D.D Dumbo – aka 28-year old Oliver Perry – lives in a room attached to an old horse stables on the outskirts of the small city Castlemaine, one and a half hours north of Melbourne. “The building is owned by a couple who keep their garden tools in it,” says Perry. “But there’s one room that’s insulated and semi-functional.” The space also doubles as Perry’s studio. “There’s definitely some hermit vibes,” he says of the solitary set-up.
That D.D Dumbo’s fantastical debut album, Utopia Defeated, can be traced to a single, spartan room, seems especially perverse. Across ten songs, Utopia Defeated conjures a vivid, wide-eyed musical landscape teeming with nervous energy and exotic evocations of the world at large. Backed by skittering percussion, the signature elastic bounce of Perry’s 12-string guitar, and a fanciful quiver of obtuse sounds, Utopia Defeated hinges on Perry’s expressive voice, and the dissonance of an artist compelled to question his position in the natural world.
The resulting sonic universe is a collision of blues licks, echoes of world music, strident ‘80s pop, the kinetic energy of dance music, and splashes of outsider art akin to Captain Beefheart, one of D.D Dumbo’s touchstones.
D.D. Dumbo’s output stretches back to 2013, when he released his self-recorded debut EP, Tropical Oceans. Led by the spooky strut of the title-track, the lo-fi four song-set of blues-laced, deconstructed pop, announced Perry as an exciting newcomer fluent in a language all his own.
People took notice. Performing solo with a 12-string electric guitar, two drums and a bunch of effect pedals, D.D Dumbo made an impression at the 2013 SXSW Music conference. In the following 12 months he was invited to support the likes of Warpaint, Tune-Yards, St Vincent, Jungle, Iron & Wine, and do live sessions for NPR, Daytrotter and BBC Radio 1.
Soon after D.D Dumbo signed to 4AD, and in 2014 he toured the UK for the first time, supporting both Daughter and Tame Impala. He played Splendour in the Grass in Australia, and returned to Europe for a handful of dates (including a slot at Pitchfork Paris), as well as a debut tour of the US.
Despite the ever-increasing stages, Perry plays as a one-man-band, expertly building his hypnotic tracks with loops created on the fly. His gift for it makes each D.D Dumbo show special, but it also meant when time came to record his debut album, Perry didn’t quite know how to capture it. Working with engineer/producer Fabian Prynn, the musician bunkered down in 4AD’s in-house studios underneath the label’s London office, and spent “two to three months” crafting Utopia Defeated pieceby-piece from scratch. “There was no loop-pedalling on the album at all,” says Perry. “It became a new project in a way.”
This kind of self-regeneration seems apt – Utopia Defeated teems with instances of organic life. Loping opener ‘Walrus’ – a natural descendant of ‘Tropical Oceans’ – references blood, salt, ice, bugs, and the cyclical nature of life and death; chugging lead-single ‘Satan’ blooms from the lone drone of an Indian tanpura to a stadium-sized pop anthem regarding the future of humanity; the shimmering acoustic doze of ‘In The Water’ paints a dreamlike portrait of a deep sea creature saying goodbye to life from under the surface. ‘Toxic City’ has Perry swimming above screaming bivalves (aka molluscs) before the sun rises, the track’s woodwinds and gentle drums rising and falling with the song’s tide.
The strikingly unplaceable nature of Utopia Defeated is the sound of Perry wrestling to make the intangible, tangible. It’s illustrative of the doublethink Perry needs to create D.D. Dumbo – long hours of meticulous work, to make some of the most singularly unique, playful, and seductive pop music of recent times.