Ambient Sidewinding

Sidecar sound like the Smiths dispatched through an isolation tank, or Julee Cruise trapped in a misty David Lynch dream, or an orchestra of toy instruments searching for a deep bass rhythm.

Do you understand now? Or does that sound like an unidentified musical object? Sidecar's Lili De La Mora and Kenny Negrete don't have any better descriptions. This Long Beach collective is as surprised as anybody that the band produced something as easily quantifiable as a CD: Songs From Another Cupboard. But it was a stretch, given their creative methods.

“We invite people in [to the band] and don't tell them what to play,” says Negrete. “We may describe to them a color or a feeling.” Huh?

Their other strategies don't follow a straight line, either. “It depends on who we've met that week,” says De La Mora. “We're always getting grand ideas.”

However it happened, Songs From Another Cupboardis a wonderful album—distributed by indie labels Darla and Parasol—and Sidecar have found themselves the inheritors of a great but peripheral musical tradition.

Call it ambient. Or shoegazer. Or dream pop. Brian Eno has been credited with launching the sound in 1975 with Another Green World. Bands like My Bloody Valentine, Seefeel and Slowdive made it rock in nightclubs and discos. It sure as hell wasn't going to win a Grammy, but ambient's drive to find music's impossible notes influenced techno and, for a while, loosened up rock's cancerous too-cool-for-you pose.

The music slipped back into the deep underground once My Bloody Valentine failed to put out a sequel to Loveless and Slowdive's Neil Halstead became a folk-rocker. Fortunately, Sidecar hasn't paid attention to the trends.

While Sidecar missed the big spaceout of these bands in the late '80s and early '90s, they staked a claim to ambient's enduring rhythms when they formed in 1997. One of Negrete's buddies had invited De La Mora to sing at Negrete's studio, which was then located near the Blue Caf in downtown Long Beach.

That jam session and others gradually produced a series of 30-minute freak-outs that contained the kernels of pop songs. They could have kept noodling in the studio, but instead they resolved to be more disciplined—sort of. They started performing and recruited DJ Nobody, who was being feted as a demon genius DJ/producer after the release of his hip-hop/psychedelic effort Soulmates on Newport Beach's Ubiquity label. He helped pare down those jams into three-minute songs.

The results were outstanding. Songs like “Quadrant 7” perfectly mix the whispery vibe of De La Mora's voice with a foreboding bass solo. “Dear Mr. Fantasy” stretches out the notes of what could be an unearthed '60s pop song into a funhouse mirror of discrete beats. “I Have Known Love” has a bittersweet pop edge and would fit perfectly into KROQ's playlist if the station hadn't been overtaken by bad heavy metal.

Sidecar plan to focus on music other than ambient for their next album—more beat-oriented, according to Negrete. But does this mean that ambient has landed on the band's dust heap? For now, that's a question without an answer, given the sidewinding mystery of their methods.

Sidecar play with DJs Star*Fish N Friends at Que Sera, 1923 E. Seventh St., Long Beach, (562) 599-6170. Thurs., March 21, 9 p.m. $5. 21+.

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