The video for “Tropical Oceans” by D.D Dumbo begins with a shot of an empty conference table where a single chair lies on the ground. It’s a simple, recognizable scene, but you can tell that something isn't quite right. That’s how it is with Dumbo’s entire Tropical Oceans EP — there’s a familiarity to it, but it’s filled with peculiarities that reveal themselves and draw you in deeper.
Dumbo found one of the key components of his sound unintentionally. The Australian musician, born Oliver Hugh Perry, was looking for a bouzouki, a traditional Greek instrument that he’d heard and whose sound he dug. When he couldn’t find one, he instead chose a 12-string electric guitar. It has a similarly metallic tone as the bouzouki, but Dumbo pushes up the fuzz and uses his instrument to give the songs their meditative but unsettled feel.
In his compositions, the 12-string is anchored by a selection of loops that Dumbo triggers with foot pedals. “I try to keep [the loops] as minimal as possible,” he says. “I think of it as a rhythm section to play the blues, in a way. It limits it, which helps me not overplay.”
Dumbo started using loops when he was in the Melbourne band Smurfinger (“Another regrettable name,” he says), a group with post-punk tendencies. He is a huge fan of sonic frontiersman Captain Beefheart and enjoyed the aggression of his own earlier projects, but knew he couldn’t keep that mindset going as he got older. He wanted to get back into something with melody. “I realized I liked nice sounding things too,” he says.
The music drew the attention of 4AD, the British indie label that’s been continuously vital since the start of the 1980s. It also got Dumbo spots opening European dates for the band Jungle, and the similarly minded traveler Tune-Yards. He recently finished a short tour of the United States that included a performance in The Penthouse of The Standard, East Village as part of Annie O's music series - Dumbo's hypnotic, wordly sounds, set against the NYC backdrop made for a magical evening.
There is a definite pop sensibility to what Dumbo does and his cover of the Roy Orbison touchstone “Crying” is suitably tender, but many have been quick to point out the influences of non-Western music on his work. African music is frequently mentioned, but Dumbo downplays its impact, though he admits that some of it has seeped in through the bits that he’s listened to. “I’d love to be a scholar in [African music], but I don’t have the brain capacity for it,” he says. “Maybe it’s not that much of an influence, maybe I just like it.”