The Popdose Guide to Buckethead, Part Two

Written by Music, Popdose Guides

In part one we took a gander at the first 13 Buckethead “solo” albums. We’ll close out with the final 15 before moving on to his group projects in Part 3. And if you’re one of the many that said the first part was all negative then make sure you give this one a good read because there are plenty of really good albums in part two.

Enter the Chicken (2005)
Technically listed as Buckethead & Friends, this one is pretty crazy when you think about it. There are tons of moments when I’ve thought “Man, it would be great if there were lyrics on this track” when listening to Buckethead’s music and many of his group projects are my favorites so Enter the Chicken should really be awesome.

The album was released on Serjical Strike records, the label run by Serj Tankian from System of a Down and features a number of different vocalists over Buckethead tunes.

Tankian handles the vocals on three tracks and brings Saul Williams, Efram Schulz (Death by Stereo), the group Bad Acid Trip (conveniently also on his label) and a few international female voices along for the ride.

Our bucket-domed friend wrote the songs, but this was Tankian’s idea and most of the singers are more his friends than Buckethead’s. A lot of the music feels very uninspired and with many of the vocals, they were overdubbed after Buckethead had completed the music so no collaboration was done.

“Funbus” is the track featuring Bad Acid Trip and they turn it into almost a death metal tune in places. It feels like a vain attempt by Tankian to get some publicity for one of his bands. And “The Hand” with Maximum Bob and operatic female singer Ani Maldjian doesn’t work at all. Her ear piercing random vocal heroics go right though you at times.

There are however, three points that do work well. The first is “We Are One” which features Tankian on vocals and sounds very much like a System of a Down song. The second is “Nottingham Lace” which is a pure instrumental with some of his best guitar work in it (but could have been on any album since it doesn’t fit this concept) and “Waiting Hare” which features Shana Halligan from a trip-hop group called Bitter: Sweet on vocals. The song is slow, beautiful and a great centerpiece to an otherwise crappy experience. And how do you know this didn’t work well? Well…has this happened again? This was no Santana/Clive Davis paring for sure.

Rating: 2 piece meal, but fuck – the gravy for the potatoes just dumped over everything.

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Kaleidoscalp (2005)
There’s two wildly different opinions on this album out in cyberland. It’s an album produced by avant-gard artist John Zorn who in many of the songs, uses circuit bending to create this blips and beeps that really sound like nothing you’ve heard on a Buckethead record before.
The first school of thought is that these strange noises are just a little too far “out there” even for Buckethead, and I have to admit, they can get kind of odd. There are a lot of them on the record and after a while they do start to all blend together a bit. Most songs would probably be better without them present, but then again it would just be an ordinary rock record without them.

The second school of thought is that this is best of both worlds for avant-garde fans. John Zorn is always weird, so circuit bending should come as no surprise to anyone and this is something very different for Buckethead fans. I kind of fall into this category, though I’d definitely like to hear the album non-circuit bent too. The riffs are immense on this and I think it could hold up very well on its own, but the noises add some startling juxtapositions into these tracks that make them even more intriguing. It’s not for anyone but true Buckethead fans however.

Rating: 3-piece meal deal. You decide to dip the chicken directly into the mashed potatoes to get a flavor explosion.

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Inbred Mountain (2005)
I was all excited originally when I had heard this was a metal album, but of course it’s a metal album with the usual Buckethead twists and turns at every corner. In fact, Inbred Mountain gives you that feeling that every guy has had when he rolls over in the morning and realizes that the drunken sex he had the night before was with his grandmother.

There are a ton of heavy riffs on this (and also one of those kiddie flute things, where you slide the little plastic piece in an out to create different pitches) but apart from one or two, Buckethead doesn’t let any of them develop. There’s a pretty great one around the six-minute mark of “Escape from Inbred Mountain” that’s one of the fastest metal riffs he’s recorded, but it only lasts about 30 seconds. And there’s quite a few decent but underdeveloped riffs in “Flock of Slunks” with a few sounding very Filter-ish. But past that this is a mess of random pieces seeming held together with the smallest pieces of scotch tape you could find.

Rating: A lonely extra spicy drumstick.

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The Elephant Man’s Alarm Clock (2006)
The Elephant Man’s Alarm Clock is a pretty straight-forward metal record. In a world of robots and slunks all the other reoccurring themes Buckethead’s songs are titled, there may not be any song more appropriately titled than “Lurker at the Threshold”. It’s a four part song that kind of meanders along and builds and builds until it busts through the door and goes crazy. And this happens multiple times in the track making it the perfect song for a horror flick.

“Gigan” is a hard rockin’ highlight as well as the machine-like precision of “Droid Assembly”. Most of the other tracks around them though are pretty uneventful but it is worth a listen or two.

Rating: 2 extra crispy breasts

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Crime Slunk Scene (2006)
No skits on this one and lots of really cool riffs formed into actual songs makes this a very worthy listen in the Buckethead catalog.

He starts off with “King James” – a tribute to LeBron James (more tributes will show up later) which has a very cool pitch-shifted riff to work off of and then leads into “Gory Head Stump 2006: The Pageant of the Slunks” which has some remarkably crazy picking going on and is really one of his more fascinating pieces of work during this very prolific period.

“The Fairy and the Devil” contains a squelching guitar, not unlike what you might have heard out of Tom Morello and Rage Against the Machine but with a slower pace and more atmosphere behind it.

The glue that holds the album together ends up being one of my favorite Buckethead songs of all time – the 4th track “Buddy Berkman’s Ballad”. Anything but a ballad, the song contains a minimum of four (maybe five) different riffs that could have been expanded into full songs, given lyrics and made rock hits. The track is hard as hell and although it doesn’t showcase his tremendous skills as much as other tracks do, it does show that the dude can craft a melody just as good as anyone else when he chooses to.

The album also contains the fan favorite “Soothsayer (dedicated to Aunt Suzie)” the first of three tracks to be dedicated to Aunt who had recently passed away. Why this one in particular, I have no idea – but the track is pretty damn great – featuring over nine minutes of wonderful melody and some very creative guitar work.

Rating: 10 piece original recipe bucket with an upgrade to large sides.

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In Search of the (2007)
If you’ve made it this far into the Popdose guide to Buckethead you are clearly a fan, want to find that gem in the rough or are a bit crazy like me. And even if you think every part of these reviews of the albums suck, you should thank me for getting through this one for you.

Released in February of 2007, In Search of the is over 9 hours of music split up over 13 CDs. The first 999 people that purchased this got this burned to CD-r and the covers hand drawn by Buckethead. And I’m not talking that he hand drew 13 and then copied them 998 more times. He took each volume of all 999 sets and drew the covers on the spot. Then from copy 1000 forward the covers were the same. So all in all, there are 13,000 unique album covers to this set. Fuck.

The set came out on Travis Dickerson’s TDRS label which is where a lot of Buckethead material goes these days and Dickerson claims to really know nothing about the set. In addition Buckethead didn’t name the tracks (fans later picked names for them) and has never really talked about them leading to this vast mysterious set. Everyone assumes Buckethead played everything on the disc and I have no evidence to dispute that.

After listening to all 9 hours and reading up on these things, there really doesn’t appear to be any sort of connection between the tracks. There are rock tracks, metal, extended jams, pop, interludes, ballads, intros, snippets of solos, electronic jams, drum loops, piano, beatboxing and everything else you’ve ever found on a Buckethead album within the confines of this package. Now if you think about it, this may very well be all the Buckethead a casual fan would ever need. It samples all his styles and is mainly very listenable, so this would be an expensive but pretty great place to get your fill of the man.

I could leave this right there, but after going through this whole process, fuck it – let’s break this shit down:

Disc one is led by the 15-minute second track which is Buckethead performing endless catchy guitar solos – dozens at least in the time allotted. Track 3 also stands out with a bit of a hip-hop feel complete with cowbell. Another 15 minute track in the 6th position is a loud ass motherfucker with squelching guitars and blistering solos.

Track #3, aka “Jengamoose”

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Disc two leads off by sampling the drumbeat to “They’re Coming To Take Me Away, Ha-Haaa!” which would be the first of two points where this is sampled in the set. This time it’s only for about a minute – later, much much longer. The second track is a lesson in funky guitar and bass playing what feels like a very short 11 minutes. Track 6 is this dark and menacing ambient track spliced together with some strings and quick bursts of a drum machine or a piano now and again – quite a fascinating listen.

Track #6, aka “Droid Factory Conveyor Belt Ambush”

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Disc three is one of the few discs that you could figure out a theme for as this is definitely the funk disc. The highlight is without a doubt the 15 minute first track which sounds like something Prince would have done in the early-to-mid ‘80s.

Track #1, aka “Funkaslunk”

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Disc four is one of the least exciting discs of the package. After a strong funky track to lead it off it meanders into a spattering of noises not worth your time and some heavy 808s bumping. It’s experimental – which is fine – but it wanders away from the glory of the rest of the package.

Track #4, aka “1984 Beat Bumpin’”

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Disc five is just like many of the other discs in this set where the first track is the finest. Buckethead tosses a beautiful mellow 10 ½ minute track up front on disc 5. It’s extremely melodic and relaxing and perfectly straightforward with some bluesy solos. Another track over 10 minutes long shows up in the clean-up spot and is a slow heavy-bass jam, almost stoner rock at points.

Track #1, aka “Fractal Shadows”

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Disc six has five tracks on it but I couldn’t possibly tell you what tracks two through five sound like. The almost 20-minute long opening track is bar-none the best piece of music Buckethead has put to disc. It’s a guitar-god’s clinic on soloing with solo after blazing fucking solo over top of a looped drum beat. And if you think you couldn’t possibly stand 20-minutes of solos, you haven’t heard Buckethead do it yet. It’s a flat out masterpiece of a track.

Track #1, aka “Eye of the Storm”

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Disc seven starts off with a funky jam with a loud ‘70s inspired fuzzed out guitar riff and amazing soloing (and even sounds a bit Pearl Jam “Ten-ish”. But you really have to give it up to him for the nearly 17-minute 2nd track which starts off with him doing guitar vocals. I’m sure there’s a technical term for making the guitar sound like it’s talking, but I have no clue what it is, so it’s best stated simply as if the guitar was say the robot from Short Circuit or something. The track breaks down into some cheesy keyboards so it’s not perfection, but it begins quite well at least.

Track #1, aka “Grease on My New Shoes”

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Disc eight has been tough for me to get into. It begins with a rambling ten minutes of dullness and then follows up with almost an experimental trip-hop track. The initial backbeat to Track 3 could be a Nine Inch Nails beat but it then tails off into a disjointed hip-hop vibe. The 4th track is the most intriguing one, sounding very much like a mid-70’s Funkadelic tune but the 5th is the best as it could probably be used by a hip-hop artist right now as a sample.

Track #4, aka “Switch Way”

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Disc nine is a fucking beast of a record. It’s led by the nine minute opener of blistering rock solos over a funk backbeat. What you really notice on this disc that is even though there are only five tracks, there are many songs. The rest of these songs don’t even try to blend shit together – like track 3 which is like a half dozen or more songs stapled together as one track, but without any attempt to mold the changes together. Instead, whatever Buckethead is doing at the time just stops and another completely separate beat starts. Many parts are good but others are total headscratchers.

Track #1, aka “Bullfrog”

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Now tell me you made it to double digits in just one sitting? That would be quite a feat since we’re over 6 hours worth of music at this point. But when you do get to disc ten, you’ll hear a first track that could easily be used by one of your more intelligent rappers out there like Jay-Z or the Roots. It’s a groovy track, with some horns and low volume soloing over a programmed drum beat.

Track 2 is probably the best on the disc mixing loud rock guitar solos over a sleezy bass-line for nine minutes. But I love track 3 as well which starts out with some pretty creepy strings before transitioning into funk and then into almost a movie score. It also includes track 7, which is maybe his oddest track on the set – some piano and maybe a harp(?) for the first 1:41 and then just simply a hum which you can’t even hear until you have headphones on or the stereo turned up really loud – and this lasts for another 6 minutes.

(Note: It appears even the people on YouTube got tired at this point and nothing from disc 10 forward appears.)

Disc 11 is your short attention span album as while it’s still in the 40-45 minute range like all the discs, it has 11 tracks, none longer than 6:10 in length. If you’re like me and you have to listen to every track from start to finish whether good or not, then you actually might want to pop this one in first.

Some of the tracks are either hip-hop or funk flavored like the robotic third song but others are complete noise experiments. Strangely enough the longest one might be the best on here as track 6 has a killer drum beat with bits and pieces of distorted guitar and other noises thrown in for good measure.

Disc 12 honestly has really nothing worth noting. Nothing.

And finally, disc 13 – well, it’s one 45 minute track of Buckethead soloing over Napolean XIV’s drum beat for “They’re Coming To Take Me Away, Ha-Haaa!. And yes, this backing beat gets looped for the entire 45 minutes. So good luck if you can deal with that.

Rating: KFC is having an all-you-can-eat special. You make it through 5 hours of tasty bird before giving up.

Pepper’s Ghost (2007)
After the sprawling 13-disc effort, Buckethead created another album like Crime Slunk Scene with fully realized songs and riffs that last long enough for you to actually get into them.
The title track is another guitar playing exhibition as there are at least three spots where his fingers must be a total blur on that guitar and some decent melodic melodies tossed in for good measure.

“Magua’s Scalp” is the key track for me though as it’s a killer straightforward metal track that’s as catchy as anything Buckethead’s done in the past. And “Goblin Shark” is really funky and a great blast of energy for two minutes. The two-and-a-half minute “Towel in the Kitchen” is another funky and melodic metal track that brings the tail end of the disc together very nicely. Overall, a very enjoyable listen.

Rating: 10 piece bucket and when you get home you see they gave you large sides even though you paid for small ones! Woot!

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Decoding the Tomb of the Bansheebot (2007)
One of the three very different albums Buckethead released on October 30th, 2007, it feels very much like he’s going through the motions. The riffs are heavy, there’s conventional song structures again and Bansheebot has a cleaner sound that most of his records, but a track like “Ghost Host” has a pretty amazing fast paced riff that he barely gives any time to and “Killing Cone” could be pretty damn heavy and cool if he paid more attention to the main lick and less time to the experimentation. But that’s what Buckethead’s about now – if he was commercial, then he’d be just like everyone else.

In terms of quality this could be the album at the dead middle of the pile.

Rating: Two piece original recipe meal.

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Cyborg Slunks (2007)
5 tracks, 44 minutes. 95% unlistenable. Blips, beeps and noises all of which if you are listening through earbuds feel like they are slicing right through your eardrum. I’m not against experimentation but this needed to be tossed in the garbage.

Part of “Aunt Suzie (Space Cadillac)” is the only salvageable thing. It’s a pretty straight-forward ballad that doesn’t belong anywhere near this album and was probably only included because Buckethead has to put everything he does somewhere even if it makes no sense within the context.

Rating: This was played in the chicken coop and the birds just started exploding. WTF?

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Albino Slug (2008)
One of Buckethead’s cleanest and most listenable records was another tour only release at the start, even though only two months later he officially released it (I kind of hate this shit – if it’s tour only, make it tour only – so that people who went to see Buckethead feel they have something special). But as much as I hate that aspect of it, it’s probably better he did release this as it’s a pretty great album.

It’s a hard rock record for sure, with some really blistering riffs like in the first track, “The Redeem Team” – named after the 2008 US Olympic Basketball team. But what really makes this record is the fact that these are some of the most realized songs he’s ever put out. There are still prog-elements, time and stylistic changes throughout the songs, but they feel like actual songs rather than random snippets pieced together. The sound bites are gone and Buckethead just simply focuses on putting out killer riffs for a change. This ends up being a really rockin’, groovy record, worth your time as much as anything else in his catalog.

Rating: Save the chickens. Tonight we’re going to the combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell instead.

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Slaughterhouse on the Prairie (2009)
Slaughterhouse on the Prairie feels like a much stronger version of Decoding the Tombs of the Bansheebot. It’s got the same general vibe – snippets of metal riffs with a lot of experimentation but he devotes more time to the really good riffs and develops them into something the listener can get into and enjoy before it’s actually over.

It also seems to be the basketball record as there’s a track called “Iceman” which is a tribute to George Gervin and the disc begins with “LeBron” and “LeBron’s Hammer” the second and third songs for LeBron James. I’m still not sure I get the connection here and why he’s so enamored with LeBron (and I wonder if he still is) but if someone could explain it to me, I’d love to know, especially since both his tracks are quite good.

My favorite on the disc is a track called “The Stretching Room” which has this slicing riff throughout the song. “Blood Bayou” is also a barn burner of a metal workout.

Rating: A spicy breast and thigh.

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A Real Diamond in the Rough (2009)
A lot of people feel this is another calming record but I think it’s pretty depressing and unlike anything else in his catalog.

The majority of it is pretty mellow (not acoustic) but some heavy low-end bass gives the album a doom-like feel. A track like “Dawn Appears” starts out in a dark place, but gets more upbeat in the end – maybe signifying that light that’s starting to show up. But on tracks like “A Real Diamond in the Rough” and “Squid Ink” it sounds like Buckethead was in a bad place when he recorded these. I don’t know if his intended effect was to create a calming record or not – and although I think a lot of people think he did, I’d venture to say this is the album you listen to when you’re hating the world.

There is one kind of odd track on the record, “The Return of Captain EO” which closes out the album. It’s a full blown stoner rock track, heavy on the bass and with a sound that could totally pass for a Clutch song. It’s a great tune, but feels incredibly out of place on this mellower album. That said, this one is very good.

Rating: 10 piece bucket.

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Forensic Follies (2009)
I don’t really understand why this is one of my favorite Buckethead releases but it is. It consists of thirteen tracks where our buddy took other songs in his catalog, made them the backing tracks of these new songs and added some new guitar work on top of them.

This is not to say that Buckethead doesn’t reuse any of his ideas on other projects (that could be an entire post unto itself) but here it’s more obvious because he’s flat out telling you he’s doing it.

Most of the new material is blips, beeps and electronic guitar manipulations which makes this a very experimental sounding record. But if you take the time to get into it, it’s also relatively groovy and funky.

“Plunger” has a killer funk groove melded into a recycled drum pattern while “A-Cycle Light-Ray Cannons” melds a mess of electronic noises together to form a pretty neat rhythm.

Interesting as well to note that “Thai Fighter Swarm” off The Elephant Man’s Alarm Clock is used in no less than three different tracks here – and the original was only a little over two-and-a-half minutes so there wasn’t much to choose from. Buckethead must really like that track.

Rating: 12 piece meal deal fresh out of the oven.

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Needle in a Slunk Stack (2009)
Well, this is the second album in a row to feature xenochrony (recycling parts of old songs into new ones). Many of the recycled tracks are taken from Inbred Mountain, The Elephant Man’s Alarm Clock and Island of Lost Minds.

While I really dig Forensic Follies, I only needed one of them. Needle in a Slunk Stack isn’t nearly as good the previous record feeling very disjointed in my opinion. Follies took pieces and made them into new cohesive experiments, while this record feels more like he picked pieces out of a hat and connected them together with a staple gun and presented them to us.

It also doesn’t help that since I like my music very loud, that “Next Stop, the Shell” has brutally ear-piercing squelches in it that I swore were going to make my ears bleed. That’s a turn off.

The album has some cool moments, like “Distilled Scalp” which has a distorted industrial guitar riff mixed with Buckethead’s usual crazy picking. But cool moments are few and far between on this one.

Rating: 1 thigh and 1 leg, original recipe.

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Shadows Between the Sky (2010)
Mellow and melodic, this album is often compared to Colma and Electric Tears. I think the comparison to Electric Tears isn’t really correct at all as that was a very dark record and Shadows is simply a melancholy album. As much as I love the metal riffs and super guitar work that Buckethead has shown, his mellow records are some of my favorites and this one is no exception.

It’s times like these when Buckethead doesn’t do much experimenting and instead just sits on a stool and plays guitar like a normal human being would that you really see that he’s not just all gimmick. I have no doubt that he could be a major star if he wanted to as albums like this show that he knows how to write beautiful tunes.

There are just so many great songs on this one, like “Rim of the World” which sounds flat out happy and “Inward Journey” which is easy to shut your eyes and get lost in. “Sea Wall” has parts that the Goo Goo Dolls would kill for and “The Cliff’s Stare” could be considered post-rock.

A billion albums in and yet another great disc from Buckethead.

Rating: 20 piece bucket, all the fixins’ and you go back later in the week for more.

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Also worthy of note are some non-album tracks like “Jordan” which is a fuckin’ brilliant exclusive to Guitar Hero II (one wonders why there isn’t a Guitar Hero Buckethead – which would probably be the hardest one ever)

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Or maybe his tribute to Old Dirty Bastard with his cover of “I Like It Raw”

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And finally, his tribute to Michael Jackson, “The Homing Beacon”

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Three albums were not reviewed;  2007’s Acoustic Shards and Bucketheadland Blueprints and 2008’s From the Coop – all compliations of demos Buckethead recorded – none of which are very good.

And as I mentioned in the first post, if the text and crazy rating system didn’t help you figure out which ones are good and which are bad, here’s the easy summary:

Best: Population Override, Pepper’s Ghost, Shadows Between the Sky, Crime Slunk Scene, Albino Slug

Worth your time: Forensic Follies, A Real Diamond in the Rough, In Search of the, Monsters and Robots, Electric Tears, Slaughterhouse on the Prairie, Kaleidoscalp

Tread lighty: Giant Robot, Enter the Chicken, The Elephant Man’s Alarm Clock, Decoding the Tomb of the Bansheebot, Needle in a Slunk Stack, Island of Lost Minds, The Cuckoo Clocks of Hell, Somewhere Over the Slaughterhouse

For completists only: Bucketheadland, Colma, Bucketheadland 2, Inbred Mountain, Bermuda Triangle, The Day of the Robot

Avoid like the plague: Funnel Weaver, Cyborg Slunks, KFC Skin Files

In parts 3 and 4 we’ll take a look at the albums in which Buckethead has been a major player on.