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Nothing sucks more than middling barbecue rock—superficial, uptempo garage-pop songs about pretty women or the beach or wasting time at the drive-through, mindless music that belongs in the background as you flip grill meat on the patio and chat with cigar-toting Uncle Jimmy.
So, considering its cohorts in the genre, Live in the Basement, a split LP from two bands of D.C. natives (the Doozies and Flower Girl, which share drummer Henry van Dusen and guitarist Dan van Dusen), is some kind of minor miracle. It doesn’t stray far from the barbecue-rock paradigm, but that, as it turns out, may be its neatest trick: self-awareness. Live in the Basement, its cheeky title reminds us, has no desire to gussy itself up. It’s as cheap and greasy as a roadside hamburger.
It’s also overflowing with damn good pop songs. On the Doozies side, the blown-out keyboards and early-Beatles hook on “A Doctor” sound like a lost Elephant 6 recording, while the euphoric mid-song screech on “Burger King” is pure Ty Segall. Occasionally the band forays into romantic balladry, like on the soft, swaying “Damiana,” but the Doozies work best when they’re not trying to resist their brash, hedonistic spirit.
Flower Girl, by comparison, comes from a slower and moodier place. The gorgeous “Rubber Gloves,” with its clean, noodle-heavy guitar phrases, would have fit snugly on the Velvet Underground’s Loaded, while the bar-blues sway of “When You Go” turns out to be an excellent pastiche of the Rolling Stones, down to a spot-on sendup of Mick Jagger’s slurred, slovenly drawl. Best of all is “Nightmare,” which manages to deftly combine the Doozies’ hard-rock crunch with Flower Girl’s more polished aesthetic.
If there’s any significant drawback to Live in the Basement, it’s the record’s overall lack of variety. At first, the creative discrepancies between the Doozies and Flower Girl seem obvious, but over the course of a long double LP, it becomes difficult to tell the songs apart, with many of them featuring only minor variations on the same garage-pop formula: jangly guitars, sloppy drums, Julian Casablancas levels of vocal distortion. On a six-track split, this sonic consistency may suggest a strong dedication to theme. But on a 17-song record, the sameness grows grating. It’s hard not to wonder, given the fact that the van Dusen brothers play in both bands, why the Doozies and Flower Girl exist as separate projects in the first place.
However, none of these minor quandaries matters if you listen to the album the right way: as sweet white noise underneath the sizzle of the grill, the clinking of beer bottles, Uncle Jimmy’s smarmy political chatter. Barbecue rock may not be culture worthy of aristocracy, but among the long list of records trying to make your burger-flipping playlist, Live in the Basement should be the king.