Tunnel Trees | 2012 | Dromedary Records
Buy Tunnel Trees on iTunes or Amazon.

Dagger Zine:
Central Jersey’s Cuppa Joe bounced around the NJ scene in the 90’s for a few years, released a few solid records and then broke up (their last record was in 1999). The trio, now reformed, has been whittled down to a duo with Doug Larkin still on vocals and guitars (as well as bass, keys and banjo) and Steve Spatucci on drums, percussion and backing vocals (if I’m correct, I believe Doug’s brother Rich was the third band member). The 10 songs on here are just as I remember the band, just nice, jangly pop tunes. They’re not gonna make you forget The Chills or anything (who seem to be an influence on Cuppa Joe and a damn good influence to have) but they’re a helluva lot better than a lot of bands out there masquerading as “pop” bands. A few of my faves on TUNNEL TREES are the tender “Brush”, the melodic “Some Might Call Us Happy”, the moodier “A Couples While” and the very indie pop-ish singalong (fine with me) “Forty.” Always glad to see bands like this return for the sheer love of music (they sure as hell ain’t doin’ it for the money) and a bonus is that they can still write good pop songs. Bravo for them.

Aiding & Abetting:
Vaguely-anthemic indie rock with a few americana trappings (banjo, etc.). These songs meander and roam, but generally they come home again. Settle in and enjoy.

I Just Read About That...:
After an eternity (okay, 18 years), cuppa joe is back with another release on Dromedary Records. Things have changed over the years in cuppa joe’s world. Their previous release, Nurture was a delightful twee pop confection. This track (you can see the video here) adds an unexpected depth to their catalog.

The first change comes from the minor chord guitar strums; the second comes from the bass, which is following its own cool riff–although it melds nicely with the verse, it’s unexpected from cuppa joe. The pace of the song is much slower than the frantic songs on Nurture. Even the vocals, while noticably cuppa joe, seem less so – call it a more mature version of the vocals. Indeed, the whole sounds seems to have relinquished their more childlike qualities and embraced a more mature outlook.

This could be a death knell for a band, but not in this case. All of their songwriting sensibilities remain intact.  Indeed, they have added a wonderful new component: terrific harmonies in the chorus (which may have been there before, but which really stand out here).

It would almost seem like an entirely new band (18 years will do that to you). But rather than a new band it’s like an old band coming out of a coocoon like a butterfly (that’s too treacly, sorry guys). Maybe we’ll just stick with them being older and wiser. Welcome back guys.

Willfully Obscure:
A highly intermittent entity gestated in the early '90s, the New Jersey duo known as cuppa joe consisting of Doug Larkin and Steve Spatucci dropped a new album last week, their first since 1999. Tunnel Trees is the title, and just so happened to be my introduction to this not-so-gruesome twosome, who commence this disk with the chiming post-punk inflected, "A Couple Whiles," which smacks of For Against circa their soothing and oft overlooked Shelf Life album. Yeah, I know that comparison doesn't exactly shed much of a light on things for the bulk of you. At any rate, I was hoping the remainder of Tunnel Trees would follow suit, but cuppa joe had an alternate brew on tap for this pair of ears.  

The nine numbers succeeding the aforementioned "A Couple Whiles" are comparatively homespun organic guitar pop, occasionally whimsical and brimming with a potpourri of variations of the well-worn genre. There's a bit of a kiwi vibe infiltrating "Giving Up the Day" and "Some Might Call Us Happy," with both songs hinting at what Chris Knox/Tall Dwarfs were so blithely trying to convey a quarter century or so ago. "In the Shade of Tunnel Trees" and "Blue Sky Moon" flaunt a more robust sonic palette, while another key album highlight, "Forty" is a brisk, minute and a half burst of campfire pop, packing an infectious harmony. In short, even though I wasn't treated to the new For Against album I had initially anticipated, I got something just as rewarding, and you just might as well. cuppa joe have a healthy discography under their belts, just about all of which can be streamed under the "music" header of their webpage. If you're looking for even more of a shortcut, you can check out two tracks from Tunnel Trees below. You can obtain a hard copy of the album from Dromedary Records, as well as digital available from your vendor of choice.

Jersey Beat:
The first album from this New Jersey group in over a decade, this nicely moody item makes a strong and lasting impression on the basis of its potently brooding atmosphere alone. The soft and delicate, yet still effective and absorbing vocals project a quietly touching feeling of forlorn regret. The tuneful arrangements likewise possess a certain achingly tender and fragile quality that’s both affecting and appealing in equal measure. The thoughtful songwriting rates as another significant plus as it ably mines a perfectly poignant line in low-key melancholy. A very on the money moving album.

Casualties of Exploration and Growth | 1995 | self-released

Dame Leche:
What we have here is a sixteen song collection of posi-pop for the indie rock generation. I obtained this tape from cuppa joe while in search of songs for a compilation I am putting together. Apparently these songs are recorded and waiting for someone to release them. I'm not even sure I should review this, but I just got hung up on some of these songs and I kinda had to review the tape. Everything on the tape is hook-filled and ready for love. There's an awkwardness in the songs that kinda feels like the first ten seconds before the first kiss, but never fear - the kiss is sweet. cuppa joe doesn't overpower you, it's more like they hang with you and tell a few stories. Occasionally they get a bit empassioned and their gestures become erratic and a bit frantic, like on Signature Practice or Roofsitting - the latter of the two reminding me of just how sad I am that Small Factory broke up. And sometimes you find yourself sliding closer to catch a whisper of wisdom, or to offer a tissue - Archipellago would be a good example. This kind of fragile pop reminds me that the world can be a comfortable place. These guys have a CD and a 7" out on Dromedary Records and hopefully this will also be released by someone soon. In the meantime, write cuppa joe - maybe you can make them an offer they can't refuse.

Nurture | 1994 | Dromedary Records
Buy Nurture on iTunes or Amazon.

Nice melodic and mellow pop melodies from this band. Very retroish but not psychedelic, they'd fit in really well with L.A.'s local Silverlake scene. The promo compares them to Chocolate USA or The Hang-Ups. I don't know those bands, but these guys are definitely indie-styled pop. There's some stand-out songs here like "Sitting Limit" that more than make up for the misses. Overall this is still worth the investment. And since I'm a big fan of pop music and camels, I have to whole-heartedly recommend this.

Genetic Disorder:
These 13 songs are a gift. They’re a present handed down from those spirits which govern creative endeavors and they capture the sensation of spending late nights at coffee shops, drinking too much espresso, and staring across the room at the most beautiful person you’ve ever seen, trying hard not to let your eyes linger long enough for them to notice. The catchy melodies adorning these ditties seduce the listener although they’re fairly quick about it. ”Sitting Limit,” “Broken Arms,” and “Rollercoaster,” among other cuts, are insidiously addictive pop, sugary sweet and loaded with chemicals and colorings nature never saw. If you desperately need a comparison, think Sebadoh meets Unrest on a starry night in the middle of Nebraska, listening to the wind whistle through the corn fields as the band members strum acoustic guitars and slowly fall asleep to dream.

Powerbunny 4×4:
Yummy pop for me tummy. Cuppa Joe is a trio that serves it up with just the right blend of milk and sugar to make for a fun indie pop listening experience. Songs like “Sitting Limit,” “Bottlerocket,” and “Rollercoaster” had me humming all around the hub…This disc has a very nice look to it also, as its insert is a nice little orange and purple print on grey cardstock – it gives the disc a sincere down home indie feel to it and reminds me of the thrill of discovering so many new bands a few years ago when I became a dj at the college station…I don’t know, I’m a sentimental fool, and this disc just kind of embodies that whole wide-eyed indie rock feeling I had then, and not the cynical bullshit side of it that seems to be all we see today…well I guess Cuppa Joe proves that there’s still innocence left in the music world.

The Jersey Journal:
This South Jersey trio remains one of the Garden State’s best-kept secrets, even after two albums, but Cuppa Joe’s wistful, instantly memorable pop songs easily match the work of indie rock’s trendiest and most popular names. The songs are usually sad, but not self-pitying, and there’s something in singer/guitarist Doug Larkin’s voice that imbues even the most hangdog lyric with a ray of hope.

New Jersey-based cuppa joe does its own take on the classic formula for quintessential classic rock: jangly open chords over sweet melodic songs about loneliness and emotional turmoil, which has been interpreted by everyone from Big Star to The Connells to Unrest. On "Nurture", cuppa joe serves it up with a particularly huge does of sugar, with mixed results. The music is aural cotton candy: it's sticky sweet and tastes wonderful, but too much of it makes you sick after a while. This disc has a few fine songs; the excellent opening cut, "Sitting Limit", sounds like a more tuneful My Dad Is Dead; but other songs veer dangerously close to Toad the Wet Sprocket territory. "Nurture" is just a bit too delicate for its own good, and vocalist Doug Larkin's reedy whine especially tends to grate at times. But on balance, cuppa joe's catchy tunes and raw, low-fi simplicity make the band worth at least a listen.

If you ever heard this, you would like it. Super accousto-pop from New Jersey could be the next wave!

The Aquarian Weekly:
"Nurture" is the title of the latest LP from Trenton-area indie popsters cuppa joe. The band recorded their self-produced debut album at S.S. Sound Studio in Trenton for the small Jersey-based indie label Dromedary Records. Featured songs on the sugary sweet pop treat include "Sitting Limit", "Swinging on Your Gate", "Rollercoaster" and "I Still Shake" as well as nine other equally aurally impressive pop gems. cuppa joe also offer a hidden 14th track ("Second Violin"?) which is comparable to finding an 11th Pixie Stick in the 10-pack bag (yahoo!).

Optional Art Newsletter:
Stamped with yearning vocals that remind me of an effective combination of Todd Rundgren and Chris Stamey, Cuppa Joe refuses to play normal power pop. There’s no denying they’re accessible, but amid their repertoire of chiming guitars and gripping hooks, they tend to be rather unpredictable by suddenly sneaking offbeat rhythms and tempos into the stew. Be it garage oriented rockers or whimsical pop ditties, ‘Nurture’ brims with imaginative arrangements that make you sit up and take notice!

Sick to Move:
It’s simple, soft indie-pop music, verging on (if not crossing over into) wimpy. But this is part of Cuppa Joe’s charm. They aren’t muscle-bound sweat boys warily circling each other in a mosh pit. They’re just a band with some overtly flirtatious and lovely songs and a sense of hopeless romanticism. This is truly great indie-pop for those who enjoy more melodic and gentle tunes.

MikeK: Boy, is this naive.
Karl: I like the printing; it looks like they sat around and printed it themselves, and packaged it themselves, and it’s still kind of sticky. I like it, because they sound like they got beaten up every day in front of the girl’s locker room when they were in high school. They’re earnest.

I Just Read About That:
Fuzzy guitars, distortion, rocking noise and…that delicate voice. cuppa joe breaks out their harder side with this album. What’s nice about this full length is the way the band really pushes the boundaries of its indie pop sound. They explore different styles but never go so far as to lose their identity. It’s most notable in the bass, which sounds so different on different songs, quick and jazzy on “Swinging on your Gate” full of high notes and full on “Broken Arms.”

And, of course, “Bottlerocket” is back for another go. This sounds like a re-recorded version than the EP, louder and fuller.

And frankly, after writing a song like this how do you compare?

But just showing some of the diversity on the disc, “Sitting Limit” has some major distortion on the guitars. It’s funny how almost deadpan the vocals are in comparison. I’ve finally concluded that the vocals sound kind of like the alternate leads singer from The Dead Milkmen (Joe Jack Talcum, the one who sang “Punk Rock Girl”). In fact, a few of their slower songs sound like Talcum’s ballads.

“Decline” offers some vocal harmonies which bring an interesting depth to the song (which in this case is much lighter in the jangly guitars) and almost sounds like a demo.

“Poster” stands out for its deep almost punk bassline and aggressive (relatively) vocals (and fr the fact that it’s under 2 minutes long). It’s funny how much more intense the vocals can sound on these tracks. And just when you think you have them figured out as a pop band with punk leanings, they throw in a song like “long Walk” with some wild music lines and an almost world music influence.

Even as the disc comes to a close, “Beauty of of an Unshared Thing” is like a long lost 90′s college radio gem. It’s got the wash of guitars, the great bassline and a propulsive beat.

Listening carefully to the lyrics, the word that comes to mind most is earnest. A song like “Self Confidence” is a mellow song about empowerment. Or “Medium Well” with the line “A kiss means so much more when it doesn’t taste like alcohol.”

The bonus track on the disc is a cover of an old Irish song by the band Bagatelle. The song “Second Violin” is astonishingly catchy. Given my proclivities, I prefer the harder rocking stuff on the disc, and there is certainly plenty of that.

Busy Work E.P. | 1993 | Dromedary Records

The Aquarian Weekly:
Busy, whiny popsters, cuppa joe sound like a modern rock version of The Byrds and/or an Americanized Robyn Hitchcock. They serve rapid-fire stream-of-consciousness over a bed of jangle and brief moments of mash. The A side, "Bottlerocket", is rich with meaning, while "French Toast" is a silly look at a shared bachelor flat and "Surface Area" sticks to the middle of the road.

indier than thou!:
cuppa joe has been with Dromedary since the beginning, and has been writing clever, witty pop songs a la They Might Be Giants/Chocolate USA the whole time. Dromedary is billing the A side, "Bottlerocket", as "the best song ever written", and although that's stretching things a bit, the song is worth your $3. The highlight of the 7", however, comes on the B side - "French Toast" is funny, awkward, and singable - a perfect representation of the band.

Sound Views:
Every once in a while a little harmless geek-pop can help to put things in perspective. This band's clean and jangly catchiness shines brightly enough through the haze of useless 7 inches circulating out there. All three songs by this NJ trio feature straightforward songwriting, driving rhythms and decent lyrics (well, maybe not "French Toast").

The Aquarian Weekly:
More quirky indie pop that hasn't been released yet, so no descriptive quotes from notable music rags have been included. The slip inside this Dromedary release describes "Bottlerocket" as "the best song ever written". Two songs make up side two, including a remastered version of "French Toast". First 500 copies pressed on red colored vinyl, numbered and individually colored (in crayon - art tool of the gods) by the band. Served with a frosty glass of lemonade, and of course, cinnamon french toast.

Maybe the dumb band name's to blame, but I think I'm the only one here who's noticed how neat these three songs are: combining northeast USA nerdy-boy accents and heavily-British record collections, cuppa joe remind me of very early Primal Scream (but with a more normal vocal range) and recent Wimp Factor 14 (minus the banging-on-buckets angle). "Bottlerocket" is a frenetic, earnest, jangly description of suburban guilt; "Surface Area" lopes up and down the well-worn slopes of a failing romance, and if the words aren't exactly full of new ideas, the inherent rightness of the various tunes more than makes up for it.

The Splatter Effect:
This E.P. features three subtle slices of quirky jangle rock. Emphasis is on the vocals of guitarist Doug Larkin, who has a pleasant if somewhat ordinary voice. "Bottlerocket" is a fine, catchy ditty that features backing vocals straight from '70s AM radio pop and hooks aplenty. "French Toast" reminds me a bit of They Might Be Giants in its pedantic simplicity and corny lyrics. It is, nonetheless, a nice, short little pop song with the usual verse/chorus/bridge arrangements and hooks that make a good pop song. "Surface Area" owes a bit to The Beatles circa "Revolver", and its sparser vocal arrangements allow the band to share a little of the spotlight.

An appropriately named E.P., considering each cover is individually colored with crayon! I wonder who the hell has that job. It looks nice though. Anyway, cuppa joe serves up some light and twangy offbeat pop ditties with smooth vocals.

I Just Read About That:
This EP was one of the first releases on the Dromedary label. It contains 3 songs. Whenever I think of cuppa joe, I think of them being a somewhat lightweight band; charming and fun, but lightweight.

And I think most of this is due to the lead singer’s voice. It’s quite delicate and veers towards, but never quite reaches whiny territory. Comparisons to They Might Be Giants are not unfounded.

But the thing is that, musically, the band plays a wonderfully diverse selection of styles, some of which emphasize the singer’s delicate voice, and others which play in a wonderful contrast to it.

Take their brilliant first song on the EP, “Bottlerocket”. The chords are masterful and intriguing as the song opens, moving towards a fast, propulsive verse and an insanely catchy chorus (with backing vocal harmonies!). It’s a tremendous song, and cuppa joe could easily rest on their laurels after creating such a masterpiece.

The other two songs on the EP are more of that delicate style that I think of as distinctly cuppa joe. “French Toast” is a very quiet little ditty about, yes french toast. It’s catchy and seems to be an ideal b-side, sounding almost like a demo.

The third track, “Surface Area” starts out almost as an homage to R.E.M. “I am Superman” with the jangly guitars and all, but the jazzy bassline totally changes the tone of the song. Overall it splits the difference of the other two, being a fully realized song that gets a surprise lift from loud and raucous guitars about halfway through.

It’s a really great representation of this cool indie band.

Nothing Smells Quite Like Elizabeth (compilation) | 1992 | Dromedary Records

The Aquarian Weekly:
Well-crafted, American indie-pop from the capital of New Jersey, cuppa joe may be the most prolific band in this collection. Culled from their debut release "Demonstrations", "Meanings" typifies all that is cuppa joe - strong, indie-rock ethics, skillful songwriting, and the quirkiest lyrics this side of They Might Be Giants. Their first national release, "Meanings" also serves as a taste of what is to come - Dromedary plans to release an E.P. from the band this spring.

Demonstrations | 1992 | self-released

Indie Papers:
Cassette-only debut release from the quirkiest indie-pop band this side of They Might Be Giants. Eight songs. 23 minutes of clever lyrics and astounding songwriting. Served with a large bowl of mixed vegetables.