When I first came across D.D. Dumbo, like many people who’ve stumbled upon him, I was absolutely floored. Playing an opening support slot at an early free Hiatus Kaiyote gig, he performed to fifteen or so people who had no idea what they were about to witness. As I watched this young guy play a huge, immersive set utilizing nothing but himself, a guitar, a floor tom, a snare, and a looping pedal, I distinctly remember my housemate turning to me and saying – “this dude is going to be huge.”
It looks like that prophecy is coming true. D.D Dumbo releases his debut album Utopia Defeated this Friday via 4AD/Liberation, and the single ‘Walrus’ has absolutely dominated JJJ since it was dropped. Oliver Perry, the man behind the moniker of D.D Dumbo, currently lives in a room attached to an old horse stable on the outskirts of Castlemaine, just under two hours north of Melbourne. He’s a self-confessed hermit, who seems to have spent the last little while honing his skills for Utopia Defeated, which is an absolute triumph of a record in every sense. The album unfolds in a dreamlike way, constantly evolving and surprising. Take the slow fade out of ‘Alihuckwe’ or the rapidly shifting, surprising structure of ‘Satan’. Perry’s taste is clearly remarkably varied, and this shines through all over the album. Utopia Defeated is as possessed by the spirit of 80’s pop as it is freak folk, afrobeat, psychedelic, and dance. Constantly anchored by Perry’s soaring, shimmering 12-string guitar, the music rises and falls with perfect consistency with strange and obtuse sounds blending perfectly into the unique tapestry created by the album.
D.D Dumbo has been an active project for some time now, his first independent release coming in 2013 as a strange example of outsider art and deconstructed pop. He has performed at SXSW, Pitchfork Festival in Paris, and Splendour in the Grass, and supported Tame Impala and Tune Yards, just to name a few. He still performs alone, with a looping pedal, guitar and drums. But when the time came to record the album, he wasn’t sure how to translate this, and so decided to write and record all of the songs with no looping, aside from ‘Walrus’. This freedom he has given himself allows the album to morph into a dream pop masterpiece, and while it is absolutely hypnotic, it is never stagnant or repetitive, which is perhaps its greatest asset. The dissonance between some of the musical ideas incorporated, as well as the generally dark, introspective lyrical subject matter paired with the some of the upbeat music, allows for a truly unique experience.
The distant, delicate fluttering bells side by side with the lo-fi, punchy drums of ‘Brother’ is a bold move, but one that feels entirely natural. When you really tune in and listen to the variance of parts and instruments at any given moment in a song, the result is quite alarming. There are so many small ideas, little tweaks and creative quirks throughout the release and with each rotation, more and more of these surprising elements reveal themselves to the listener. A master of his vast pedal board, Perry manages to make guitar parts sound like synth quite regularly throughout and is particularly engaging on ‘The Day I First Found God’. Although the album’s highest moments come in the shape of the more pop-oriented, funky tracks like ‘Cortisol’ and ‘Walrus’, the balladry and folk of tracks like ‘In The Water’ is still remarkable.
Utopia Defeated was recorded over a three month period at label 4AD‘s in-house studios underneath their London office with Perry working with engineer/producer Fabian Prynn. Together on Utopia Defeated, the two crafted a dynamic, bright, bold and subversive release peppered with a sense of familiarity, yet oozes individuality. Perry has said that in a way the album was like a new project altogether, because of the vastly different way he crafted the music. Few artists could pull off some of the risks taken by D.D Dumbo on this album; things like the apocalyptic lyrics of ‘Satan’ which paint a bleak portrait of humanity framed within a pop anthem.
The work is both relatable and recognisable, but by the same token it is starkly original, and bursting with vibrancy, and fresh energy. Perhaps it is the vocal gymnastics and playful while heart-wrenching vocals reminiscent of Of Montreal, or maybe it’s the vast shimmering soundscapes and raw, articulate beauty – but there is certainly something that pins Utopia Defeated down as a source of limitless joy.
Utopia Defeated is out Friday October 7 via 4AD/Liberation