By Aldus Santos
Brash but studied. Slapdash in spirit but precise in execution. Impulsive but with a maddening purpose. Paradoxes have always figured in the Oh, Flamingo! oeuvre, and the ratios in these warring tendencies keep changing, like a choice dish that never tastes the same way twice. The pleasant in a curious vat with the unsettling, the unpredictable centrifuged with the structured. And perhaps over time this sense of tension, the one constant in all great art, is what keeps Flamingo a band to keep tabs on. In Volumes, their newest EP, we see a jubilant creative unit that’s more certain on their feet and, more importantly, still dishing out incongruencies. There’s psychedelia, but also candylike harmonies; there’s fretwork you can sing and drumming you can dance to, but also a more mature topicality.
Opening track “Volumes” is visceral and conceptual—it’s that weird-looking drink a dazed stranger offers you at a house party—but “Sunsets” is almost tactile in its realness, a sunshine-riddled confessional contagious in its gratitude. Howard Luistro displays a melodic deftness that borders on obsessive, but he does it with heart firmly on sleeve. And I don’t mean just the romance he portrays, but also his palpable grappling with its musical expression. And perhaps that distinction is important: whereas, say, math-y projects would revel at the code they’re able to cobble together, Flamingo’s generosity in soul always shines through the alchemy. We see that generosity in “Sacred Times,” and in how the band’s backbeat and gait—a cadence dotted by insistent tremolo picking and periodic breakdowns in phrasing—feel simultaneously comforting and confrontational.
It also deserves stressing how pivotal “Naubos Na” could be for the band, in subject matter (self-love vis-à-vis the vicious grind), persona (bassist Billie de la Paz takes her turn at the mic), and arrangement (pretty damn straightforward for a Flamingo number). In its seeming simplicity—and here simplicity is both creative doublespeak and self-imposed taunt—I can see how the lone Filipino-language cut in the Oh-Flam catalog would be a great entry point for those who’ve yet to acquaint themselves with the quartet. The song, and transitively the band as well, is like cultural veggies, but veggies that actually taste good and don’t require brutal force-feeding.
When in the past I’d be asked about my creative process, whether it’s lit or music, I would invariably bring up landscaping as metaphor, and how the artist’s terrain by default is a wasteland—a sprawling expanse of beauty and insecurity and sex and memory and what it means to be alive—that he fashions into a sensible garden by snipping away at the overgrowth. Sometimes it’s already there, a readymade Eden (as in the beautiful, lilting “Memory Attack,” which mood-wise is kind of reverse-bookends alongside “Sunsets”); other times the excesses—the slithering twigs and the disheveled shrubbery—are at the crux of the matter, as in the densely stacked, elegantly executed “Echoes/Psychedelic Sweater.” Think Pat Sarabia gleefully disengaging from a plodding rhythm, or Pappu de Leon taking the road that forks in his counterpoint work.
These aren’t so much contradictions but confrontations. Because in the end, easy listening doesn’t engage, so we nod and smile and forget. But a dogged desire to stray for straying’s sake is like joyless gymnastics. That’s what Volumes is able to negotiate but, really, didn’t have to. Good songs, after all, aren’t ciphers; we just have to start paying attention again.
Stream Volumes EP