A couple of years ago Domino Records reissued five glorious double-disc treatments of The Triffids’ obscure oeuvre, little known jewels from the one band every Australian post-punk music fan has heard of, and most haven’t heard. Till then, it was hard to procure the less than a half dozen albums and smattering of EPs the group had painfully crafted for their similarly literate and pub-loving fans. Even Born Sandy Devotional, their most cohesive full-length and the one that gets slid in lists with monumental guitar-driven 80s rock as much as Crazy Rhythms, Porcupine, or Let It Be, languished in unlicensed limbo seemingly forever.
Such was the luck or theodicy-thwarted fate of Dave McComb, astonishing lyricist for and leader of the underground-endeared band, who passed away just over 35 in 1999, after using up two hearts, one given and one planted into him. McComb’s voice reminds one of Ian McCulloch, with that handsome wavering tone of eternal Donnie Darko nocturnal rock. McComb often credited countryman Nick Cave and his Bad Seeds for inspiration into Scripture and sad blues songs as well as punk rock squall and drunken chaos, but besides heavy use of bass guitar, the mystery vibes of pre-Goth dance-driven Brit rock infuse immortal pleasures like “Jesus Calling,” “Property Is Condemned,” and “Bottle Of Love.” If you dig your early alternative rock-era grooves moody and roots-mighty, lyrically mysterious but melodically twangy, The Triffids are the brother you never had.
Edited by Chris Coughran and Niall Lucy, the elegantly designed and printed Vagabond Holes is a near 400 page Bible of all things Triffids, touching on McComb’s troubled youth and religious rebellion, and the relationships with the rest of his inspired band-mates. It does not claim to be a coherent narrative, but features awestruck and acerbic gospels from friends and fans Martyn P. Casey, Robert Forster, Steve Kilbey, Mick Harvey, Cave himself, and Pink Flag 33 1/3 author Wilson Neate. Among many others. It is exactly the type of book you would want produced on all your other beloved smart yet soulful guy and gal favorites, from Magnetic Fields to Neko Case.
Along with the gorgeously illustrated and fannish history Freemantle is putting out a generous volume of McComb’s poetry, Beautiful Waste, by the same editors, with an extraordinary introduction by academic John Kinsella. Since discovering the Domino re-releases, McComb has become one of my very favorite lyricists in rock music, but I didn’t expect him to be branded on my heart as one of my favorite poets too. McComb is a lot smarter than your usual pop music wordsmith, but don’t let his multi-layered expositions keep you from trying to get into his worldview. The poetry book might be a great introduction to the man’s intricate observations and wordplay before you even investigate his biography. But don’t put off purchasing Vagabond Holes or the CDs for long, as a densely-designed world of miraculously made underground music awaits you.