The most interesting thing about Father Yod and the Source Family is really the story behind the band. Back in the ’60s, there was a dude named James Edward Baker. He was stuntman, until he wasn’t. He left that work because he felt some higher calling, so he moved to the Hollywood Hills, started a successful vegetarian restaurant (The Source, fittingly) and ran a spiritual commune in which he had something like 13 wives and a whole bunch of children.
Father Yod, who also went by YaHoWha, recorded albums with his followers that they would sell for ten bucks a pop at their restaurant. These recordings were made in limited presses and, since Yod’s passing — via a hang-gliding accident, no kidding — those records have been extremely rare and sought out by many a musician and obscure music collector. So, as they’ve taken to doing with other forgotten recordings, Drag City, has been trucking out reissues of many recordings by Father Yod and his followers. The latest, and most expansive, is The Thought Adjusters.
It’s also, however, the least effective. For all the wandering psychedelia of 2009’s Magnificence in the Memory, there is at least some sense of order on that record. The Thought Adjusters is a nearly 80-minute collection of extended, improvised jams over which Father Yod offers his wandering, mystical, of often impossible to follow teachings. The players behind him — who have names like Octavius, Rhythm, and Sunflower — can actually bring some chops from time to time. “The Goddess Earth (All My Sons are Jesus)” is actually a watery, swampy rock tune, with thumping drums and sweet riffs throughout. The organs and guitars and bass work together well to craft a tight sound, even if you have to sift through Father Yod’s words about his sons, and how “they’ve balanced love and wisdom, and mercury falls. Mercury tunes in E.” To hear his speeches is like listening to a stranger tell you about their dream. It doesn’t make sense, and you don’t really care.
These few moments of genuinely solid music — “Spin Around Part One” has is own angular funk sound — are drowned out by the 20-minute “Sleepy Heads” which unravels into formless guitar phrasings and flute wailing as the players lose the thread and follow Father Yod into his free-associative wanderings. “Osiris/Iris” is a downright unlistenable mess, and the poor recording quality, which is sometimes a charm here, makes the bass fuzzy and muddles everything together into a crowded slop of sound. “Spin Around Part Two” should be a triumphant close, but though it builds to a speed the rest of the record lacks, it also falls apart. Guitar solos tangle together, organs skronk out in shapeless noise, the drums clatter, and all of a sudden you, the listener, is excluded.
Whatever happening this is, you’re not invited. If there’s one thing all this insular noise lets you know, pretty quickly, it’s that this isn’t your trip. For all the inclusive spirituality of Father Yod, these recordings don’t have any room for anyone but the players. In the end, The Thought Adjusters doesn’t adjust our view of this obscure music so much as it reminds us of one thing we shouldn’t forget about obscurity. Sometimes things are rare, sometimes they fade out, for a reason. As noble as Drag City’s vault digging has been and will continue to be, not everything dug up gets to be a gem, this one included.