There is the power of the Tarot, and there is the power of Tarot: recently reissued on CD by the French label Sparax, Walter Wegmüller's 1973 double-LP is the type of recording that seems to grow in influence with each passing year. Locally, Tarot's enthusiasts include Wooden Shjips, who Twitter-testified to its majesty earlier this year. "It is a true album, best experienced as a whole," enthuses singer-guitarist Ripley Johnson. "One of the amazing things about it is its breadth: of styles, of textures, of instrumentation. Yet it still manages to just sound like Tarot. I credit Dieter Dierks' production. There's a haze over the entire album that gives it an unlikely cohesiveness. It took me a while to even notice the 'songs,' though it shifts seamlessly between rockers and drones, folk and almost-cheesy piano pieces. There's a distance to the sound that tempers everything, and gives it an unusual balance."
While the album is credited to him, the Swiss Wegmüller isn't a musician so much as a painter and creator of Tarot decks who guided an all-star cast of instrumentalists in a musical interpretation of the subject. "Tarot and music are as connected as a musician with deep knowledge of the cards wants them to be," says Jessica Lanyadoo, a Tarot-based intuitive counselor and author of the Guardian's Psychic Dream astrology column. "Matter is vibration solidified, and spiritual content can be translated into sounds or music as much as words or even things. Style and execution are in the hands of the artist, of course, but there is tempo in each and every of the Tarot cards, as well as pitch. The disks/pentacles are deep and rich sounds while the swords are more reedy/tinny. The wands/staves move fast, while the cups flow."
The cups flow indeed on Tarot, though without doubt, the album's revitalized reputation can be credited to Julian Cope, the musician-author whose 1995 book Krautrocksampler declares, "BUY THIS ALBUM. IT IS THE SOUND OF THE COSMOS." Because the Spalax double-CD only includes extremely small images of the 21 cut-out Tarot cards packaged with Wegmüler's original LP version, Johnson of the Wooden Shjips isn't alone in hoping for a vinyl reissue.
"I consider the album part of the 'guru trilogy,' along with Sergius Golowin's Lord Krishna von Goloka (Kosmische Kuriere, 1973) and Timothy Leary and Ash Ra Tempel's Seven Up (Purple Pyramid, 1972)," Johnson says. "These were all supposedly the brainchild of Ohr Records' Rolf-Ulrich Kaiser, and all recorded by Dierks. I'm a huge Ash Ra Tempel and Klaus Schulze fan, so I love the trilogy as well as the Cosmic Jokers' records. The idea that a record executive would put together musicians of this caliber, purportedly bathe everyone in acid, then let them loose in a quality recording studio, is beyond imagination these days. That they pulled out so many great albums from it is even more amazing."
Do Wooden Shjips approve of such practices? "I guess you could say we don't disapprove, " Johnson says, capping his answer with a hint. "It enhances my appreciation for the engineering job done on Tarot and all of those records."
WOODEN SHJIPS With Masami Kawaguchi's New Rock Syndicate, Eternal Tapestry. Fri/15, 8 p.m., $6. Thee Parkside, 1600 17th St., SF. (415) 252-1330. www.theeparkside.com