Coke Weed – Back To Soft (2013)

It’s 6 o’clock in the morning and I’m standing in a foot of snow. It’s dark, cold, and windy, and while I try to fight my way through the blowing snow with an oversized barn shovel, I remember that I stood in this exact same spot a few short months ago…wondering just how much longer it was going to be so incredibly hot. It’s New England existential angst. It’s a circular pool of memories. The strange thing is that it’s not about the weather at all — these unavoidable tasks don’t exactly require mindfulness, so a person can end up in a state of reverie, wondering about…well, just about anything.

This is the point where I’m supposed to mention that the band Coke Weed are from Bar Harbor, Maine and you are supposed to think, “Ah, Maine…snow.” No, the snow thing is accidental. This whole chain of thought just happened to kick off in the middle of a snow storm. Right after a moment of staring blindly into the dark as I wondered how a half year had been so easily swallowed, I realized that it was during that midsummer heat that I purchased Back To Soft and began to obsess on it.

Maybe “obsess” isn’t the proper word. How about “commune”? All I can say is that this record held an incredibly high degree of resonance when my mood turned pensive. This may sound crazy, but it was almost like the music was listening to me.

So how does a big slice of trippy, psychedelic garage rock accomplish such a task? With walls of guitar; with intertwined guitar lines dripping with distortion and reverb; with a female vocalist who sounds like a more sensual version of Julee Cruise, or maybe that should be Marianne Faithfull’s slightly more well-behaved daughter. Yes, singer Nina Donghia has that sort of vibe.

On Back To Soft, Code Weed manages to visit many sides of psychedelia — from the Velvet Underground lope of the opening “Sunseekers” to the jangling, Byrds-like guitars of the album-ending “Manchester.” And while I am usually all about the guitars, it’s the vocal alchemy of Donghia and guitarist/singer Milan McAlevey that is this band’s secret weapon. Their voices wrap around each other like a psychedelic version of Exene Cervenka and John Doe. Their delivery can be understated one minute and then bloom into harmonic bliss the next.

After considering all of these sonic elements, the question is still out there: How can the music pay attention to the listener? I suppose that it can’t, although in my state of reverie, you might think that it wouldn’t be possible to apply the mind’s eye to the subject at hand and the music. I’ll reconsider tomorrow. It’s supposed to snow again.

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Mark Saleski

Mark Saleski is a writer and music obsessive based out of the woods of central New Hampshire. A past contributor to Jazz.com, Blogcritics.org and Salon, he writes several weekly features including the Friday Morning Listen, (Cross the) Heartland, WTF! Wednesday, and Sparks Fly on E Street. Follow him on Twitter: @msaleski. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.