I hadn’t heard the term “dog’s breakfast” until 2021. We were recording an episode of the album-ranking podcast the Chartographers regarding the works of folktronica artist Bibio, and guest Nathan Stevens described one of his albums as a “dog’s breakfast”: a rough and tumble amalgam of ideas and sonic shards that didn’t amount to much. It was an unusual term that I was surprised I hadn’t heard in the Midwest. I found it a particular phrase that should be weaponized only in specific circumstances.
Listening to King Garbage‘s sophomore album Heavy Metal Greasy Love, the phrase “dog’s breakfast” popped in my head repeatedly, but not in a bad way. It was the only way my brain could rationalize a record that was so beautifully, deliberately chaotic. Melodies emerged from the strangest places; instruments came into the foreground before fading into the static. The vocals were pushed through so much whispered distortion that it became hard to distinguish the year in which this record was recorded. There are a ton of hip-hop beats too. As much as we talk about the 2020s as a time when “genre” is almost meaningless, Heavy Metal Greasy Love is borderline unclassifiable — and that’s just one of its strengths.
A songwriting and production duo consisting of Vic Dimotsis and Zach Cooper (the latter of whom is not to be confused with the Coheed and Cambria guitarist of the same name), this group has a deep love and affinity for all things soul-pop. Think early Motown, the debut album from Durand Jones & the Indications, and the dirtier raw garage recordings from Daptone Records. The guitars drip with grit, the horn sections don’t hit notes so much as they blare them unevenly, and the percussion is a mix of standard drums and clattering junkyard scrapes. Even if not every aspect of their sound works, listeners will rarely be bored by their constructions.
The duo’s debut under their King Garbage moniker, 2017’s Make It Sweat, was an intriguing if uneven experiment, with the group trying to find the line between soul revisionism and crafting R&B beatscapes to partial success. It was still enough to get them notice from some contemporary heavy-hitters, leading the group to work on songs for the likes of Leon Bridges and Jon Batiste, scoring a litany of Grammy nominations for their work with both. The wonderfully-titled Heavy Metal Greasy Love feels like Dimotsis and Cooper have figured out their rhythm together, and at nine songs clocking in under 37 minutes, it feels as if they’ve discovered a whole new universe of sound.
Tracks vary wildly in tone and shape, featuring a pair of tunes coming in under two minutes to “Never Die” stretching out into a multi-faceted eight-minute epic. “Let Em Talk” shows the group adopting more drum-heavy ’90s hip-hop production to accentuate the group’s sweetly-hewn, sometimes-shouted vocals. The drums sometimes sound like they were recorded in a concrete storage unit and at times threaten to break out with the full force of a marching band. The unknowable nature of each song’s mix, unsure of what it will transform into at any given moment, is what gives Heavy Metal Greasy Love its tension. A sense of discovery lingers over each of these tracks, and repeat listens only reveal more curious corners and new sonic discoveries. Dimotsis and Cooper have put in a lot of careful consideration to create a record this deliberately disorganized.
“Snow” opens with the orchestral sounds of a demented Disney musical and the boys’ warped vocals before it turns into a full-out horn-driven rap odyssey that is simply begging for more verses. No two songs sound alike, but they stem from the duo’s beautifully warped sonic sensibilities. Lyrically, King Garbage swing from musings about living in Texas to how they will “Never Die” from love. If there’s any actual negative aspect to the duo’s “dog’s breakfast” approach to songwriting and production, it’s that their vocals, often pushed through speakers and filters and who-knows-what-else, often obscure their lyrics. It’s a shame, too, because a line like “It might just bе the lightning that I’m sippin’ / But I agree that I’m right” from the single “Piper” deserves to be heard articulated in full.
Yet such complaints are minor in the widescreen view of things. From the desert-guitar landscape that fills out the rest of “Never Die” to the beautiful soul paean that is the almost-romantic closer “Peanut Butter Kisses”, King Garbage’s Heavy Metal Greasy Love is the rare album filled with so many sonic surprises it’s easy to get overwhelmed in a single sitting. It’s a labor of love by musicians who are giddy with excitement upon discovering the full power and intent of their sound. There are few records with which to compare. Heavy Metal Greasy Love is messy, but there have rarely been messes as beautiful or replayable as this.