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YaHoWha 13 - Magnificence in the Memory

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Artist: YaHoWha 13

Album: Magnificence in the Memory

Label: Drag City

Review date: Jun. 22, 2009

The Source Family, a mid-1970s cult operating mostly out of Los Angeles, followed a fairly standard menu of new age precepts – vegetarianism, meditation, anti-materialism and free love. Led by the charismatic James Baker, a World War II hero turned Vedantic monk, the cult lived communally near the restaurant its members operated. Their daily regimen included a three-hour meditation from 3 a.m. to 6 a.m., after which Baker (by then known as Father Yod) would often ask Djin Aquarian, Octavious Aquarian and Sunflower Aquarian to play music. (Sky Saxon of the Seeds was a member of the extended Source family, and sometimes dropped in to play, as well.) Always improvised, heavily reliant on effects and weirdly mesmerically spiritual, these sessions were often recorded. The family released nine albums of this material during their heyday, yet much remained. By one count, there was enough music for 65 additional full-lengths, produced from 1973 to 1975 alone. Magnificence in the Memory, curated by Dave Nuss of the No Neck Blues Band, is drawn from this previously unreleased trove.

The music is loosely structured, with the three players locked in repetitive guitar/bass/drum grooves, as Father Yod whispers, intones and croons over them. All the freedom (and most of the freakiness) is reserved for the cult leader, whose high, swaying tenor carves an arc through murky, ethno-influenced blues vamps. It’s a creepy vibe, tasting faintly of grape Kool-Aid, as Father Yod chants beliefs like, “Be what you want to be / There is nothing you can’t do / There is nowhere you can go / Where you are away from me,” (from “Camp of the Gypsies”) or “The woman is the most prized possession of all” (from “The Most Prized Possession”). The music that surrounds these observations is slow, surging, vaguely defined and disorienting, with oriental drum beats and pinging, sitar-influenced runs of guitar. You can see how the combination of sleep deprivation, scanty diet, relentless proselytizing and dizzying grooves would get the point across.

Musically, the material ranges from Hendrix-influenced, effects-pedal blues to pounding, percussive Hindi chants. A sudden burst of rock in the latter part of “Camp of the Gypsies” sounds a lot like Michael Yonkers’ home-altered guitar rock, while skank-beated “Treat You So Right” has a Beefheart bluesiness. The songs tend to rock a little harder than you expect, given the peace and love vibe, and there’s a spooky, unsettling edge to them. “Sunshine” turns the cheerful familiarity of whistling into something skewed and disturbing – and it happens again in “Father Whistling.”

Moreover, there’s nothing disembodied or unworldly about these tunes. In fact, these frictive beats seem more about sex than spiritual enlightenment. Percussion rises in long crescendos in the visceral “Fertility Dance,” meshing with Eastern guitars in a gradual accelerating frenzy. The piece comes to a head about four minutes into its six-minute duration, the drums splattering then dissolving into cymbal rolls. And then we pick up again, a tremolo’d pulse of guitar pushing forward, the beat quickening, and then falling apart again. You get the sense of bursts of sexual energy, not always synchronized, not even necessarily aware of the other players, yet relentlessly driven on.

The music is fairly intriguing, but personally, I had a hard time separating it from the cult itself, whose own timeline shows a fairly sordid string of events – moving to Hawaii to avoid putting the children in public schools, dodging police inquiries into minor members, Father Yod begetting three children by three different women etc. Though undeniably attractive on some level, this was not a healthy, self-directed lifestyle he was pushing – and like most cults, it seems to carve greater freedom for its male members out of the exploitation of its women. Seen in this light, the music seems less of a genuine spiritual outpouring and more of a con game. Peace and love, sure, but mostly for Father Yod.

By Jennifer Kelly

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