting 2019 EP, Bigger Than Me, might have been useful, but rawness is not really Past//Present//Future’s point.
Meet Me @ the Altar are clearly aiming for the same kind of audience found by the early-00s iteration of pop-punk, when record labels began cannily marketing a rounded-edge version of Green Day’s sound to their fans’ younger siblings – the era of Avril Lavigne and Busted. Equally, they clearly aspire to the same kind of sales figures and the venues that their childhood heroes Paramore achieved: in what amounts to an act of musical manifestation, Same Language slips into a big stadium-rock guitar solo. Despite their debut album’s drawbacks, you wouldn’t bet against them getting there.
This week Alexis listened to
Berwyn – Bulletproof
The singer/songwriter/rapper at his poppiest, masking surprisingly hard-hitting lyrics beneath acoustic guitar and a tune that floats along.