The Sore Losers: A Monstrous Mash-Up Rises From The Grave 

click to enlarge sore_losers.jpg
One of the highlights of last year's Gonerfest 15 was the screening of director Mike McCarthy's The Sore Losers at Studio on the Square. Having received the full remastering treatment, it jumped off the screen as never before, combining the best of modern digital clarity with the richness of its original analog film stock. The film, first released in 1997, is an often hilarious Zippin' Pippin ride through exploitation, low budget sci-fi, and B-movie tropes. But it also provided a portal into the (then) unheralded underground music scene of the era.

Last November, the soundtrack was released on vinyl via Goner Records and Portugal's Chaputa! Records. It's barely left the turntable since. For what this double LP offers is nothing less than a reanimated, full-strength Frankenstein's monster of '90s garage rock, retro rock, and lo-fi experimentalism.

If the movie itself is a brilliant hodge-podge of styles, so is the album. The tracks are not just lo-fi, they are different varieties of lo-fi, from the late Jack Taylor's bashed-out title song, to the terrifying/thrilling onslaught of Guitar Wolf, to the quavering homespun charm of Poli Sci Clone. Satisfyingly snotty vocals and chugging/chopping guitars abound, as in contributions by the Makers, the Drags, Gasoline, and Los Diablos del Sol, but many artists you might think you have pegged defy formula altogether.

People were already nostalgic for the Gories by 1997, but Mick Collins avoids that familiar territory with a kind of minimalist crime jazz built on the prominent sax work of Jim Spake. Nick Diablo's track is reminiscent of Can's “Ethnographic Forgery” series, with Diablo channeling a lost field recording of some aged Delta harp player. Tracks from '68 Comeback and Jack Oblivian are littered with wah-wah guitar, organ, and synth hiccups that are true to the flick's sci-fi universe. Or, in the case of Jack Oblivian's back-shed funk “Vice Party,” the flick's soft porn universe. 

click to enlarge The Clears - DAN BALL
  • Dan Ball
  • The Clears
One gem, highlighted at the film's Gonerfest 15 premiere in the form of a 1997 music video that was never released, is “We Are a Rock & Roll Band” by synth pop trio the Clears. Also known as “Rock & Roll Band” to fans of the Clears' standalone album, the different title may be appropriate, as either a remix or a remastering has given the soundtrack version considerably more snap and crackle. Jack O and Chris Clarity also mine that back corner of the garage where grandpa stores his synthesizers.

Mingled in with all these sonic adventures, we also hear some first rate songwriting. The closer, of course is the 1953 chestnut, “Look Me Over Closely,” (later popularized by the White Stripes), but we also hear the neo-classic swamp pop of the Royal Pendletons, whose “I'm a Sore Loser” is perhaps even more a definitive track than Taylor's. 
click to enlarge The Royal Pendletons
  • The Royal Pendletons

And finally, in stark contrast with so much clamor, side three closes with the simple, haunting “Bad Man” by Greg Oblivian/Greg Cartwright, all mellow guitar, toy piano, and disembodied, over-the-phone vocals. The recurrence of that track through the film anchors it in a seemingly incongruous mood of regret and heartache. Though it no doubt surprised many Oblivians fans at the time (for this was well before the Reigning Sound), it's an especially fitting cornerstone for a film built on, and reveling in, incongruities.

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