Spies Like Us

Thug life: Sid Sideways and Co.

Thug life: Sid Sideways and Co.


Oblivion and Points Beyond


In a darkened office, two black-clad thugs-- one blond, the other with a dark Afro--are cracking a safe. Tom-toms and a bass guitar throb in the background. As the safe door swings open, the hoods discover that someone has beaten them to their prize. The safe is empty, except for a calling card with three irregularly sized arrows radiating out from its center. They glance out the window just in time to see a shadowy figure slip into a land yacht of a car. The vehicle speeds away into the night, just as the guitars kick in.

So begins the animated video for "Oblivion and Points Beyond," the title track of the Sideways' debut release, which boasts music by Polara's Ed Ackerson. Like the other ten forthcoming Sideways videos (one is planned for each track on the disc), "Oblivion" takes place in the fictive city of Susston--where, by the look of hairdos, clothes, cars, and buildings, the year 1966 was pretty much directly followed by 2000. The shadowy figure is none other than Sid Sideways: half good guy, half bad guy, all criminal--the nemesis of cops and fellow hoods alike. He has just wronged beautiful crime princess Adrianna Kristos, who sends a pop band (naturally doubling as a team of assassins) after him in a heavily armed vehicle. Subsequent Sideways episodes--whose plots are currently still hush-hush--will find our lovable antihero in even deeper trouble.

Like the video, the music (which was developed before the spy-cartoon concept) simultaneously suggests the Sixties and the Aughts. This goes right down to the way Ackerson made it: Apart from the guitars, Oblivion's retro sound was created entirely with a PowerBook, although you'd never guess that just from listening to it. Ackerson's knack for mixing past and future finds its finest moment on the title track, which sounds as though it might have been penned by a teen Glenn Branca for a remake of Vampyros Lesbos II. Even as his virtual drum style suggests a fusion of Keith Moon and Bernard Purdy, it brings to mind Ride/Animalhouse veteran Mark Gardner even more. Likewise, nobody in the Sixties played "organ" like a cross between Booker T. and reggae giant Jackie Mittoo. Then there's the fact that Oblivion and Points Beyond's two cover tunes--"Your Stupid Car," written by Sideways animation mastermind Christian Erickson, and Oranger's "A View of the City From an Airplane" (possibly the best fake Sixties song written since 1970)--both date from the century we're in right now. But the real chronological giveaway is the sound: No real Sixties record ever bumped like Oblivion.

Which is exactly the effect Ackerson wants. Neither revivalist nor revisionist, Ackerson seeks to create an alternate, timeless reality--a place where, as he put it during a recent interview, "music was just allowed to develop normally without metal and disco getting in the way." Sure, Ackerson has made a lot of records in his day, and they've all been fine and dandy. But they've all just been records. This time out, he's fashioned a world.