As much as everyone griped about the '90s while we were living through them, there's a bit more nostalgia for the long-lost decade now that we're immersed in an equally sucky new millennium. Post-hardcore replaced pop-punk, dance-punk's taken over for ska and The Osbournes de-throned Real World, and the lion's share of pop culture is still as uninteresting as ever before.
So when Pulley returns to the well-stomped grounds of So-Cal skate punk on Matters, its fifth studio album, the band's not so much as an irritating anachronism as much as a comfortable musical security blanket. Maybe it's because many of the band's So-Cal contemporaries faded into the background, or maybe it's because Pulley pursues its skate-pop ends with the enthusiasm of a brand-new outfit on this album, but Matters strikes with a power that's increasingly rare in the punk world.
Matters, which takes its name from the band's tour van, continues Pulley's nine-year trajectory that's led it from being a ragtag bunch of members expelled from other bands into a powerful and introspective, if not altogether original, punk-pop outfit. Still worlds away from the gooey glop mall-punk acts pass off for three-chord pop, Pulley's sound captures the adrenaline-rush power of skate punk with all the massive hooks and watertight harmonies of pop. "Huber Breeze" races along at a nitros-fueled clip that makes it the perfect background music for extreme sports, though singer Scott Radinsky's singsong, soaring vocals add a sugary glaze that washes away the punk aggression of the track. "Looking Back" and "Stomach Aches" cruise through arrangements that let guitarists Mike Harder and Jim Blowers squeeze in some gigantic hooks without losing any of the band's punk power, while the rest of the album zips along with a crisp, effervescent pop glow.
Matters follows the blueprints of classic '90s Fat Wreck Chords and Epitaph pop punk -- think Ten Foot Pole, No Use for a Name and NOFX -- without succumbing to any of its clichés. Pulley doesn't need to do anything new on its latest, as Matters does everything right, and that's enough.
- R. Paul Matthews