vitamins and cinnamon french toast.

Oddly enough, the reviews of busy work were coming in, and they were largely positive.  We had, as I had mentioned, really refined our mailing list and worked hard at including pubs that catered to an indie rock or indie pop audience, and a large percentage of those publications rewarded us with reviews. 

While many of them made offhanded comments about the band’s name (not the greatest name, I know) or doug’s voice, most of the reviews captured what the band was about.

To wit, here’s a review from Cake, which was a great tabloid-sized arts weekly/indie-friendly pub in Minneapolis:

If you can get past the name and whining vocals of this New Jersey trio, you’ll discover some keen song writing in the same vein as the recent Twin Cities pop renaissance, with its emphasis (rather than avoidance) on craft (“Surface Area” sounds significantly like the Hang Ups).  Side A’s “Bottlerocket” zooms as an analogy to fallen aspirations (“You think it won’t, but it hits hour home/Everything you’re doin’ is going nowhere.”)

They didn’t get the meaning of “bottlerocket” right (it’s about institutional racism), but that’s okay.  They captured the band properly, and that was the first of many comparisons that journalists would make between cuppa joe and the Hang Ups.

Sound Views was a great punk zine from Brooklyn, and Lee, the owner, was a guy I really liked.  He was always really good to us, and despite the punk nature of the zine, they reviewed busy work thusly:

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″s circulating out there.  All three songs by this NJ trio feature straightforward songwriting, driving rhythms and decent lyrics (well maybe not “French Toast”).

Bob Makin chimed in with this:

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.

The Splatter Effect was another NJ-based tabloid-sized arts weekly that didn’t have the readership of The Aquarian but tended to be a better publication.  Their review:

This EP features three subtle slices of quirky jangle rock.  Emphasis is on the vocals of 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.  Nice and friendly.

Popwatch quickly became our favorite zine, with its devotion to pop music of the Dromedary variety.  The owner was super-cool, gave us special ad rates, and reviewed every single record we sent them.  The cuppa joe review was really the first one that tied the band to more indie bands (rather than the Beatles or They Might Be Giants), and really treated the band like a pop band and not a novelty act:

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 of recent Wimp Factor 14 (minus the banging-on-buckets angle).  “Bottle Rocket” 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 band played a few shows around the state and in Philly, in support of the 7″, and had begun playing regularly at an Irish pub in Trenton.  

Despite all this, I was surprised when Camille at Dutch East called one day.  Usually, I needed to call her each week, to check on the progress of our sales.  Each week we’d sell one or two more copies of something, as our initial consignment slowly dwindled away.

“Hey Al,” she said, “Good news.  I need to place a reorder.”

Just hearing that was a nice feeling, and so I grabbed my notebook and started reading as I wrote, “Okay, new copies of ‘Allnighter’ for Dutch East…'”

“No, I’m fine with ‘Allnighter,'” she said.  “I need more copies of busy work.”

I stopped in my tracks.  “busy work?!” I asked.

“Yep,” she said.  “Send me seventy-five.”

So there you go.  The first record that we released that a distributor reordered was cuppa joe’s busy work.

~ by Al on March 7, 2009.

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