The reason I chose to do a Popdose guide to Buckethead is simple. If you’re a rock fan you know that Buckethead is an insane guitarist (playing and quite possibly in the head) but so outrageously weird that it’s hard to know where to begin if you want to try to get into him. There are many pieces of unlistenable experimental garbage, but underneath the white mask and the KFC bucket is a man with talent and for an artist like him I think most people almost need a guide to help them through it. I wish I had had one myself.
We normally do these things in chronological order and that will happen here, but broken down a little differently. It seemed to make more sense to me to focus on his projects as a whole rather than piecemeal them through numerous posts. So we’ll look at the albums attributed to him as a “solo” artist and then follow that up with the numerous groups and collaborations he’s been in.
So without further ado, here’s part 1 of the Buckethead “solo” discography.
Normally young artists grow into their experimental side. Not Buckethead. Right from the start with his first solo record – Bucketheadland – he goes for the odd concept of creating an “abusement” park called “Bucketheadland”. The album is sort of a soundtrack to the park, broken up into distinct sections, like the Theme to the park, the Slaughter Zone and the Home Run Derby.
The album mixes techno, free-form jazz, avant garde, metal, a bunch of toys and quotes from the Japanese TV show, Giant Robot. Oh, and Buckethead really loves his parents as well.
It’s fairly odd and doesn’t even remotely help you picture what this park might be like in the end, nor does it show off his guitar skills very well. Buckethead played everything himself on this one, which was only released in Japan. It was however, produced by Bootsy Collins which might seem like an odd pairing at first, but Bootsy can be just as unusual – but maybe a little more musical.
Rating: 1 original recipe drumstick
Giant Robot (1994)
Not to be confused with the upcoming self-titled debut from Giant Robot featuring yes, Buckethead – this is his second solo record with a similar concept as Bucketheadland, including some parts remade and seemingly lifted right from that first solo record.
The “Park Theme” from the first album is remade here into a song that still is symbolic with Buckethead’s music today, “Welcome to Bucketheadland”. And “I Love My Parents” shows up a second time in a longer but still unlistenable version.
The record is listed with Buckethead and Bill Laswell being the performers but there are many guest stars including Iggy Pop doing the narration on “Buckethead’s Toy Store”, Bootsy showing up on a few tracks, Sly Dunbar drumming on one and frequent collaborator Pinchface drumming on a few. It’s got a lot of traditional rock and metal riffage in it, which makes it very listenable but as with Bucketheadland I’m lost on the theme. There’s still this loose concept of an “abusement park” and then there’s the whole giant robot attacking Japan thing and I get all that, but it doesn’t translate into the music. And as weird as you know Buckethead is, I know a lot of this is supposed to be kind of humorous and well, it misses its mark there. “Want Some Slaw?” is a pretty damn fine track musically, but if I’m supposed to laugh at people asking Buckethead if he wants some slaw, then I’m totally a stick in the mud.
But really, I’m picking too much because I don’t know if any Buckethead album is perfect and the funky as hell “Aquabot” makes up for the flaws.
Rating: A bucket of extra crispy if the cashier will ever stop talking about his ex-girlfriend long enough to give it to you.
The Day of the Robot (1996)
Considered a full length album due to the 42 minute length, this 5-track disc is worth a listen for one track and one track only – the 13 minute opener “Destroyer: Speed Flux Quadrant / Inclusion / Exhaust Release”. Buckethead puts forth some heavy-riffage in this track, and mixes in some quieter parts in what really becomes a three part suite.
“Flying Guillotine” has some neat quick bursts of Buckethead’s guitar work, but past that this is really more of an album showcasing the drum and bass techniques of the DJ he used on this one – DJ Ninj. Buckethead is barely present on the third track “Quantum Crash” which is pretty cheesy and unlistenable and mostly just the work of the DJ. Actually, the same can be said about the final two tracks as well.
Rating: Small diet Coke.
Colma is Buckethead’s first really mellow record. It’s considered an acoustic album though many parts are done through an electric guitar. It’s got some really great moments like the lead track, “Whitewash” and the almost funky “Machete” but in the end you kind of get lost in it. The sounds don’t vary much from song to song and about halfway through you end up forgetting about it as it simply becomes background music. That probably was not the desired effect here.
Rating: 1 original recipe breast
Monsters and Robots (1999)
Buckehead plays both guitar and bass on this one, with some guest collaborators. Brain drums and Bootsy lends his vocals here and there, but the notable guest here is Primus’ Les Claypool who co-wrote many tracks with Buckethead and provides his signature bass sound on quite a few as well. The big song is “The Ballad of Buckethead” which features true vocals by Les Claypool telling the backstory of how our man became Buckethead and has the general feel of a Primus track.
“Sow Thistle” is another cool track, an experimental funk-rock track with spoken passages from Boosty Collins. “Revenge of the Double-Man” is almost a headbanger with a great metal riff as the basis to the entire track. Then there’s “The Shape vs. Buckethead” which is a hip-hop track featuring spoken passages from Bootsy and rapping by someone named Ovi-Wey who sounds a bit like a no-talent Sticky Fingaz (Onyx). Yes, that does mean I’m saying Sticky Fingaz had talent.
This was probably his one chance at mainstream acceptance but this is one of the least representative albums of his entire body of work, but for casual fans or people that have never heard anything from Buckethead before, listening to this album might get you more interested in hearing other things from him as well.
Rating: 4 piece meal deal and you invite all your friends along.
Somewhere Over the Slaughterhouse (2001)
This is a very frustrating record for me as I think so much more could have been done to make it better. Featuring only Buckethead this time, the backbeat for pretty much every track is a programmed drum beat and if I didn’t know better, I’d say it’s the same one for each track. And that is the problem here, it’s way too repetitive. I know, I know – damned if you do… but there’s no movement on this record at all. Buckethead picks a beat and sticks with it and it just becomes so mind numbing at times that you lose sight of some of the better guitar work, like in “My Sheetz” where the beat just pushes his guitar to the background.
Rating: 2 legs, original recipe.
KFC Skin Piles (2001)
An EP not made for human consumption really, this appears only on vinyl as it was created solely as a piece for DJ’s to scratch with and remix. It’s a simple four track, 23 minute EP that contains a ton of movie clips (a lot from Texas Chainsaw Massacre) and features both Brain and Extrakd. It very honestly, has nothing worth listening to.
Rating: You slip on the wet floor and never make it to the counter.
Essentially, this release boils down to guitar parts and drum beats that Buckethead had in his mind but couldn’t transform them into full songs.
Granted, I like this better than him tossing these random moments together with no explanation as to why they belong in the same track but this CD would be best used by someone trying to remix the guy. And really, why aren’t there remix albums of Buckethead? Maybe because he recycles a lot of his own stuff anyway…
Rating: A small popcorn chicken that’s filled with the ass-end pieces.
Bermuda Triangle (2002)
Maybe I just don’t get this one because it gets good reviews in other places, but I just find this to be a bit too much bullshit from Buckethead and DJ Extrakd. Although credited to Buckethead this is more of an Extrakd record as almost all tracks on it are club bangers. In fact in a song like “Forbidden Zone” is just a hip-hop track with a few riffs in it.
I’m going to write my own lyrics to this one:
“C’mon mama shake that ass/shake that ass/shake that ass
C’mon mama shake it fast/that big fat ass”
Not everything that’s in your brain should be put on disc, Buckethead! He may sound different from album to album but if you start here, you ain’t movin’ on to anything but the 69 Boyz.
Rating: The piece of chicken in the back corner of the heat pan that looks strangely like Coolio.
Electric Tears features just Buckethead playing both acoustic and electric guitars, layered over top of each other in a very dark and ambient form for the most part. There are definitely some wonderful tracks on here like the spacey “Datura” or the Latin flavored “Sketches of Spain (For Miles)”. But the key track is the 11 ½ minute “Padmasana” which starts with soloing over both a looped electric riff and some acoustic noodling and about half way through adds another layer of electric guitar on top creating this delicate and delightful four guitar masterpiece.
The bad part about the album is that it’s over 70 minutes long and just feels like it never ends. Electric Tears could have been an 8 song, 35 minute album and been one of the best things he’s ever done. Instead no one was there to tell him enough is enough and thirteen songs of despair just end up being a little overwhelming.
Rating: 3-piece extra crispy meal that you are too stuffed to finish.
Bucketheadland 2 (2003)
Bucketheadland 2 is very much like Bucketheadland 1. It’s 30 tracks detailing more about the “abusement park” that Buckethead created and features lots of random riffs and tons of spoken passages. The story seems a little more developed than it did on the first album but that doesn’t make it any better.
Just like the original, Buckethead seemed to have a ton of riffs in his head but didn’t know how to turn them into songs. So he puts a riff to tape and then segues it into another random riff by putting some spoken passage in between.
The biggest problem is that there are so many segues both within songs and interludes between them – sometimes 2 or 3 “interludes” in a row – that I quickly get tired of listening to the narrative. It doesn’t help that the majority of the talking is done in a, shall we say…slow manner of speaking.
The riffs are better than the first version and the story is a little easier to follow but it’s still not really worth the time.
Rating: 1 original recipe drumstick
Island of Lost Minds (2004)
I’m kind of at a loss for words on this one. There’s virtually nothing that stands out as either great or unlistenable on the disc. There is definitely an angrier and darker vibe to the entire disc than Buckethead’s usual friendly style and that’s reflected in some of the super-fast almost speed metal riffs and with song titles like “Skull Scrape”, “Lobotomizer” and “Ice Pick Through Eyes”.
“Dream Darts” is kind of a dirty and dark track that could be the theme song to one of the more evil rides in Bucketheadland and “Bruised Eye Sockets” sounds nu-metal-ish.
Rating: Small popcorn chicken.
Population Override (2004)
Bar none, the best release in the vast Buckethead catalog, this is the guitar virtuoso’s statement that he can play real songs without any trickery or indulgent frenzied tangents and still make a impression on the listener.
Pinchface shows up on drums again and Travis Dickerson plays keys – one of the very few releases of Buckethead’s that I totally dig what Dickerson is throwing out.
Dickerson has stated that after recording the last Cornbugs record that these three guys decided they wanted to create a tribute to ‘60s and ‘70s classic records and what they came up with is something that would rival an early Funkadelic album.
The album cover looks like a spaced-out prog-rock record and the music inside provides both a groove and a lot of bluesy jams. Most of the album was based solely around jamming, though there was some overdubbing to get the desired sound.
“Too Many Humans” would probably be in my top 5 for Buckethead songs. It’s a brilliant, totally moving blues number that features some absolutely terrific soloing and allows Pinchface to explore a little bit on the drums. The title track is led by the ‘60s sounding keys from Dickerson over a funky backbeat and some retro riffing from Buckethead. And the short but effective ender “…” is pretty much an old ZZ Top lick for a minute and a half.
The no-frills approach works to perfection on this disc making it his most enjoyable.
Rating: You’ve won the grand prize in last month’s contest. Free chicken for life!
The Cuckoo Clocks of Hell (2004)
It’s Buckethead and Brain on this one with a similar approach as Island of Lost Souls with less experimentation. This takes on the form of a nu-metal album in parts and if vocals were added, rapping would probably be the best call. It’s considered to be his heaviest record as a whole which should make me want to listen to this more, but most of these tracks go nowhere. It’s riff after riff and some blistering solos but nothing feels fully developed on the album. Loud simply for the sake of being loud might work for doom outfits, but it comes across as a jumbled mess here.
Rating: 1 extra spicy wing.
In the second part, we’ll close out the “solo” catalog of Buckethead and we’ll summarize the quality just in case you didn’t get the tongue-in-cheek rating system.