The Popdose Guide to Buckethead, Part Three

Written by Music, Popdose Guides

We’ve moved on to part 3 of the Popdose Guide to Buckethead. Parts 1 and 2 consisted of his solo works while parts 3 and 4 are going to focus on his groups and collaborations. I’m only including albums here if Buckethead was on the vast majority if not all the tracks.

Buckethead had a tendency to reel himself in a little bit when the right people were on his projects but as this section might show you, it doesn’t always lead to great results (sometimes, excellent results though!)

So here’s part 3 of the 4 part part Popdose Guide to Buckethead.

…with Brain

Kevin’s Noodle House (2007)
A collaboration simply with Brain, Kevin’s Noodle House is extremely experimental and a challenging listen, but a very rewarding one if you give it some quality time.

Brain works with programmed drums and also plays the keys on this, while Buckethead uses a ton of crazy effects on his guitar. The bass is very minimal as well and the album has a bit of a psychedelic feel at times. The drum sound makes the whole record seem kind of hollow, but it was intended to sound this way.

The best track is “Leg Warmers” where Brain really does a nice job with the minimal keyboard sounds and Buckethead adds a mellow riff over top.

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…with Brain and Melissa Reese

Best Regards (2010)
So it figures that in the middle of me writing this Popdose guide, Buckethead would go and release five more albums. How could I not expect as much from our chicken boy?

Best Regards is a five-disc set of untitled tracks, two to four per disc depending on the length. Every track is a minimum of nine minutes and a couple are over the half hour mark.

Melissa Reese is a name I haven’t heard before, so this might be a first time collaboration with him and if not, it’s definitely the first time she’s gotten this much attention. She’s a keyboard wiz, which kind of makes me wonder why Travis Dickerson didn’t just play on it again, since Buckethead continues to be on his label.

Immediately though, there’s a vibe with this that I haven’t heard on any other Buckethead record. The orange disc (discs are simply colors this time around) starts it off with a 12-minute free form jazz number that’s as good as any jazz track he’s done. The second track is a slow burner with a mesmerizing guitar riff and some atmospheric keys which turns upbeat, psychedelic and distorted in the middle. Track 3 is extremely funky and features some crazy sounds from Buckethead on funk guitar.

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The blue disc is the second in the series and starts off with this totally epic, almost Journey-esque arena rock ballad. Reese’s keyboard work is stellar on this track making it sound like there’s an orchestra in the studio. Halfway through the track Buckethead lays downs some power metal riffs to take it to a new level. This is the best song on the set and may go down as one of my overall favorites from him. The next track of course is random noises and phones ringing – I mean, you can’t be too normal now!

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The third disc in the set is Green and opens with the first 30-minute track. It’s hard to ignore this one as it sounds like a barbershop quartet with some electronic noises over top, then switches to a bass groove that could be a children’s TV theme. Then it flips to a distorted bass line that’s more of a horror score and then…well, I could do this forever as it seems there are simply 100 different styles in this half hour opus. An intriguing listen that’s going to take a little more time to digest.

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Yellow bats cleanup and the first track rotates between being hard rock and a Prince outtake. The third song of the set is a sweet, relatively straight forward ballad.

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And finally there’s the purple disc with a half hour track of tribal drums, hip-hop and distorted riffing.
Overall, this is one of his best works but with the lengths of the tracks and the set as a whole it’s a bit hard to get from start to finish in a short amount of time.

…with Cobra Strike

The 13th Scroll (1999)
The lineup for the first Cobra Strike album isn’t all that different from other releases – Buckethead, Brain, Pinchface and DJ Disk but with this Pinchface is playing live drums, while Brain and Disk are both doing programming and working with drum machines.

The album is avant-garde metal plain and simple. “The 13th Scroll” as well as the remixed, “The 13th Scroll (Digging to the Devil)” are both hard and catchy as hell and “Braingate” is massive soloing over Pinchface’s wild drumming. But past that, there’s not much else to get excited about.

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Cobra Strike II: Y, Y+B, X+Y <– (2000)

Cobra Strike II had a different lineup than 13th Scroll (I believe), so it’s a little surprising that it didn’t end up under a different group name. Buckethead was on guitar and DJ Disk is present (either under the name P-Sticks or Gonervill) and SHePz plays bass.

Overall, the album is pretty uneventful, with some scratching and interesting beats here and there and some decent soloing in places (“Traitors Gate”). “Moonflake” is one of the few tracks that sounds a little different and thus by default it stands out from the crowd. I can’t remember many other moments from the album which says a lot about the quality.

Cobra Strike is not one of the better projects Buckethead’s been a part of .

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…with Colonel Claypool’s Bucket of Bernie Brains

The Big Eyeball in the Sky (2004)
The name of the group tells you exactly who’s taking part in this – Les Claypool, Buckethead, Bernie Worrell and Brain.

I’m sorry to tell you, but The Big Eyeball in the Sky is one of the biggest hot messes that Buckethead has appeared on. Primus stopped being relevant in the late ‘90s and might not have ever been more than a novelty to begin with and combining that sound with Buckethead’s soloing and Bernie Worrell’s classic organ is as bad as it seems on paper.

There’s not a damn listenable track on this album and although I’d prefer this way before KFC Skin Files or something of the like, it would only be if those were the only two albums on the planet. Words cannot really describe how much this album blows slunk balls.

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…with Cornbugs

Cemetery Pinch (2001)
This was actually the first Cornbugs record I had heard (2nd overall) and it’s weird that it comes alphabetically after Les Claypool because the first track of the record gives the total illusion that it might follow a path similar to Primus. The band consists of Buckethead, Pinchface and Choptop on vocals.

The opening track, “Poker Face” is a very cool track made up of metal, some electronic blips and a spoken narrative. The vocals sound very much like a less nasally Claypool and the music doesn’t have that signature Primus bass, which works much better than the Bucket of Bernie Brains.

But see, I’m talking too much about this sound, because that’s not really what the album is about. It contains mostly spoken narrative from Choptop and avant-garde metal from Buckethead and Pinchface. The lyrics are kind of gruesome and focus on death and gore – I’m not sure what the exact release date was on this, but it plays out like a Halloween soundtrack – as there are ghosts noises, haunted house themes and multiple times they say “Happy Halloween”. There’s a little light-hearted narrative called “Cadaver Cadaver” and a question and answer session about what it means to be “Brain Dead”.

If you were duped like me into believing this was going to be a “regular” album based on the first track then you probably also think how fucking strange this is as well.

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How Now Brown Cow (2001)
How Now Brown Cow was released at the same time as Cemetery Pinch and definitely does not have a Halloween theme to it. But it is a little disturbing right off the bat. “The End” is about a killer facing the end and he walks down a hall until he goes through a door where his mother and father is and he says “father, I want to kill you/mother, I want to fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fucccck youuuuu”.

At least it gets a little more “normal” in the dirty blues track “Hey Pipe Man” (well until the line, “hey pipe man/don’t touch my sac”). But then it takes a funny turn with “Meat Rotten Meat” – making it easily the most hilarious song in the catalog. This had to be improvised in the studio as the random rhyming is often followed with subtle laughing not only by Choptop but the rest of the band as well.

It’s not a great record, but the best of the Cornbugs releases.

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Brain Circus (2004)
The Cornbugs 4th record finds Travis Dickerson in the fold now as well though he’s not represented on many tracks.

On Brain Circus you’ll find a little country ditty about a “Dirty Sperm Rag” (“full of chromosome stew” note: fucking gross), Choptop speaking with a Mexican accent in “Crab Claw Maracas” and the graphic description of a man getting his “Arm Torn Off By A Train”. Besides that, it offers nothing you couldn’t get on the past few records.

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Donkey Town (2004)
The 5th and final album from the Cornbugs also features Travis Dickerson on keys and is pretty much the same as all the rest.

I’m not really sure why these guys felt five albums were really necessary (and then they followed it up with three greatest hits discs) as it’s pretty much the same crap over and over again. Metal riffs, generic drumming, poor production and spoken narratives about killings and death. I can’t say I wasn’t entertained by the first few albums, but at this point it’s just overkill.

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…with Death Cube K

Dreamatorium (1994)
Buckethead’s first album under the anagram Death Cube K also features Bill Laswell, but that’s really it.

It’s quite fine minimalism, taking me back to my college years when I took a class in the subject. The professor would make us listen to minimalist recordings all class, then as a test, she would drop the needle on some records or play a random segment of a CD for no more than 15 seconds and we’d have to name the artist and recording. Where is this going you might ask? Well, of course – Dreamatorium was one of those recordings.

I was never a big fan of minimalism but over the years I’ve really taken to some drone bands, like Sunn O))). So while I don’t remember liking this very much when I first heard it, I think it’s really quite cool now. It’s mellow and trippy in points (“Land of the Lost”) and at other times it’s like the music of a bad nightmare with grinding machines infiltrating your mind (“Terror By Night”).

As mentioned, it’s just Buckethead on guitar playing one note or one looped passage over and over for most of this, with Bill Laswell on bass and making a bunch of weird noises. It’s a really cool, bizarre record that’s best listened to in the dark. Trust me, having it on while balancing the budget – not a great idea. This ain’t your typical background music.

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Disembodied (1997)
As an overall project, Death Cube K wasn’t that great but the first two albums contain some of my favorite Buckethead material. I would have never begun to think that the ambient drone from Buckethead would be the draw, but this is another really damn fine album.

Buckethead is credited with playing Guitar, Dr. Phibes Organ and a Stretching Rake, DJ Extrakd is credited with playing the Ambient Nightmare Machete and Bill Laswell, well they just couldn’t come up with anything retarded for him, so he just plays Bass.

As far as Extrakd goes, he’s definitely present on the final track, the 15+ minute “Pre-Hack” which has a lot of electronic experiments, but what else he does is unknown as there’s no real scratching and I have no fucking clue what the nightmare machete sounds like.

It’s not as good as Dreamatorium by any stretch and it’s way more experimental, but it’s another one that’s a winner if you give it a real shot.

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Tunnel (1999)
Tunnel marks the third Death Cube K album and the first one without Laswell aboard. It’s just Buckethead and Travis Dickerson (piano and moog).

Just like the first two, it’s extremely dark and ambient but features not only a lot of grinding guitar work but a lot of gunfire as well. With some lo-fi screaming in the background and audio samples which sound like they are from a bunker somewhere, it seems the common theme here is war.

Unfortunately, unlike the first two which may take some time to get used to but are rewarding in the end, Tunnel seems to go nowhere at all and ends up being a pretty boring record.

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DCK (2007)
Eight years later here’s more minimalism from Death Cube K, this time released in a plain black sleeve so no one really knows who’s on the record.

The minimalism this time around though features some of the loudest and harshest noises that you will find on a Buckethead album. In fact, it’s so off-putting initially that it might bring you to tears. It’s a highly abrasive wall of feedback and electronics. I’d almost compare it to Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Music but that’s not fair to do to any record. But I don’t know if I’ve ever gotten past track five.

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Monolith (2007)
Sometimes YouTube is friggin’ wonderful. Without random people posting this album, I would have never heard it. Like the Flaming Lips’ Zaireeka a decade earlier Monolith is composed of multiple discs made to be listened to together. There are five discs with almost the same track length, in unmarked cases and while neither Buckethead or Travis Dickerson has come out and said specifically that they should be played simultaneously, it simply makes sense.

I don’t have five separate CD players, nor will I probably ever, but some enterprising young person on YouTube has graciously combined all five discs and posted the end result. I’ve heard them separately and by themselves, they are nothing special. Together though, they are pretty damn creepy. It’s kind of like the score to a horror movie with lots and lots of ghosts. It’s totally unnecessary to have 40+ minutes of this but this is what the definition of minimalism is. I’ve posted two parts below for you to sample.

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Torn from Black Space (2009)
As far as I know, Torn from Black Space features Buckethead, Bill Laswell again and a DJ named Submerged. Still way fucking creepy and way fucking minimal I think Submerged talking about the record sums it up just fine:

“I always liked the project Bill Laswell and Buckethead and his band did called Death Cube K, which is an anagram of Buckethead. I told Bill when I was younger I used to listen to a Death Cube K album called Dreamatorium as I was going to sleep and it would give me the most beautiful nightmares. The last record they did was maybe 7 or 8 years ago. Bill remembers when you tell him things and I wound up on the new Death Cube K record doing strange turntable manipulations, like slowing them down with my hands, using effects and just creating ambience. It sounds like this vivid nightmare, staring into the void sort of thing, but it’s sparse, not heavy, a lot of air and space. We were inspired by a lot of Sunn O))), four guys playing guitar riffs at about 5 beats per minute, and some of the new drift or drone projects happening.” – Interview with Mary Morris from Dogs on Acid

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…with Deli Creeps

Dawn of the Deli Creeps (2005)
The Deli Creeps are Buckethead on guitar, Pinchface on Drums, Dan Monti on Bass and Maximum Bob on vocals and it’s a damn shame there’s only one album to talk about.

The group put out a demo in 1991 and 1996 but didn’t get around to recording a full record until 2005. The record includes many of the Buckethead staples but done much better than usual. It’s mostly a rock record complete with well formed songs and experimental passages but Maximum Bob really makes this album what it is.

The general lyrical content of the album is about killing, death and pain – but in a psychotic “don’t you enjoy watching the blood” type way. Maximum Bob can and does sing melodies on the album but he’s at his best when he’s doing the spoken passages either of the guy that loves to kill or old man Grampa Bill.

“Can I Have a Ride” is the lead track and has appeared on both demos in other forms but here it’s fully formed and pretty friggin’ crazy. In it, he talks about popping children’s soft spots, asks the question “you know how hard you gotta hit a skull to split it open with a spoon?” and the joy of the sound of a horse snapping in half punctuated by the screams of “snap, snap, snap. That’s a hock. That’s the hock. I love it.”

Then there’s “Found Body” where they find a body down by the lake and “wonder what he did to be so dead” and detail that “he was bloated/he was kind of blue”. Or the sound of animals being killed for food, which happens to be “Boom Ch Ka”.

It’s definitely a disturbing record, but well thought out, creative and a fully developed album. Very nice to see from Buckethead at this point.

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…with Travis Dickerson

Chicken Noodles (2006)
The Chicken Noodles paring is Buckethead using a Telecaster and Dickerson on his Fender Rhodes piano.

The whole thing is mellow and meant to be stripped down – basically these two guys “noodling” around in the studio. While I know some of the best things come out when you’re just fucking around, I still don’t get things like leaving a glaring flub on Buckethead’s part in “Lost From a Distance”. And I’m not a fan of the Fender Rhodes with Buckethead’s sound – or maybe current music altogether. It just sounds way too old fashioned for me.

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Chicken Noodles II (2007)
Chicken Noodles wasn’t needed, so imagine my surprise when I saw a Chicken Noodles II was being released in 2007.

I continue to not be a fan of Travis Dickerson’s amateurish sounding keyboard work over some meandering Buckethead riffs that may or may not be good because frankly I’m way too distracted by the piano and the demo-ish nature of the sound.

Shorter songs this time around but the same general concept – two guys noodling around in some lost world where it makes sense to release this. I didn’t like the first one but this one is much worse.

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…with Travis Dickerson and Brain

The Dragons of Eden (2008)
Billed as an album by Buckethead*Travis Dickerson*Brain, I almost skipped this album entirely since I don’t really care for Dickerson’s playing and the pairing was starting to get a little old for me. I’m so glad I didn’t though.

This album is hands down, the best thing Buckethead has ever done.

Buckethead lays down some killer rock and funk licks with some solos here and there, but nothing too crazy. Dickerson rotates between piano, organ and keyboard (and I swear I hear a theremin in there as well). Brain keeps the beat nicely, but often gets to go a little free form and mash out. A cello is thrown in on a few songs to create a sound not heard before on a Buckethead disc.

There are eight tracks on this record and all eight are stylistically perfect in my mind. It’s an upbeat and really fun record with touches of the ‘70s while still having a modern approach. I can’t picture there is ever another way in which Buckethead will reach this peak again.

“The Cosmic Calendar” (download)
“The Brain and the Chariot” (download)
“The Abstractions of Beasts” (download)
“Tales of Dim Eden” (download)
“Lovers and Madmen” (download)
“Future Evolution” (download)
“Draco” (download)
“Knowledge Is Destiny” (download)

…with El Stew

No Hesitation (1999)
El Stew tends to get a bad rap if it gets any rap at all, but it really isn’t a bad project. The only drawback to it in terms of fitting into a Popdose Guide to Buckethead is that I’m not really sure what the hell Buckethead had to do with it.

There’s really not a whole lot of info out there about El Stew but from what I understand it’s mostly DJs. Buckethead teams up with DJ Disk, Extrakd, someone named Eddie Def and Brain and out comes a disc comprised of mostly dance beats. There’s lots of scratching and lots of sampling but very little guitar work. And if Buckethead is playing on every track (which I believe he does) then I’m totally missing it as it gets drowned out by the programming and Brain bashing away at cymbals.

The thing is, it’s not a bad album. Most of the stuff he’s done with Extrakd has been for the club, but this one takes a more groovy mellow hip-hop vibe – pretty sure DJ Disk has something to do with reeling that sound in a bit. And you can’t listen to this album and pass up his first B-boy anthem – do the robot to “B-Boy Showcase”.

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The Rehearsal (2003)
Well, this is one of the only records in the Buckethead catalog that I know virtually nothing about. It’s the same crew as the last album maybe without Extrakd and it’s got another hip-hop vibe to it.

Based on the title of The Rehearsal and the miserable production quality of the tracks, that’s what this very well might be – a rehearsal before a concert. Every now and then I hear voices in the background like it’s live but there is no cheering. But honestly, I don’t really know. And why would you record and release a rehearsal disc anyway? (though it’s Buckethead, so that question may have a legit answer).

Despite the shitty sound to the disc, this El Stew record features way more of Buckethead as he throws a lot of solos over top of the beats and scratching to push himself more to the forefront. Maybe I’m silly, but I actually like this one a little better than the first.

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Albums not reviewed

Iconography (with Travis Dickerson) – It’s regularly considered as an album with Buckethead, but he’s on less than half the tracks.
Arc of the Testimony (with Arcana) – Again, he’s on only a few tracks.
Spot the Psycho, Rest Home for Robots, Skeleton Farm, Celebrity Psychos (with Cornbugs) – Spot the Psycho is the first Cornbugs record but it’s out of print and extremely rare and I’ve never gotten my hands on it. The other three are compilations of the five albums.

1991 Demo, 1996 Demo (with the Deli Creeps)

Recap

Excellent: The Dragons of Eden, Dawn of the Deli Creeps, Dreamatorium
Worth Your Time: Disembodied, Best Regards
Eh: The Rehearsal, No Hesitation, How Now Brown Cow, Torn From Black Space, Kevin’s Noodle House
Die Hards Only: 13th Scroll, Cemetery Pinch, Monolith, Chicken Noodles, Tunnel, Brain Circus, Donkey Town, Cobra Strike II
Smash To Pieces: Chicken Noodles II, The Big Eyeball in the Sky, DCK

In the final part of the Popdose Guide to Buckethead we’ll take a look at one of his longest running projects (Praxis) and meet the Zillatron!