Aussie Rolling Stone mag 50 Greatest Australian Artists of All Time #43: The Triffids

by Alex Cameron of Bad//Dreems:

They formed in Perth around David McComb, the child of a plastic surgeon father and a clinical geneticist. He was joined by schoolmate Alsy MacDonald (drums) and later McComb’s brother Robert (guitar and violin) and Martyn P Casey (bass). Jill Birt (keyboards, vocals) joined before Treeless Plain, and ‘Evil’ Graham Lee (pedal steel) before Born Sandy DevotionaI. Like many of their Australian contemporaries (The Saints, The Birthday Party, The Go-Betweens) they were embraced by UK press and audiences before their homeland and never achieved commercial success commensurate with critical acclaim.

They were a band that grew out of the post-punk movement, but realised earlier on that “ripping it up and starting again” could apply to more idioms than just guitar-driven rock‘n’roll. And this deconstructionist approach was tempered by an abiding respect for songcraft; McComb was as much a student of Dylan and Cohen as he was of any punk or post-punk iconoclasts.

It is this kind of tension (post-punks vs classicists; rockers vs balladeers; underground cult act vs festival headliners) that goes part of the way to encapsulating the enigmatic brilliance of the band.

McComb was a brilliant writer and a darkly charismatic front man, almost like the bastard child of Nick Cave and Michael Hutchence. He was at once the thundering gothic bush preacher of “Field of Glass” or “Life of Crime”; the pop balladeer of “Beautiful Waste” or “Bury Me Deep in Love”; or, the broken mystic of “Stolen Property” or “Wide Open Road”.

His songs were deeply rooted in Australian iconography, while avoiding cliché or prosaicism. The vast emptiness of our highways and deserts was an escape from the mundanity of the Perth of his childhood, but his visions of these were always underpinned by darkness, pining and loss. Sin and redemption were never far from the surface. Old testament fire and brimstone co-exist with sentiments of remarkable tenderness, often in the same song (“Stolen Property”).

McComb’s writing aside, the Triffids’ brilliance ultimately came from a collision of their members’ individual voices. MacDonald and Martyn P Casey were an incredibly musical rhythm section, often foregoing traditional grooves in favour of space and melody. Graham Lee and Jill Birt’s playing created incredibly evocative and sensitive accompaniments, in which melodies are passed and intertwined from player to player.

For me, this reaches its zenith on Born Sandy Devotional – as close to a perfect album as there is. An otherworldly but undeniably Australian document, it’s transportive and transformative. Its essence is elusive – flicking between a shearing shed dance and ethereal majestic panoramas. Something like the fading warmth of the Nullarbor sand just after the sunset or the fine spray of a breaking wave, unsighted and miles from shore.

McComb and the Triffids were a comet that burned bright but brief across the milky way; uniquely imperfect and perfectly timeless. They won’t be repeated.

It’s black & white The Triffids and tiny pic of Bad//Dreems

Outro to my 3rd part of my own edited down version of 50 Greatest Australian Artists of All Time by Rolling Stone Australia rag. When I heard that this rag was doing a top 50 of Aussie acts, I did think The Triffids wouldn’t be included but they’re! Embedding this time all the songs that were name dropped from YouTube. When I first seen this article, I was thinking it was written by the Aussie solo artist Alex Cameron but it’s another person with the very same name, who’s he’s a member of Adelaide band Bad//Dreems. Could be the reason why they got him to write about them is because he sung about putting on The Triffids in one of the songs Bad//Dreems do Cannonball:

Extra bonus special thingy today, digging up a couple of other great but short quotes about them, lifting from somewhere else over here. It’s a couple of my more fave Aussie singer-songwriters talking about couple of tracks from The Triffids’ Born Sandy Devotional album:

Ben Salter of The Gin Club and solo artist on The Seabirds:
“David McComb’s tempestuous holler kicks in immediately: ‘No foreign pair of dark sunglasses will ever shield you from the light that pierces your eyelids, the screaming of the gulls …’

“That thousand-yard stare sensibility, that Australian feeling which permeates the entire album, is firmly established. There’s a devastating electric guitar refrain which finally flattens out to one plaintive, repeated note, and the song ends with McComb’s anguished cry: ‘So where were you / where were you / where were you?’”

As far as I know Ben hasn’t done a cover of The Seabirds but he’s done an acoustic Suntrapper from the In The Pines album:

Gareth Liddiard of The Drones, Tropical Fuck Strom and solo artist on Stolen Property:
“I sang this song for the Triffids gig [at the Perth International Arts Festival on 15 February, 2016]. It’s quite similar to what we would do because it runs on about three chords and then gets really abstract at the end.

“There’s a shift halfway through that always sends chills down my spine, where Dave sings, ‘Maybe lost possessions, maybe stolen property.’ It’s Dave losing someone, but regaining himself – like he’s had to steal himself off someone. He’s not lashing out aggressively, but he’s taking a stand – he’s sort of telling this person off, saying, ‘You know what – you’re fucked!’”

Gaz also did Lonely Stretch that night too so here’s that live cover and the original too:

BTW No disrespect intended to fans of the following bands but I’m just re-posting the acts I totally love whole-hearted, OK? So who missed out was #46 Little River Band but here’s Curiosity Killed The Cat:

#45 The Angels with Am I Ever Gonna See Your Face Again? (No Way, Get Fucked, Fuck Off):

And just missing out on a whole re-post was #44 Radio Birdman but New Race to end today with:

Cheers! 🙂

3 Comments

    1. oh well, i have bang on about this band before so you might have listen on one of my older posts about them, maybe but not really who you’ve been listening too or whatever? sometimes, i am bad at giving any background but it’s really cool you’ve looked them up this time and yeah, like you’ve seen Dave life was cut short and was very sad, are you going to check out any albums of their album or something?
      Cheers mate 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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