A finished basement in the 1970s was sometimes called a rec room. Often, it was a soft and hazy place, with pleather couches and plush shag carpeting deep and inviting enough for a small child to get lost in. Globe-shaped lamps threw a muted, serene, humming glow over the wood paneling and autumn-palette geometric art. Maybe the room smelled of incense or reefer, mixed with the scent of cognac splashing easily about against the gold-leafed walls of a snifter. At least, that’s how I remember it.
There is a groovy, muted melancholy to this scene because the music that accompanies it feels that way. It is the distant sound of being a child, of lying on your stomach face-to-face with album covers that feel bigger than your whole head while their contents play from your uncle’s prized component stereo system. The cover art is always weird and illicit-seeming, lots of naked ladies and zodiac signs and pyramids and tongues, things that don’t make sense but give a feeling of longing. The vibe comes from the bass tones, too: comfortable and thick, active without being busy, somehow anchoring both the groove and the melody, traveling fearlessly up and down the register with warm confidence. On the next level up, we find electric piano keys, gently suggesting layered chords, maybe launching now and then into a subdued solo. Electric guitars scratch out gilded rhythmic frames; the drums are in the back, running their covert hustle, dropping clusters of fills and runs, punctuated by the occasional summer splash of a cymbal. Jams from the 1970s go on in this fashion for tens of minutes, inviting you to do nothing more than dig them. There’s nothing else to do, nowhere else to be but in the music.
Jersey-turned-Cali DJ Flamingosis, a.k.a. Aaron Velasquez, lives with this same unhurried chill in his latest full-length self-release, Bright Moments. The 49-minute album is awash in deep ’70s and ’80s samples layered over chunky backbeats and threaded throughout with soul vocal performances. Velasquez takes his stage name from a popular freestyle frisbee move invented by his father, Jens, a five-time world champion in the sport who competed regularly with Aaron’s uncle, Erwin (himself an eight-time champ), throughout the ’70s and ’80s. Watching grainy videos of the Velasquez brothers in their heyday as freestyle frisbee stars, it is difficult to imagine a more perfect antecedent to the breezy funk that is Flamingosis at his best. The cover art for his album Great Hair, released earlier this year on German label Uknowy, features his dad and uncle sharing a handshake in all their frisbro glory. And, yeah, they have great hair.
Bright Moments is perhaps the boppiest Flamingosis release yet, anchored in no small part by the chopped-up ’70s salsa of “Brunch at the Bodega,” a track that leverages the undeniable power of a good timbale run over chunky, mambo-esque horns that call to mind The Beatnuts at their most snappy. “Flight of the Flamingo” is another deep head-knocker that defies you to hear it without getting caught up in its insistent thump. The painfully relatable title “Feelings of Sentimentality Due to Getting Curved” is a flawlessly engineered luxury banger that hinges on a chorus of background soul singers. The whole album benefits from an inescapable flow, one track bleeding into the next, even when beats and tempos change. You are in good and solid hands with Flamingosis at the wheel.
These grooves are a guilty pleasure, so devoid of edge that they become downright combative. They challenge you to admit that you’re actually secretly into smooth jazz. The formula is so simple that sometimes you wonder if Velasquez isn’t just playing you a whole record from 40 years ago and passing it off as his own. But this is because he works with a subtle and straightforward perfectionism: Each sample is so impeccably pitched, shaped, and worked into the song at hand that it feels, in the final result, that they were all born from the same ancient recording session.
On earlier releases, particularly on the now defunct Grappa Frisbee label out of Connecticut, Flamingosis was largely indistinguishable from a cavalcade of experimental beat dudes, layering and remixing echoey samples over broad drum loops. But after he joined Keats Collective, the work began to form into a distinct identity. By 2015, his self-released Newski had settled into the aggressive retrospection that makes it so compelling. That same year, he dropped a chillwave remix of Busta Rhymes’s “Look at Me Now” verse, balanced on a sample by forgotten blues sax man Ronnie Laws and notable for its Kaytranada-esque capacity to completely reimagine a track as wholly unrelated to and yet infinitely better than its original. 2015 and 2016 have seen the release of Bright Moments, along with Kahunastyle and Pleasure Palette, the title track of which is mesmerizing when set to vintage footage of the elder Velasquez brothers at play.
As fluently captivating as Flamingosis’s recent work is, the effect is magnified by his official videos, particularly those made entirely of old-school footage. Music and visuals like this unpack not only our past but our idea of the past, betraying a hazy, innocent joy so perfect that it becomes vaguely ridiculous and even more vaguely sinister. The 1970s are somehow remembered in image as a pleasantly fuzzy time. Flamingosis transports us to the feeling of a mellow buzz on a cloudless and lightly windswept day: a frisbee catch in the park, roller skates and short shorts, the sun warming our bodies. But retro style is by nature an act of willful ignorance. Videos of the 1970s don’t typically show the violence, the racism, hatred, anger, fear. But the visuals accompanying Flamingosis’s candidly named 2013 track “Porno Music,” built on an Atlantic Starr sample, uncrate and abstract a deluge of ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s images of blonde, perm-haired ladies in leotards and bikinis, interspersing them with failing computer screens; warped extreme close-ups of faces and glittery lipstick that recall horror movies; bad VHS tracking lines; and repetitive FBI warnings about video piracy. The found-footage style, à la the video kitsch site Everything Is Terrible, speaks to the fact that we are buried in images. We have so many of them that they become a reality unto themselves, an upside-down world where nothing is real and everything is unreliable memory. It is the only feeling that seems to make sense, and it’s where Flamingosis excels.
Right now, as I write this in California, a mysterious neighbor is playing smooth jazz loud enough for the whole block to hear. It is late afternoon; the sun is starting to get lazy. A soft wind is blowing just enough for someone’s wind chimes to be heard tinkling. I am on my back porch. Kids from the after-school program down the street can be heard screaming playfully, their bright sounds echoing from all of our houses. The music I am hearing is of the Kenny G variety, a soprano sax wailing over an overly confident groove. Occasionally the CD gets stuck, playing the same dumb loop over and over until the mystery neighborhood DJ fixes it. This guy is smoothing out so hard right now that I imagine him alone in his apartment, plastic vertical blinds swaying in the breeze, making overbite funk faces while he fights back tears, awash in a wave of memories and feelings. I usually hate music like this. Or, rather, I hate to admit I like it. It is nice to be writing about Flamingosis while bad music plays. It makes you wish this fake moment would last forever.