Although D.D Dumbo (a.k.a. Oliver Hugh Perry) frequently invokes the ocean across his music, you won’t find any of the romantic gentle-waves-and-walks-on-the-beach imagery that has come to define ocean-themed music here. On Utopia Defeated, Perry’s ode is to the dark, soupy, depths of the unknown.
The album opens with “Walrus,” an arresting and idiosyncratic song that requires repeat listens to unpack its densely layered instrumentation and unsettling lyrics about blood and salty ice. The album’s third track, “In The Water,” adopts the perspective of a dying plankton-feeder, with Perry singing softly over the fraying ends of strummed guitar. Meanwhile, on “Oyster,” the album’s most overtly political song, the earth is compared to a shellfish:”The world is our oyster, and it rests in your hands / but the oyster is dying.”
In many ways, this feels like a deeply anti-anthropocentric album. Of course, metaphors abound – does the ocean stand for life’s unknowns? is it an environmental commentary? (probably) –but taken at face value, the songs tell a beautiful story all their own. This music is not about any human experience of the ocean – it’s not about the ocean at all; this music is the ocean. The lyrics lurk in a lush, vibrant darkness, as if written underwater by some ancient sightless creature. There’s something primordial, even savage, about the melodies and they speak of a world whose rules we’ll never understand.
Perry employs a truly dizzying array of instruments, genres, and textures in shaping this world, almost too many to keep up with or even identify – sitar? clarinet? pan pipes? trumpet? was that a fucking autoharp?
Considering the sheer number of influences packed into the album, perhaps Utopia Defeated’s most impressive achievement is its cohesiveness. “Alihukwe,” a boisterous song that would feel at home in the deserts of North Africa, should easily be the album’s outlier. But Perry manages to nestle the improbable tune between a jumpy meditation on cortisol and the growling “King Franco Picasso” in a way that feels both surprising and totally natural.
My favorite part of this album is maybe its most simple: the autoharp. It’s an instrument you might remember from your second grade classroom and it’s a rather unusual find in music that is not the Juno soundtrack, but it grounds an album that could easily become challengingly raw back to a place of tenderness and compassion. The autoharp can be heard peeking shyly around the edges of many songs on Utopia Defeated, but on “Oyster” it takes center stage in a whimsical and nostalgic tune that perfectly closes out the album.
This is the first full length album from Australian multi-instrumentalist / producer D.D Dumbo and it bodes exceedingly well for the talented musician. Utopia Defeated is stunningly unexpected, thoughtful, and quite possibly the least categorizable thing you’ll hear this year.