Former Madisonian Tom Teslik celebrates a new album from his band Pollinators. Info
Tom Teslik spent much of the last decade as an active participant in Madison's music community, playing in bands including Meteorade, Pushmi-Pullyu, and Building On Buildings and performing as a solo artist before starting Pollinators, a pop outfit with a melancholy streak running through its punchy jangle. Pollinators debuted with the 2016 EP Self Addressed Envelope, which found Teslik reaching for maturity, balancing some deeply personal writing about breakups and emotional crises with sugary melodies and bright guitars. Over the past couple of years, Teslik has moved back to his hometown of Moline, Illinois and slowly worked on new material for Pollinators, resulting in the project's debut full-length, Return Home. He'll celebrate the album's release here with a new live lineup of Pollinators that includes Madison's Brendan Manley on drums and Alivia Kleinfelt on bass (both are members of Dash Hounds and Squarewave), with some help from former Pollinators members Cole Haman on guitar and Matt Magnusson on drums.
Return Home lets the darkness come to the fore a little more overtly than Self Addressed Envelope, even if it's channeled through Teslik's unnervingly gentle vocals and cheerful power-pop crunch. The central contrast at work in Pollinators couldn't be more clear than it is on opening track "Beautiful Morning Terrible Day," on which Teslik repeatedly reassures us (or himself) that "it won't always be this way" and asks "is there a future, or just a past?" amid a sharp, descending chord progression that captures his gift for ever so slightly skewing guitar-pop conventions. On "Why Do You Cry," Teslik and drummer Steve Maule start with what could be a dreamy doo-wop shuffle, but inject weight and tension into it, along with lyrics that hint at a deeper displacement: "I gotta try just to be myself tonight." It's not a gloomy or despairing record by any means, but Teslik (who plays most of the instruments on Return Home himself) is at the very least taking stock and fighting to move forward, even if that means severing some connections: "It's my honor to say / You'll never see me again, K?" he sings on the closing track, "Riverbeds."
Pollinators kicks off a short tour here with a lineup of Madison friends. Heavy Looks has its own fun but emotionally rich take on power-pop, Neens is working on a new EP of electronic pop to follow up its 2015 release Factory Sounds, and The Momotaros play fraught and grimy punk. —Scott Gordon