Saturday, May 1, 2010
Prayers From Father Yod: Ya Ho Wha 13- Penetration: An Aquarian Symphony (1974)
This is one of my favorite albums of all time. Recorded by cult leader Father Yod and the musical arm of his following, the Source Family, it's a powerful treasure of primal, tribal, psychedelic, and ultimately spiritual higher-plane seeking. There are actually a number of LPs by Ya Ho Wha, but perhaps only this one achieves the transcendence its members were attempting to realize. A large part of its success is the uncharacteristic restraint of Father Yod, who, on other recordings, had a tendency to chant and "sing" somewhat non-musically. His vocals can sometimes be thrilling in their batshit insanity, but more often than not, they're just distracting and a little embarrassing.
Yod was a former Marine who started a successful but small utopian cult in California. It financed itself with a popular vegetarian restaurant called The Source. They all lived together communally and "shared" women-- Father Yod himself eventually amassed 13 wives. There were a number of musicians in the family, so they built a studio and began attempting to make music "free of ego" (likely not an easy task when dealing with musicians, no matter how free their minds), overseen by The Father-- who, despite no notable musical ability or training, began to take part in the sessions as shamanistic ritual leader and vocalist.
A number of recordings were made in this style, until the Family relocated to Hawaii, where Yod died in a hang gliding incident. Apparently, he just jumped off a 1300 foot cliff on a hang glider-- which he had not bothered to calibrate to his weight in any way-- and plummeted to the earth. He landed on the beach, and died after a long ritual vigil. There is sort of a Source Family myth that no doctor could determine the cause of death, but... I bet it wasn't too hard.
Anyway, while the whole saga of Father Yod, Ya Ho Wha, and The Source family is fascinating (and you should look it up, there's a lot to read about and it's gripping stuff even if it's contradictory and often inaccurate), you don't really need it to appreciate this unbelievable record. It's not unlike tribal krautrock, some of the more free-form psychedelic albums, or the more recent wave of free-rock or freak-folk or what have you-- but it's set apart from these reference points by a palpable conviction in the spiritual gravity of the whole affair, a true sensation of mysticism in the music.
As I mentioned earlier, Yod acts more as a shaman than a singer on this record, humming, omm-ing, softly wailing, and whistling to great effect. The whistling is especially powerful, believe it or not. The interaction between the musicians of the group is truly great, as well, seeming to spring from a psychic/spiritual connection-- it's also just good cosmic improvisation, very deep and very solid. The star of the show may be the guitarist (cult-named Djin), whose razor-sharp lines cut the atmosphere like a fearsome god's red-hot lightning cock, boiling the clouds and wandering the sky with a watchful eye. This guy make a guitar sound like the expression on a Tibetan demon-sculpture's face.
This is a giant masterpiece. Get on it. (160)