Album Review: Pollinators — ‘Return Home’

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Pollinators w/ Rubin Flores, Scottie Feller

Iowa City Yacht Club — Sunday, Sept. 22 at 9 p.m.

Pollinators w/ Dark Family, Aqualife

Rozz-Tox, Rock Island — Friday, Oct. 4 at 8 p.m.

At first listen, Pollinators’ new album, Return Home (out Oct. 4) seems to be from an era that never existed, but should have. It’s a version of the 1990s where Jer Bear got healthy and the swing revival never happened. Energizing guitar riffs make you want to lace up your Docs and jam. It sounds like Weezer before and after their pop makeover that gave us the Green Album.

But there’s a striking undertone of melancholy throughout. It’s so deeply embedded in the lyrics that you’re not consciously aware of it — you just wonder how this peppy record relates to the nagging discontent you’ve suddenly noticed.

Songwriter and frontman Tom Teslik opens the up-tempo first track with “Beautiful morning, terrible day,” sung in a mild, accepting voice. Track three’s instrumentals echo the familiar melody of a 1950s-era tune designed for couples dancing in high school gymnasiums — but in a minor key that reflects the song’s subject matter (hint: it’s titled, “Why Do You Cry”).

This is a break-up album. Teslik wrote it around the time he left both an abusive ex and his adopted hometown of Madison, Wisconsin to return to his actual hometown of Moline, Illinois. Collectively, the tracks reflect who he seems to be: an agreeable dude with some shit to get off his chest.

My personal favorite is “Action and Cut,” which includes lines like, “I don’t want to keep score / Plus, I’ve done it all before” while matter-of-factly acknowledging “that oxymoron love, so black and blue.” It’s downright comforting. The kid’s gonna be all right.

Pollinators celebrates this first 10-song album with a record release party on Oct. 4 at Rozz-Tox. Can’t wait that long? Pollinators will be at the Yacht Club in Iowa City on Sept. 22. If you can’t make either of those shows, you need to rethink your priorities.

This article was originally published in Little Village issue 271.

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