Even with no real prior knowledge of a band’s output, you can usually make a kind of educated guess about what to expect. From a band’s legacy, to the kinds of people who still talk about them, to bands seen as their influences, contemporaries and descendants, to the era of their active years. Not only did I have none of that to form an expectation of with The Triffids and Born Sandy Devotional, but even after hearing opening track The Seabirds, I’m still not sure what I’m in for.
Because, I can’t really describe or quantify Seabirds. I guess you can hear its 80s vintage through the instruments and technology on display, but the way they use those instruments and technology is like no other mid 80s band I’ve heard before.
My picture of the band starts to get a little clearer with Estuary Bed. I’d never call David McComb’s vocals monotone or limited. His melodies dance along easily enough, but there’s a literary feel to them that almost feels like he’s reading passages from a poem, and finding ways to make them match the music on the fly. That doesn’t mean they sound thrown together or like an afterthought. It means he writes lyrics in way that even if they were read, they would still sound inherently musical.
On Chicken Killer, The Triffids transform into a proper rock band. Pounding drums, a groove that won’t quit, wailing organ, backup singers and all. Which makes the weird, eerie, nightmarish lullaby of Tarrilup Bridge stand out even more. And not in a good way. But it does bridge the gap perfectly to the not quite so eerie, nightmarish sound of Lonely Stretch.
Hearing Wide Open Road, I have to wonder if this song is the reason why I even know the name The Triffids. Because this is a song I’ve definitely heard plenty of times before, but never been aware of who sang it. It’s almost droning, definitely ominous and in a way I can’t describe, is the perfect sonic representation of its title. Before rolling into Life of Crime, which keeps the 80s, yet unique sound, that this album has created so effectively before this point, but adds an almost blues edge. While Personal Crimes sounds like it came straight of a Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds album, just with a different singer.
I’m not sure I have any better of an idea about who The Triffids were and what kind of music they made after listening to this record. Born Sandy Devotional is a difficult album and a difficult sound to pin down. It’s most definitely the 80s, but it’s a version of the 80s I’ve never heard before. And that’s what I liked most about an album that has a lot to like.