In 2013, Castlemaine resident Oliver Hugh Perry adopted the moniker of D.D. Dumbo and produced an EP: Tropical Oceans. The four-track collection was something of a haunted take on pop, laced with blues and distinctively lo-fi. Since then he’s toured with everyone from Tune-Yards and St Vincent to Iron & Wine and Warpaint. The sheer range of artists Perry ended up supporting was testament to the diversity of his vision, never quite snugly fitting into one single category.
There’s been little in the way of recorded music from Perry since but now, three years down the line, his much-anticipated debut record Utopia Defeated has finally arrived. Just as with Tropical Oceans, it’s been written, recorded and performed almost solely by Perry, and it doesn’t take long before the album’s intriguingly intricate and sometimes off-the-wall palette comes into view. Comparisons to the likes of Beck are quite easy (the out-of-nowhere, almost Led Zeppelin breakdown on ‘Walrus’ and the mash up of funk and hip hop beats on ‘Cortisol’ are particularly reminiscent of Odelay), but while D.D. Dumbo is playful (as his lively pseudonym suggests), Utopia Defeated perhaps unsurprisingly isn’t all sunshine and rainbows.
That’s not to say that it doesn’t attempt to evoke the image of some kind of paradise. The sounds of Japanese flute and strings on the bombastic ‘Brother,’ Middle-Eastern vibes of ‘Alihukwe,’ burst of pan pipes on ‘Cortisol’ and the Indian raga-like opening to ‘In the Water’ hint at a unified world with no boundaries – certainly an admirable concept in today’s fractured world. But more often than not, there’s a strange sense of lingering doom surrounding the album. On its most conventionally “pop” moment, the spellbinding ‘Satan,’ the repetitive rhythms are accompanied by the occasional slightly atonal synth and there’s a number of sudden elongated screams that are altogether haunting. But then, what would you expect from a tale of a Satan worshipper? Compared to this, ‘The Day I First Found God’ should be a nice change of pace, but is instead surprisingly downbeat and contemplative. There doesn’t feel like there’s any redemption here. Perry takes a stab at something between R&B and funk on ‘King Franco Picasso.’ Instead he ends up with something oddly familiar but abstract, much like a Cubist painting. It’s an oddly stilted, even tonally confused mash of overly peppy vocals in the chorus and creeping brass in the verses.
This sense of dread is only exacerbated by Perry’s uninhibited vocal style. There are some occasions on the record where he’ll let out an almost agonising howl, evoking the spirit of Jeff Buckley. Yet sometimes he becomes even more feral. Over ‘King Franco Picasso’ he’s occasionally on the verge of tumbling into vocal chaos, while on closer ‘Oyster’ he seems to lose control completely. Towards its climax, his soaring vocals descend into madness, devolving into a guttural screech of the throat over the line “your money drips in blood.” It’s a moment that’s both unexpected and adds extra venom to the song’s sentiment.
There’s nothing quite as terrifying elsewhere, which is a bit of a shame. The Americana-influenced ‘Toxic City’ is a little plodding, while ‘In the Water’ is, believe it or not, reminiscent of the folk-rock of Mumford & Sons. But perhaps Utopia Defeated’s own title was a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy. It’s not entirely the glimmering paradise you’re hoping for all the way through but, for the most part, it’s a fertile land of ideas that feels like the perfect soundtrack to the post-apocalypse.