BY MICHAEL TOLAND
When former Saints and Laughing Clowns guitarist/songwriter Ed Kuepper put together the Aints in the early nineties, it was with the intention of reclaiming the Saints’ seventies catalog in the style in which the songs were originally recorded. The band quickly evolved into a vehicle for Kuepper’s bluesier, more jamming instincts – a sound in opposition to the highly crafted, idiosyncratic folk rock with which he worked on his solo albums. Twenty-six years after the last Aints album, Kuepper adds an exclamation point and revisits his original notion.
Rather than cover the already well-known work by his former band, however, Kuepper instead digs into his archives and resurrects a set of unrecorded songs – some predating the Saints and some coming from the time between 1978’s Prehistoric Sounds (and the subsequent dissolution of the original lineup) and the 1982 debut of the Laughing Clowns. That last period seems key here – not only for the presence of horns, which had debuted to great effect on the Saints’ “Know Your Product” and become integral on Sounds, but for the creeping jazziness that would define the Clowns’ innovative postpunk. Aided by Australian jazz pianist Alister Spence and a three-piece horn section, Kuepper pushes “You Got the Answer,” “Elevator (A Song For Barking Lord Jeff)” and the title track into what would have been quirky territory for the original band, but now strikes one as perfectly transitional. This is the world in which much of Kuepper’s work lives, and it sounds glorious.
Not everything strives to break what was then new ground, however. “Country Song in G” is another lovely folk rocker in the vein of “A Minor Aversion,” while “Winters Way” balances grooving R&B and melancholia for a brooding delight. “The Rise and Fall of James Hoopnoch Eefill” indulges in a Kinks-like fantasia, while “Goodnight Ladies (I Hear a Sound Without)” delves into epic psychedelic postpunk. “S.O.S. ‘75” and “Red Aces,” meanwhile, simply rock out, the latter opening the LP with a bang. The horns and piano stay with these tracks as well – along with Kuepper’s sense of melody and distinctive singing, which has only gotten richer with age, they provide continuity as the band explores various stylistic avenues. Not that there needs to be thematic unity – Kuepper’s writing is so strong and the band’s performance so tight the tracks would succeed under any circumstances. Welcome back the Aints!, stronger than ever.
Note: The album is also available as a limited-to-500-copies vinyl LP, while the deluxe version of the CD comes with a bonus disc, “The Church of Simultaneous Instrumentals.”
DOWNLOAD: “Red Aces,” “Winters Way,” “You Got the Answer”