If you’ve been frequenting JOVM over the past month-month-and-a-half or so, you may come across a couple of posts written about the Bar Harbor, ME-based psych rock quintet Coke Weed. Comprised of founding members Milan McAlevey (songwriting, guitar) and Nina Donghia (vocals), along with Caleb Davis (guitar), Chris Dirocco (bass), and Peter Cuffari (drums), the band can trace its origins to NYC where founding member McAlevey was a NYC music scene veteran, who played in several local bands, including The Lil’ Fighters with The Walkmen‘s Walter Martin That project recorded an acoustic folk-leaning album Mac St. Michael, which later wound up being included in early Coke Weed sets.
McAlevey eventually relocated to Bar Harbor, where he met and teamed up with Donghia, who had just began singing. The duo had been planning to start a proper band when a chance encounter connected them to Davis and Cuffari. In 2010, the then-newly formed quintet played a number of live sets which employed some material off Mac. St. Michael and spent that fall working on the material that would comprise their full-lenght debut, Coke Weed Volume One, an effort that established the band’s sound: Donghia’s ironically deadpanned vocals paired with the guitar interplay of McAlevey and Davis, and a churning, hypnotic rhythm section. Interestingly, Volume One and its follow-up, Nice Dreams were reportedly influenced by The Byrds, Jefferson Airplane,The Velvet Underground, Bob Dylan‘s electric period and Credence Clearwater Revival.
The band’s third effort, Back To Soft seemed to draw from the grunge and alternative rock sounds of the 90s — and the band supported that effort with some extensive touring that had the band opening for The Walkmen, Woods, Vetiver, Black Lips, Micah Blue Smaldone, Steve Gunn, P.G. Six, and others. And as a result, the band saw its profile growing nationally. Building up on the growing attention and buzz, the members of the band spent last winter working on the material that would comprise the band’s recently released fourth, full-length Mary Weaver. According to press notes, the material on Mary Weaver reportedly reveals a change in sonic direction as the material is largely influenced by 70s Bowie, Eno, and Martin Hannett‘s renowned production work with Joy Division, New Order, and others.
The album’s earliest single “All The Shades” managed to sound as though it were equally inspired by late 60s psych rock and early 70s glam rock — and it did so in a way that to my ears was reminiscent of The Mallard‘s Finding Meaning In Deference, The Fire Tapes‘ Phantoms, The Standing Nudes’ Ghost Story and others. However, the album’s previous single “Dead Man Walking” as McAlevey told Bullett “was inspired by that brief moment in the early 80s when post-punk innovators were taking their cues from R&B, disco, krautrock, and Jamaican dub.” He went on to explain that the band was aiming “to find the space where Nile Rodgers and Chic‘s perpetual grooves meet Martin Hannett’s work on ESG and early New Order recordings.” With that in mind, “Dead Man Walking” is arguably the funkiest song on Mary Weaver although to my ears, the track sounds as though it were influenced by Talking Heads — in particular, think of “Psycho Killer” and “Found A Job.”
The album’s latest single “I Could Be So Real” as McAlevey told the folks at Under the Radar was “inspired by sophisticated vintage soul like Al Green.” And in some small way, sonically the song does sound as though it draws influence from Muscle Shoals-era soul sort as well as 60s psych rock and garage rock and 80s New Wave; it’s a song that meshes the sound of so many different eras while pushing what psych rock should and could sound like. And interestingly enough, it may arguably be the slinkiest, sexiest and yet saddest song on the entire album, as the song’s narrator admits that her life is full of empty pursuits without her love.
The recently released official video directed by both McAlevey and Donghia was as McAlevey explained “inspired by watching YouTubes of weird Olivia Newton-John TV performances circa 1980, so we wanted a convey a timeless low-budget glamour.”