Despite how much blog buzz has been circulating around Dumbo Gets Mad’s music, good luck finding out who he actually is. The humble fruits of my extensive research are as follows: 1) Dumbo Gets Mad is an Italian man with access to a recording studio, 2) he has a girlfriend who sings on Elephants at the Door when she feels like it, and 3) he likes Captain Beefheart. Beyond that, there are only pictures of the man in terrible vintage clothing wearing a mischievous smile and showing off a great mustache. This international man of mystery branded his leftfield studio creations after the acid-trip sequence from Disney’s Dumbo, and the name would be awkward if he didn’t have the playful glee to pull it off.
Dumbo Gets Mad’s debut album, Elephants at the Door, was cooked up in the same kind of kitchen that brought us Super Furry Animals’s deliciously strange Rings Around the World and the Flaming Lips’s interstellar classic Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, championing the same psychedelic gumbo of fringe vibrations and weirdo shout-outs those two records pulled off brilliantly. Elephants at the Door is a quintessential outsider record, serving you trash and eloquence in equal doses, including but not limited to an elevator-smooth sax line that slithers out during the opening bars of “Plumy Tales,” which received a rapturous reception in the blogosphere last year. Dumbo Gets Mad happily wears the influence of ‘60s schlock on his sleeve, and he’s got the artistry to extract precisely what makes those records guilty pleasures, whip them together with his own forward-thinking musicianship, and come out looking like a prodigy. Elephants at the Door is an egalitarian affair on all fronts, from Dumbo Gets Mad’s marrying of the low-budget, surreal garage style of Lenny Kaye’s classic Nuggets compilation with the smooth, bizarre-pop confectionary heard most famously on Todd Rundgren’s similar one-man show Something/Anything?, to his mining of early Zappa for freak-out swag while also repping hip-hop snare cracks with equal respect, all the way to his decision to give the album away with a “Pay with a Tweet or Facebook Post” business scheme.
All of Dumbo Gets Mad’s influences are presented in sample sizes, and when aliens touch down in “Sleeping Over,” twittering to us in indecipherable chipmunk pitches over a sleazy Funkadelic bassline, it doesn’t sound like a joke. Instead, his eccentricities make Elephants at the Door more refreshingly unique than a lot of the indie pop currently saturating the market. Furthermore, when we hear the sound of elephants stomping on those aliens at the one-and-a-half-minute mark, roaring for a thrilling and staggering half second, Elephants at the Door officially announces itself as a fascinating and compelling rock record. “Plumy Tales” deserves the attention it’s received, shifting from chunky guitar pop to grand harmonized choruses with ease, while tracks like “Harmony” and “Why Try?” carve out the album’s true identity as a twisted, groovy pastiche of one man’s expansive musical vocabulary. It’s a hypnotic, opulently textured, and wonderfully addictive album.
Like Rundgren, Dumbo Gets Mad’s got octopus arms in the studio—the quirky audacity to use anything and everything at his immediate disposal without prejudice. We’re talking cowbells, synthesizers, tape machines, bubble generators; you name it, it’s here. And somehow, it all works. Prime example is “Electric Prawn,” which has a Cocteau Twins-esque chanteuse singing over a reggae guitar lick that echoes classic Studio One singles, a mash-up even the Hood Internet would never attempt, but somehow it works seamlessly.
On paper, all of this shouldn’t work as cohesively as it does. Ambitious musicians can lose themselves trying to navigate such a big vision (Smile, anyone?), but Elephants at the Door is an inspiring victory of DIY determination. It may peter out a little bit in its last third, missing some of the boldness that made the album’s hugely impressive first half hour so great, but the high is never completely lost. Whoever Dumbo Gets Mad is, he’s got one hell of an ear, and judging by what he’s delivered here, his record collection has to be a certified riot to thumb through.