Oliver Perry, a.k.a D.D Dumbo, lives in a small room attached to the side of an old horse stables in rural Victoria, in total vegan heaven – Castlemaine. Recorded in London at 4AD’s studios, thousands of miles from his spartan home studio, Utopia Defeated is his first full-length release, following 2014’s Tropical Oceans EP.
Teased by singles Satan and Walrus, the new LP is a stunningly eclectic, yet somehow familiar body of work that shows off Perry’s skills as a multi-instrumentalist. In just ten tracks he covers a lot of ground, while skilfully maintaining a consistent sound.
D.D Dumbo’s debut Utopia Defeated is both musically tact and nervously unsettling, bringing together eclectic production, lo-fi 12 string guitars and even the drone of an Indian tanpura.
Those who have caught D.D Dumbo in a live context would be familiar with his solo style, playing various instruments through loop pedals on the fly, generating rolling tracks quite literally built from the ground up. In recording Utopia Defeated Perry put the loop pedals aside and instead bunkered down with engineer/producer Fabian Prynn, spending almost three months putting together the record piece-by-intricate-piece from scratch.
Taking his D.D Dumbo project down this route in the recording process has allowed a unique sound that seems to gather pace and energy as the record progresses, yet exhibits detail in its production that wouldn’t be present had this album been made in the style of his live shows. A level of glitch influence lends a complexity to Utopia Defeated that pushes it well beyond a typical folk-pop record.
By embracing his more eclectic production leanings and incorporating new influences, D.D Dumbo has created something decidedly unique, yet wonderfully cohesive. It’s a more mature and complex release, but at times a challenging listen. It certainly feels as though Perry is refusing to be pigeonholed.
Tracks like Walrus and Alihukwe (first released on Tropical Oceans in a much more, understated fashion) stay true to his earlier style, while King Franco Picasso brings in a spooky, stripped back sound with simple drums and eery clarinet that just comes off as mean.
Toxic City brings in a more conventional folk rock sound in the closest incarnation of a love song the album offers before Brother picks the pace back up, throwing together a mish-mash of clunky guitar and horn stabs as if to counterbalance the easier listening of some of the other tracks.
It’s a diversity in Perry’s songwriting and arranging that allows him to sidestep the first impression formed in earlier songs.
Lyrically as well, it’s a more abstract release for Perry. There’s an undeniable affinity for the natural world, the water, the ocean and all that lives in it, a questioning of his place within this world, and a sadness at the treatment of the environment at the hands of humanity.
There are softer ballads, crooning, screaming and wailing, but it feels to be more about the instrumentation on Utopia Defeated; the staccato production, lilting haze of layered instruments, and beats crafted in imitation of his looping live shows. There’s an almost Bon Iver-esque ambience, reminiscent of gone-too-soon Australians The Middle East. Perry’s voice, at times comparable to Boy and Bear’s Dave Hosking, is often reserved yet passionately powerful, demonstrating impressive range.
It makes Oliver Perry’s first full-length tough to pin down, but allows something for everyone if given the chance. Overall, Utopia Defeated certainly presents a sound unique to D.D Dumbo, but within each track there are unsettling contradictions that forces you to pay attention.
At times its jumpiness and punchy stop-starts can be grating, but it comes packaged with a level of musical skill and finesse difficult to find elsewhere. Perry’s nose for the eclectic is much more evident in this release than on Tropical Oceans, and the departure from lo-fi production to something much more clean and polished is a welcome one.
Utopia Defeated is out now.