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Buckethead and Praxis

Reviewed on this page:
Transmutation (Mutatis Mutandis) - Giant Robot - Dreamatorium - Sacrifist - Metatron - The Day Of The Robot - I Need Five Minutes Alone - Colma - No Hesitation - Monsters & Robots - Warszawa - Tunnel - Unison - Thanatopsis - Somewhere Over The Slaughterhouse - Funnel Weaver - Bermuda Triangle - Electric Tears - Axiology - Bucketheadland 2 - Island Of Lost Minds - Population Override - Gorgone - Enter The Chicken - Inbred Mountain - Kaleidoscalp - The Elephant Man's Alarm Clock - Anatomize - Crime Slunk Scene - Pepper's Ghost - Decoding the Tombs of Bansheebot - Profanation (Preparation For A Coming Darkness) - Albino Slug - Bolt-On Neck - The Dragons Of Eden - Slaughterhouse On The Prairie - A Real Diamond In The Rough - Shadows Between The Sky - Captain EO's Voyage - It's Alive - Empty Space

A Bill Laswell discovery, Buckethead's an incredibly skilled avante-garde metal/funk guitarist who plays everything from rhythm scratches to Metallic power chords to intoxicating fast-run solos - often within the same tune. Though he's often confined to a sideman role, he's also a pleasantly unpredictable composer, building strikingly different sections into compelling songs, with a cheerful disregard of genre pigeonholes. At his best, he's Joe Satriani with brains. At his worst, though, he gets mired in lame-brained metal riffs that don't go anywhere. Oh, you should probably know that he always wears a white mask and upside-down KFC bucket in public, and insists he was raised by chickens in a chicken coop.

Buckethead's a featured player on several of Laswell's Praxis releases - I've reviewed four of those, and listed the rest. He appears to be one of the Cornbugs, whoever they are; definitely one of the Deli Creeps; a Frankenstein Brother; a Dragon of Eden; and also part of Colonel Claypool's Bucket Of Bernie Brains. Not to mention some soundtrack guest shots, and working with Guns N' Roses from 1999 to early 2004: I attempted to catch their abortive 2002 tour, and wrote about the experience on our concerts page, then finally caught his solo act.

Since recovering from a 2010 injury, Buckethead has focused on his own records, writing, recording and releasing new material at a bewildering breakneck pace. He launched the Pikes series in 2011, consisting of hastily recorded half-hour sets sold directly to fans as either downloads or hand-decorated limited edition CDs, and has released fifty-some installments so far. (DBW)

Acoustic Shards (rec. 1991, rel. 2007)
I believe this is all solo acoustic. (DBW)

Transmutation (Mutatis Mutandis) (Praxis: 1992)
A spectacular sonic collage "conceived and constructed" by Bill Laswell: funk, hip-hop and metal thrown together without any attempt to blur them or make them cross-compatible. It works because of brilliant compositions and instrumental performances from Buckethead, Bootsy Collins, Bernie Worrell, drummer Brian "Brain" Mantia and DJ AF Next Man Flip. Most of the tracks shift course midstream - "Interface/Stimulation" opens with a metal riff and changes into the most fascinating shifting, syncopated funk tune I've ever heard, the hard rock of "Crash Victim" cuts abruptly to loops and turntables - while a few stick to one theme (Bootsy's cartoon funk "Animal Behavior," the disc's only vocal tune). All the musicians show taste, verve and willingness to push themselves, but Bootsy and Buckethead in particular seem to revel in the remarkable freedom they are accorded: I don't know if Bootsy's bass playing has ever been more sensitive than in the second half of "The Interworld And The New Innocence." Not a total masterpiece thanks to Bernie's blah funk number "Seven Laws Of Woo" and endless organ exploration "After Shock (Chaos Never Died)," but it's a fascinating look at what music might sound like if creativity rather than marketability was the industry's driving force. (DBW)

Bucketheadland (1992)
A two-CD solo effort that I still haven't managed to find. (DBW)

Giant Robot (1994)
Another mostly instrumental stir-fry of techno, funk and metal - like Transmutation without the organ. Buckethead's versatility as composer and guitarist are the focus here: rapid-fire runs, quick changes, eerie soundscapes, a tender stringfest ("I Love My Parents") and even an unironic 80s arena rocker ("Binge And Grab (Instrumental Version)"). Many of the best tracks feature deep funk grooves provided by Bootsy Collins on Space Bass and Jerome Brailey on drums ("Buckethead's Toy Store," with spoken vocals from Iggy Pop). There are also a couple of practical jokes, like shred-guitar versions of the Star Wars theme and the Bricusse/Newley show tune "Pure Imagination." But Buckethead's Achilles' heel - dull metal vamps - ruins some tracks ("Post Office Buddy," "Onions Unleashed"), and he never knows when to quit with allegedly humorous spoken word clips, which are intercut into nearly every track on the disc. Still, all the quick change acts and trap doors make the disc endlessly listenable. Produced by Laswell. (DBW)

Dreamatorium (Death Cube K: 1994)
Another faux Lawell "band," as Buckethead on guitar and Laswell on synth drones - no drums - create five lengthy, minimalist soundscapes. Buckethead mostly sticks to repeated single notes or short phrases, except on "Maggot Dream" where he solos quietly against a looped chord progression. If you try to actually listen to this you'll be bored out of your mind ("Land Of The Lost"), but maybe it's good background for meditation or a lobotomy or something. The deviation from the program is "Terror By Night," which is no more musical than the other tracks but is much more grating, with a tooth-grinding robotic synth part. (DBW)

Sacrifist (Praxis: 1994)
Brain and Next Man Flip are gone, and so is the magic. Under the standard definition of "avant garde" - pop music is supposed to alienate your parents, avant garde music is supposed to alienate your peers - Laswell and Praxis fall short: Buckethead's Metallica-inspired crunching, Blind Idiot God's unfocused screaming, and John Zorn's free-jazz sax spatters aren't abrasive enough, because we've heard it all too many times. Chaos was a new goal in 1964 - in jazz, at least - but it's not at all fresh or exciting now. And I'm sad to say the same goes for Bernie Worrell's unaccompanied organ exploration ("Crossing") - after twenty years of working that act, he can't find anything new in it. Bootsy's feature ("Deathstar") is more interesting, in texture if nothing else, but it runs a pointless nine minutes. And the reason I'm evaluating the disc as avante garde is because there's zero entertainment value. On the year's brighter side, Buckethead turned up on Zillatron's Lord Of The Harvest. (DBW)

Metatron (Praxis: 1995)
I guess Hardware inspired Laswell to make the next Praxis effort a power rock trio, featuring Buckethead, Mantia, and Laswell himself, all instrumental. But without the usual avante garde trappings, it's just one raw slab of noise after another, often at painfully plodding tempos ("Skull Creek (We Are Not Sick Men)"), and it's basically unlistenable. Though Mantia's playing is as solid as ever, there are no good riffs anywhere: the acoustic opening "Wake The Dead" and bass extravaganza "Inferno/Heatseeker/Exploded Heart" are just as dull as the heavier tunes. "Warcraft" is the only track where the band actually comes up with a credible composition. Avoid. Also this year, Buckethead turned up on Axiom Funk's Funkronomicon. (DBW)

The Day Of The Robot (1996)
Produced by Laswell, and he plays bass and drums on the opening "Destroyer," a quick-changing multi-part epic recalling Transmutation and displaying Buckethead's soloing in a variety of styles. That alone makes the disc worth hearing. Unfortunately, the balance of the album is based on backing tracks from UK DJ Ninj, which are mostly dull beats and amateurish keyboard lines. Buckethead throws some metal riffing on "Flying Guillotine" and a little bass slapping on "Collision"; he puts a few fast runs and dive bombs on "Caution Drop" and barely plays at all on "Quantum Crash"... in fact, there's less of him on this "solo" record than there is on most of his "group" records. (DBW)

Transmutation Live (Praxis: 1997)
The lineup is Buckethead, Mantia, Laswell and five DJs: DMX, Q-Bert, Mixmaster Mike, Shortkut, and DISK. (DBW)

Disembodied (Death Cube K: 1997)
Like Dreamatorium, Buckethead, Laswell and no drums. (DBW)

I Need 5 Minutes Alone (Pieces: 1998)
Buckethead and (on most tracks) Brain, plus someone named Herbie on vocals. I'm guessing this is made up of scraps that didn't fit into other projects, because the variety is immense but the quality is low. The title track and "Scoop Rack" are much the same electronica Buckethead would soon record with Travis Dickerson and Extrakd: muddy keyboards looped with low-tech programmed drums. "Danyel" and "I'll Wait" are simple acoustic guitar ballads with quavery, breathy, frankly awful vocals from Herbie - he also attempts to rap on "Bobafi Crucify." "Ginger" is a dull, evidently improvised instrumental with Buckethead on something that sounds like a synth bass but is presumably a processed guitar - "Slapatron" is in the same vein, but livelier. "8 Diagram Pole Fighter" is solo electric guitar, as is most of "Hazelnut Cream Pie." "Carl Junghole" is basically the only high point, with Buckethead shredding like crazy - heavy metal meets free jazz - while Brain races to keep up with him. For true believers. (DBW)

Colma (1998)
Not as "ambient" as the Death Cube K stuff, but it's mellow; Buckethead plays guitars (frequently acoustic) and bass, while Mantia lays down steady drum tracks, some of them curiously loud ("For Mom"). Though there are some guests - DJ Disc adds quiet scratches to "Hills Of Eternity"; Terry Untalan plays cello and viola on "Wondering" and "Lone Sal Bug" - they don't vary the routine much, and you may find your attention wandering except when the compositions are outstanding ("Whitewash"). The unaccompanied, rapidly hammered "Big Sur Moon" is fun, simultaneously soothing and energetic, but it's so brief it doesn't change the mood. Produced by Buckethead and Xtrack, except for "Machete," a typically semi-funky Laswell co-production. (DBW)

The 13th Scroll (Cobra Strike: 1999)
Electronica created by Buckethead (guitar and bass) and Travis Dickerson, with loops from DJ Disk. (DBW)

Spot The Psycho (The Cornbugs: 1999)
Buckethead, vocalist Choptop, and drummer Pinchface. (DBW)

No Hesitation (El Stew: 1999)
Theoretically a band composed of Buckethead, DJ Disk, Brain, Extrakd, and Eddie Def, but in practice it's just drum loops, simple keyboard riffs and samples, with occasional guitar on top ("Dim Slim"). Of the eighteen cuts, a few are fast (the scratch-heavy "Coke") while most aim to create trance ("Brah"), but they're almost uniformly dull, relying on the flawed notion that pasting in an incongruous sample every minute or two is all you need to keep listeners interested ("Reef-Ill")... I didn't start out prejudiced against electronica, but I'm definitely getting that way. A total waste of time for Buckethead fans, as he doesn't play anything distinctive other than some Spanish-style soloing on "Igloo Condo" and speedy but pointless licks on "B-Boy Showcase." (DBW)

Monsters & Robots (1999)
Produced half by Les Claypool, bassist/leader of Primus (which Mantia had joined in the interim), with other tracks via Extrakd, Laswell, or Pete Seaturr and Rob Beaton. More consistently enjoyable than most of Buckethead's work: the approach is close to Giant Robot, with hyperspeed metal vamps, quick-cut collage, and a variety of genre exercises (the solo acoustic "Who Me?," a rap from Oui-Wey on "The Shape Vs. Buckethead"), but without the stupid voice-overs. Even the metal riff bonanzas are better than usual ("Revenge Of The Double-Man"); the only real disappointment is Laswell's cut-and-paste electronica "Night Of The Slunk." Again, largely instrumental, with some spoken word ("The Ballad Of Buckethead"). There's a fair amount of techno percussion and looping - making comparison to Jeff Beck's Who Else! inevitable, I suppose, but since I haven't listened to that one yet, you'll have to wait. When Mantia's actually drumming, he lays down his usual sound foundation plus unexpected accents. In addition to his usual guitar tricks, Buckethead plays Bootsy-style bass on three tracks ("Jowls"), and Bootsy himself adds vocals and production to three more ("Sow Thistle"). PhonosycographDISK (DJ Disk by another name) adds some turntable scratches. No covers this time: everything's by Buckethead alone, or with bandmates. (DBW)

Warszawa (Praxis: 1999)
Buckethead, Laswell and Brain were at this live performance in Warsaw, but they might as well have stayed home: DJs DXT, MixMaster Mike and PhonosycographDISK dominate the proceedings with endless turntable exhibitionism. I'm not the biggest fan of cutting and scratching to start with, but these three push it to the limit, relying on tired rhythmic figures and lacking individual style (the twenty-minute "Initiation"). The one track where live musicians are the focus is "Saturn," where Buckethead does his pretty arpeggios/loud chords/blistering solo thing while Laswell lays down heavy funk bass; they're also audible on the free-form sleep aid "Fifth Element." (DBW)

Tunnel (Death Cube K: 1999)
As usual, "Death Cube K" indicates ambient soundscapes, and this time they mostly involve slow scraping with tons of delay and echo ("Hemloc"; "Thanatopsis"). Produced with Dickerson, who adds some keyboards and sound effects, generally of the machine gun variety ("Post Mortem"): I think this may be an anti-war album. Or a pro-war album... it's hard to tell with this dude. Buckethead does find a cool shimmery descending riff on "Loss Leper," but overall it's rough going: it seems too unsettling to meditate to ("Scalding Tank"), and it's certainly too dull to listen to. (DBW)

Cobra Strike II (Cobra Strike: 2000)

Cemetery Pinch (The Cornbugs: 2000)

Unison (Shin Terai: 2000)
Percussionist Shin Terai is the titular leader here, but you'd never guess it: most of the drums sound looped, and the sound is Bill Laswell's standard layers of dull ambient sheen with occasional jagged licks poking through. The tracks are better designed than most of his productions, though, and there's no cute concept to get in the way. As background music it's effective, intermittently arresting, but there's enough going on to keep you entertained if you're really paying attention. Worrell's keyboards are prominent ("From Texas"), from organ swells and accents to clavinet grooves, and Buckethead adapts perfectly to each mood, whether chord washes, raining arpeggios or fist-raising solos ("Dream Catcher," the one track that rocks out in places) are required. (Skopelitis also adds guitars.) Curiously for a bassist, Laswell often has trouble with the bottom end, here getting stuck in stale funk vamps ("Tug Of War") - it's still the best of his mellow records I've heard to date. (DBW)

Zurich (Praxis: rec. 1996 and 2000, rel. 2005)
Mostly from a 1996 live performance in Zurich, supplemented with a 2000 performance at the Knitting Factory in NYC. (DBW)

Thanatopsis (Thanatopsis: 2001)
Finally, the album I've been waiting for since Transmutation: inventive, high-energy funk-rock with honest-to-goodness band interaction. Buckethead lays down heavy bass and rhythm riffage, Dickerson uses a variety of keyboard approaches from funky piano ("Mortheol") to insistent trance-style synth ("In Their Millions"), and drummer Ramy Antoun plays a constant stream of jazzy fills without straying too far from the underlying pulse. In fact, at times Bucket's whiz-bang solos are the least interesting part of the mix, which is a nice problem to have, and when his soloing is at its peak ("Twinge," in which playing with a pitch-shifter yields remarkable results) the record soars. Some of the tunes are straightforward grooves ("Mortheol"), while "Final Reparation" deftly mixes in sampled classical elements (piano and sampled strings), but they all develop, as keyboard lines and guitar crunches fade in and out, and never fall into robotic repetition. You might ask for more challenging compositions, but otherwise it's a top-notch outing. All instrumental except for brief computerized vocals on "A Thanatopsis"; produced and co-written by Dickerson. (DBW)

How Now Brown Cow (The Cornbugs: 2001)

Somewhere Over The Slaughterhouse (2001)
Basically an electronica record, with Buckethead spinning out his riffs over drum loops and synths, and I don't have anything good to say about it. "Help Me" is typical: first a minimal "Planet Rock"-style beat, then a brief sequence of power chords, repeat one hundred times, only occasionally varying the lick or sprinkling in acoustic guitar. It's a frustrating listen, because you're stuck listening to an unchanging groove hoping he'll finally bust out a solo or something, and he almost never does ("Burlap Curtain" is the exception, and even there his soloing isn't up to par). The disc opens and closes with brief acoustic snippets (title track, a reworking of "Over The Rainbow"), and he occasionally plays something pretty (the shimmering main line of "My Sheeetz"), but by the time he's done drumming it into your head you'll wish you'd never heard it. (DBW)

Funnel Weaver (2002)
Forty-nine extremely short instrumental tracks, sort of a sampler of riffs Buckethead could've developed into songs if he'd felt like it. If you think of it as a friend sitting down at his amp and making up tunes off the top of his head ("Caretaker Of Memory") it's a decent way to spend an hour, but as a legit release it's threadbare. The upside is, the lame tunes are over before they've seeped into your consciousness ("Death Card"; "5-Card Trick"); the downside is, so are the good ones (the spindly "Azzim's Lectures"; the delayed arpeggio-fest "Covert"). Some ambient sound washes ("Comet Shower") but mostly metal licks ("Channel Of Secrets"), generally just guitar and drum machine with a minimum of overdubs and soloing. More than usual, the titles reflect his preoccupation with mechanized murder and mayhem ("Armour Piercing Projectile"; "Frozen Head"). (DBW)

Bermuda Triangle (2002)
A collaboration with multi-instrumentalist Extrakd, and it's extremely solid: despite the two-man band, the arrangements shift radically so no two songs sound the same. There are solid compositions in every genre attempted: electronica ("Davey Jones Locker"), heavy rock ("Flight 19"), funk ("Execution Delayed"), and just plain noise ("Sucked Under"). Buckethead's playing is more varied and mature than ever ("Sea Of Expanding Shapes," a heavy metal power ballad with a hip hop beat; "Pullin' The Heavy"). "911" is my favorite 9/11 tribute so far, probably because it has no words. "The Triangle Part 2," a solo guitar showpiece, may be the least rewarding cut, and even that's amusing for shred students: better than anything on Slaughterhouse, anyway. And since no track's longer than 4:24, it's a good introduction to Buckethead for people with short attention spans. (DBW)

Electric Tears (2002)
While Bermuda Triangle has a ton of variation from track to track, this disc is basically the same exact thing fourteen times in a row. A determinedly mellow guitar-only outing, Buckethead sets up slow arpeggiations on simple chord progressions, then puts a digitally delayed solo on top ("The Way To Heaven," "Padmasana," etc.). And since he's avoiding funk and heavy metal shred, the solos are all out of pretty much the same bag. Not one of the individual tunes is terrible, and any would have provided nice contrast on a more eclectic album, but here it's a massive overdose. There are two breaks in the monotony, one bad and one good: "Kansas Storm" is an endlessly repeated metal riff, and "Sketches Of Spain" is a quiet but spirited tribute both to Miles Davis and to composer Joaquin Rodrigo - a reminder that extended soloing is a much better proposition when you have a quality melody to work with. (DBW)

Axiology (Thanatopsis: 2003)
Buckethead goes Smooth Jazz. Really, no joke. Dickerson and Antoun again, but this time the emphasis is on rolling acoustic piano lines and melodic soloing instead of funk grooves and shredding (the sleepy, Bruce Hornsby-like "New Year"). Antoun's drumming is sharp, and Buckethead's tone is amusingly Santanaesque ("Vicious Circle"). Unfortunately, continuing the similarity, many of the compositions are so limp ("Cult Of One") there's nothing his guitar can do to redeem them. When the tunes are good, though, all the piano makes a nice contrast against the occasional rapid-fire guitar runs (the middle of "Pretzel Logic"). Just a couple of tracks don't fit the mold ("Pyre," which starts as low-key funk and ends with a grinding metal riff), and perversely the most interesting tracks are the shortest. (DBW)

Bucketheadland 2 (2003)
Thirty cuts relating to an imaginary amusement park, and they fall into one of three categories: intriguing metal riffs that don't go anywhere, often accompanied by his usual solo gyrations ("Bloody Rainbow Spiraling Sherbert Scoop"); spoken link tracks ("Health & Safety Advisory"); or jokey acoustic fragments with tuneless vocals from "Albert," who sounds exactly like "Herbie" from Pieces ("Can You Help Me?"). The second two categories are pure garbage, and even the riff tunes are interrupted by unfunny voiceovers, which makes it hard to escape the conclusion that the whole approach is meant to cover up the fact that Buckethead had a bunch of riffs he liked but didn't know how to develop. There is some spectacular, brilliant playing ("Vladimir Pocket's Incredible Bloated Slunk Show") but it's a frustrating listen. Buckethead plays nearly all the instrumental tracks, though Brain adds some drums and there are a few other voices, including Collins. Co-written, co-produced and engineered by Dan Monti. (DBW)

Heaven And Hell (Shine: 2004)
Electronica from Buckethead, Laswell, and Terai. (DBW)

Island Of Lost Minds (Bucketheadland: 2004)
All instrumental, all full-length tunes, all heavily distorted, but it's still not going to be mistaken for a Joe Satriani record. Most tunes are built from detuned metal riffs augmented by atonal trebly licks ("The Cuckoo Parade"), and virtually no proper soloing. Taken as Buckethead's response to nü-metal, it's certainly more entertaining than Metallica's shot at the same target. At best, an edgy, unpredictable rollercoaster ride ("Dream Darts," which explores almost a dozen themes without losing focus; at worst, just a bunch of undirected industrial thrashing ("Shock Therapy Side Show"); most of the time, somewhere in between ("Skull Scrape"). Buckethead on guitars and occasional bass, plus Delrey Brewer on drums (some of which appear to be programmed); produced by Monti. (DBW)

Population Override (2004)
A self-consciously retro mix of styles: funk ("Unrestrained Growth," a lengthy wah-wah solo over a groove recalling "Cosmic Slop"); blues-rock (the melancholy "Too Many Humans", the solo toss-off "..."); a pensive acoustic fragment ("Humans Vanish"). The format inspires some of the most traditional melodic playing I've ever heard from Buckethead ("Earth Heals Herself"), as if he's trying to prove he could be an ordinary guitar hero if he wanted to. And square that I am, I do get more out of this than most of his avant-garde stuff. Dickerson - who wrote everything with Buckethead and produced - uses a similarly nostalgic keyboard palette: chorused Fender Rhodes ("Cruel Reality Of Nature"), buzzing synth leads (title track). The only other participant is Pinchface on drums, and he's far quieter than Brain or Antoun, just keeping the beat for the most part. (DBW)

Cuckoo Clocks Of Hell (2004)
The same basic approach as Island Of Lost Minds, from what I've heard. (DBW)

Tennessee 2004 (Praxis: rec. 2004, rel. 2007)
From the June 12 performance at Bonnaroo, with Buckethead, Laswell and Worrell. (DBW)

Gorgone (2005)
Same lineup as Population Override, but the sound is much more experimental and improvisatory. Just three tracks, but as they each wind across so much ground and one dissolves into the next, the overall effect is more like a suite. The opening "Enter Gorgone" consists largely of atonal "sound painting" recalling Arto Lindsay while Dickerson explores prog rock organ tones. "Siege" is the weakest link, exploring a two-note vamp in excessive depth, and then meanders in search of another theme. The closing "Aftermath" sounds like something off Transmutation, with a shredding intro that segues into heavy organ funk setting up a brilliant guitar solo, before dissolving into random wanking. Makes me wish I still did drugs. (DBW)

Skeleton Farm (The Cornbugs: 2005)

Dawn Of The Deli Creeps (The Deli Creeps: 2005)
Maximum Bob is on vocals; other than that, your guess is as good as mine. (DBW)

Enter The Chicken (Buckethead & Friends: 2005)
Produced by System Of A Down's Serj Tankian, who appears on several tracks ("Coma"), and relatively conventional - "Running From The Light," with vocals from Gigi Shibabaw and Maura Davis, has the ethereal/crunch dynamics of an Evanescence tune. Many of the tracks are more or less Tankian's usual acerbic nü-metal ("We Are One"), though Buckethead keeps messing with the formula, as with the pretty plucking and searing solo on "Botnus" (which features Efrem Schulz) or the operatic backing vocals during the thudding "The Hand." He also puts on a lead guitar technique clinic, hitting every style from wah-wah arena rock to pure amphetamine shred ("Funbus"). And there are more than enough quick changes (the concluding instrumental suite "Nottingham Lace") and outré insanity (Maximum Bob's mutterings on "The Hand") to remind you that you can take the guitarist out of the chicken coop, but the operation isn't commutative. Most tracks feature guest vocalists ("Three Fingers" with Saul Williams; "Waiting Hare" with Shana Halligan); otherwise, Monti (who also co-wrote everything) plays most of the non-guitar tracks. (DBW)

Inbred Mountain (2005)
Originally intended as a tour-only souvenir, but eventually released for general consumption. From the title you might expect country pickin' along the lines of concert favorite "Hog Bitch Stomp," and there's a tiny bit of banjo here and there ("Escape From Inbred Mountain"). But mostly Buckethead sticks to heavy metal riffing ("In Search Of Inbred Mountain") and chaotic Slonimsky licks ("Advance To The Summit"; "Johnny Be Slunk"). In the mix you'll find two classic arena-rock anthems, the glittering "Lotus Island" and fist-pumping "Flock Of Slunks." (Am I supposed to know what a slunk is?) Del Rey Brewer on drums; recorded and produced by Don Monti... those are the same person but I don't know which name (if either) is real. (DBW)

Kaleidoscalp (2005)
The other side of the coin from Enter The Chicken: all instrumental, no collaborators apart from Monti, and instead of a wide range of styles they focus exclusively on trying to make Buckethead's lead guitar sound like a keyboard, atop stale metal vamps ("Frankenseuss Laboratories"). The end result is a fifty-minute stream of blurps and bleeps that become indistinguishable after a while: Zillions of notes, and not a single notable lick. The best part of the record is the song titles: "The Last Ride Of The Bozomobile"; "The Android Of Notre Dame"; the pretty, almost acoustic "She Sells Sea Shells By The Slaughterhouse." (DBW)

The Elephant Man's Alarm Clock (2006)
Like Inbred Mountain, originally available only on tour (though I couldn't find a copy at the April NYC show I loved but somehow forgot to review). Basically a straightforward hard rock/metal album - though "Bird With A Hole In The Stomach" is terrific, Praxis-style funk-rock - and it's very solid, with loads of memorable riffs (the thundering "Final Wars"; the killswitch showpiece "Droid Assembly"). Buckethead is remarkably adept at acknowledging 80s arena rock tropes without mocking them or aping them: "Gigan" seems to be a tongue-in-cheek, meter-modified nod to Bob Seger's "The Strut." Meanwhile, the four-part "Lurker On The Doorstep" (not the best homage to H.P. Lovecraft) is a letdown, with its main theme lifted from Blondie's "Call Me," and too many sections that go nowhere. (DBW)

Anatomize (A Thanatopsis: 2006)
Again, a trio with Dickerson and Antoun, and this time it's Dickerson's show all the way, with his 70s retro keyboards defining each track: 4/4 McCartneyesque piano on "Counter Clockwise"; Moog on "Break Even Point"; Rhodes on "Common Ground." Buckethead sometimes rides the mellow vibe ("Prolix Mood") but more often churns out metal mania that's just out of place ("Cross Section"). "Common Ground" blends these elements into a supple, rolling groove, and "Simper" has moments of Wired-style whimsy, but otherwise it's a bleak landscape. The compositions are even slimmer than the ones on Axiology, so despite Antoun's flexible, constantly probing drumming, there's nothing to hold more than cursory interest. (DBW)

Chicken Noodles (Buckethead and Travis Dickerson: 2006)
Four lengthy improvisations, with Big B on Telecaster and Dickerson on Fender Rhodes. (DBW)

Crime Slunk Scene (2006)
Buckethead covers all the usual bases: the opening "King James" alone boasts a pitch-shifted lead line, power chords and shimmering picking. "The Fairy And The Devil" vaults from pretty melodic playing to cathartic rock anthem, along the lines of "Nottingham Lace." "Soothsayer" may be the best of all, a nine-minute epic that moves from chillout to rousing by degrees. Even the lesser tunes have decent riffs ("Buddy Berkman"), and there are no annoying voiceovers or skits. But none of it sounds particularly fresh, either, because he's done it all so often, and so recently... Who's to blame: him for releasing five records a year, or me for reviewing them all? (DBW)

In Search Of The... (2007)
A thirteen-CD collection of new music. No, I'm not kidding. I won't be reviewing this, on the principle that if you are even considering buying a thirteen-disc Buckethead set you aren't going to care what I think anyway. I will point out that the last disc consists of one 45-minute song improvised over a drum loop (analogous to the Prince bootleg Billy's Sunglasses). (DBW)

Pepper's Ghost (2007)
As on Crime Slunk Scene, this is Buckethead without frills: no overriding concept, no vocals, no guests (apart from Monti on drums). Generally he sticks to metal riffs ("Maguas Scalp"), though there are a few contemplative numbers ("Imprint (Dedicated To Takashi Miike)"), and as usual he often switches gears within a single track ("Carpal Tunnel Slug"). So it's nothing new, really, except that the record has such an abundance of brilliant riffs - "Goblin Shark"; the manic title track - and other than the brief "Bag Some Game," it's organized into actual songs, rather than just shards. As a result, the record's worth hearing even if you've been turned off by some of Buckethead's past antics: there's not much self-conscious strangeness, and lots of great guitar tunes from a great guitarist ("Towel In The Kitchen"). (DBW)

Light Years (Shine e: 2007)
Terai, Buckethead, Laswell and Worrell. (DBW)

DCK (Death Cube K: 2007)
Another ambient disk. Currently available only as a limited edition. (DBW)

Kevin's Noodle House (Brain and Buckethead: 2007)

Decoding the Tombs of Bansheebot (2007)
Heavier on the metal than usual ("Circarama"; "Asylum Of Glass"), with loads of satisfying licks ("Checkerboard Incision"; "I Can Only Carry 50 Chickens At A Time") and just a few lighter moments ("Sail On Soothsayer"). Some of the tunes never achieve liftoff ("Ghost Host"), several don't develop ("Killing Cone"), and I wouldn't argue there's anything new here. But it's a worthy new attraction in Bucketheadland if you've already bought in. (DBW)

Cyborg Slunks (2007)
Sort of a successor to Kaleidoscalp, and I'm in no hurry to write an in-depth review. (DBW)

Monolith (Death Cube K: 2007)
A five-disc ambient set, with one forty-minute cut on each CD. It's possible you're supposed to play all five simultaneously, but no one really knows. (DBW)

Chicken Noodles II (Buckethead and Travis Dickerson: 2007)
Capping a year which saw the release of two dozen discs of new material. (DBW)

Profanation (Preparation For A Coming Darkness) (Praxis: 2008)
The core band here is Laswell, Buckethead and Brain, plus lots of guests: Worrell, Tankian ("Sulfur And Cheese"), Pop ("Furies"), Killah Priest, hip hop pioneer Rammellzee ("Caution"), and various DJs. As with most of Laswell's projects, the band sets up a groove on each track so the vocalist can do his thing, but the tunes are more structured than usual ("Worship" has verse, chorus, bridge and even a guitar solo), at times achieving the unpredictable excitement of Transmutation (the downtempo coda to "Ancient World"; "Revelations Part 2"). Also, the Buckethead/DJ ratio is relatively high, so there's a lot more exciting rock and roll ("Furies," brought to life by layered guitars) than dull trance ("Galaxies"). As you'd expect, the lyrics deal mainly with vague anarchist prophecies of doom ("Babylon Blackout"). (DBW)

Albino Slug (2008)
This tour-only solo CD is a rather conventional instrumental hard rock album, along the lines of Crime Slunk Scene or Pepper's Ghost. In other words, Buckethead does his usual Bucket-things - manic note cascades, killswitch shenanigans, unexpected quiet passages - but they're in the service of songs (the long, tension-building "Siege Engine"). Apart from the scarcely audible "Forgotten Trail" there are no half-baked tossoffs, but some of the tunes don't really go anywhere ("Pink Eye"; "The Bight Of Benin") and even the better ones seem familiar ("Symmetrical Slug"). Produced by Monti. (DBW)

Bolt-On Neck (Frankenstein Brothers: 2008)
A collaboration with touring partner That 1 Guy, who plays a curious instrument of his own devise called the Magic Pipe. I saw him play it on a recent tour and the range of sounds he gets out of it is remarkable: on disc, though, it mostly sounds like a guitar synth (title track), occasionally producing percussive or string effects ("5 Second Minute"). Buckethead, meanwhile, delivers his most retro performance to date, sticking to arena rock licks ("Bought Big Ben"). Put them together, and there's a lot of aimless, marginally musical noisemaking ("The Thief And The Prince" stretches over thirteen minutes without a single memorable theme). There are some nice moments, most of them in "Prototype #1," but precious little return on your investment. (DBW)

The Dragons Of Eden (The Dragons Of Eden: 2008)
Like Gorgone and Thanatopsis, The Dragons are another "band" consisting of Buckethead, Dickerson and a drummer - this time it's Brain. And like those other aggregations, the disc is mostly driven by Dickerson's retro keyboard stylings - organ, Rhodes, etc. - while Buckethead plays guitar hero ("The Cosmic Calendar"). But this time around it's all pretty unimaginative and repetitive, as the tunes never lead in any unpredictable directions ("Draco"). You could turn off your brain and rock out to "Knowledge Is Destiny," sure, but you might as well be listening to Foghat. Also this year, Buckethead and Brain joined Science Faxtion for Living On Another Frequency, and their work with Guns N' Roses was finally released. (DBW)

Slaughterhouse On The Prairie (2009)
Another Monti collaboration, and stylistically it's another Albino Slug or Bansheebot: all instrumental, mostly vamp-based hard rock with some quiet passages ("Blood Bayou"), no guests or tricks. Buckethead has covered this ground so many times there's nothing to get excited about; there are plenty of decent licks ("Collecting Specimens"; "Don't Use Roosts If You Raise Broilers") but no brilliant ones. Sometimes it seems like there's nothing much to comment on but the song titles, and this time there are three basketball player tributes: "LeBron," "LeBron's Hammer" and "Iceman" (dedicated to George Gervin). (DBW)

A Real Diamond In The Rough (2009)
A mostly mellow tribute to longtime lawyer Stan Diamond. Some tracks have the laid-back mood of Colma or Electric Tears (the lovely, brittle "Dawn Appears"; "Sundial"), but there's more range: "Formless Present" is in ambient Death Cube K territory, while in other places Buckethead sets up a midtempo funk or metal groove he can solo over ("Broken Mirror"; "Squid Ink"). "The Return of Captain EO" is a salute to Michael Jackson, released only a couple of months before his passing. Brain is on several tracks, with Monti's drum programming on the rest. (DBW)

Forensic Follies (2009)
Apparently this is new solos played over reconstructed backing tracks from old songs, sort of analogous to Zappa's Shut Up 'N Play Yer Guitar. (DBW)

Torn From Black Space (Death Cube K: 2009)

Shadows Between The Sky (2010)
Another laid-back set along the lines of Real Diamond, and almost everything has Big B playing arpeggios using the same ringing, reverby effect ("The Cliff's Stare"), plus Monti drumming that's just a bit too noisy ("Cookies for Santa"). The lack of variety is part of the problem, but not all: most of the individual tunes are substandard ("Wax Paper," a New Age-y number that sounds like the "gentle triumph" music you'd hear at the end of an Afterschool Special), apart from the lovely "Sea Wall." Monti also produced with "Albert." After this release, Buckethead went approximately six months without putting out any new music, as he battled some illness or other. (DBW)

Best Regards (Buckethead, Brain & Melissa: 2010)
A 5-CD set; Melissa Reese is on keyboards. (DBW)

Spinal Clock (2010)
Buckethead on banjo! Technically, 6-string banjo, banjo guitar, or guitar banjo, depending on your taste in nomenclature But that doesn't mean hoedown music: "Lafayette's Landing" is foreboding; "Bayou By You" is frenetic choked strums in atonal patterns; and most of the disc is atmospheric noodling ("Whale On This"; "Overnight The Animatronics"). (DBW)

Kind Regards (Buckethead, Brain & Melissa: 2010)
In case you've already digested the previous set, here are three more discs. (DBW)

Brain As Hamenoodle (Brain: 2010)
Buckethead on bass, Brain on drums. (DBW)

Captain EO's Voyage (2010)
As the title indicates, more or less an album-length Michael Jackson tribute ("Tears In The Mirror"). Which explains the overall deliberate pace and melancholy tone ("Trails Of Moondust"). The format is rock instrumentals with bass, drums and light touches of keyboards ("The Siphoning Sequence"), only infrequently building up a head of steam ("Dancing The Dream"). They're full compositions, not jams, often elegant ("Backwards Footprint") but otherwise unremarkable, so you still end up listening mainly for Buckethead's solos ("Chase The Darkness"). (DBW)

Left Hanging (Travis Dickerson/Buckethead: 2010)
Outtakes from various Dickerson/Buckethead projects. (DBW)

3 Foot Clearance (2010)
Originally known as Happy Holidays From Buckethead; later retrofitted into the Pikes series as Volume Three. (DBW)

Electric Sea (2012)
A sequel to Electric Tears, produced with Janet Rienstra-Friesea. Features two Bach tunes and Alfredo Catalani's "La Wally." (DBW)

Buckethead Pikes

There are so many Pikes I'm not even going to try to review them all. Only the ones I've actually listened to are listed here; for the rest, Wikipedia seems to do a better job of making sense of the chronology than B's own site.

It's Alive (2011)
First in a new series called Buckethead Pikes. I don't know what that means, but it seems to have something to do with frenetic heavy metal instrumentals... Though there are outbreaks of funk bass ("Barnyard Banties"), and "The Hatch" is a post-electronica scratchfest, overall this is the thrashiest release I've heard from Big B in a very long time ("Lebrontron"). "Crack The Sky" (a Mastodon reference?) is huge; otherwise, the cuts are merely respectable. If your shelf has a lot of room for Buckethead, you'll want to have this too; if you're looking for his most incisive work, keep looking. Setting the norm for the Pikes series, Monti is the producer and only other performer (bass and drum programming). (DBW)

Empty Space (2011)
Buckethead is known for exploring new territory, but he's also known for returning obsessively to territory he's already covered, and that's what you'll get here. The second Pike, and again a mix of Mu-tron and metal ("Comb And Wattles"). But the tunes are random collections of familiar-sounding licks ("Hatched"), and there's far too much frenzied, pointless shredding for my taste (title track). The drumming too is rather predictable, and since there are no vocals or other instruments, there's nothing much to listen for. (DBW)

Underground Chamber (2011)
One long track on the CD release, though it's really ten different compositions (shades of Lovesexy), and it was broken up that way for online consumption. Fourth volume of Pikes, but unlike most of the series it relies heavily on processed guitar effects. (DBW)

Look Up There (2011)
Two lengthy midtempo tunes, the longer of which is a pointless rehash of the "Stairway To Heaven" solo (title track). Fifth volume of Pikes, produced by Monti with programming and drums by Brewer. (DBW)

Racks (2012)
Another grab-bag; in the heavy riffs category, "The Snow Rabbit" is pretty cool; "The Patrolman" is one of his better slow burn compositions. (DBW)

March Of The Slunks (2012)
Not much metalness or mellowness; instead, there are a lot of three-minute funk-rock songs ("The Other Side Of The Island"). The guitar heroics won't let you down ("Ghost Coop"), but it's smack in the middle of his comfort zone and sooo familiar. (DBW)

The Silent Picture Book (2012)
More gentle cuts than usual for a Pikes release ("Blind Cyclops"); basically, though, it's more of the same. (DBW)

Twisterlend (2013)
Buckethead finally takes a whack at plain ol' rock and roll, using cathartic vamps ("Ghouls Of The Sea") and acrobatic soloing (title track) as building blocks for actual structured compositions ("The Closed Triptych," the disc's one extended cut). While many of the licks are conventional AOR, he also stretches tonality ("Forbidden Fold"), and explores a range of moods ("Gloomy Emptiness"). As a bonus, this context also shows Monti's drumming to best advantage ("Bowling For Slaughters"). Easily my favorite Pike so far, and you can't beat the price: it's a free download. (DBW)

Coat Of Charms (2013)
Mostly laid-back grooves with lots of echoey arpeggios. Includes a six-part "Jettison." (DBW)

Wishes (2013)

You Can't Triple Stamp A Double Stamp (2014)
He's keeping up the furious pace of new releases he started in late 2012 - if anything, he's accelerating. This time, the focus is on rhythm guitar vamps (title track) organized into short pieces (from 1:45 to 3:07), with a minimum of soloing and some churchy organ ("Prominent Ghosts"). He's pretty clearly written off the casual fan, but if - like me - you're somewhere in between serious fan and obsessive fan, skip this one. (DBW)

Monument Valley (2014)
Lyrical and song-oriented without being chill-out music, which is one of my favorite flavors of Buckethead. That said, the nineteen-minute "Attic Floor," based on the dreadfully familiar i-VII-VI chord progression (known as "Turn The Beat Around changes"), wear out its welcome. "Lirton Nostril," which is even longer, has wonderful passages but meanders unforgivably. So the tender opener "Fembot" is the only keeper. (DBW)

The Time Travelers Dream (2015)
This could be the first pike in years that inspires me to write a full review: It's rock instrumentals, with Buckethead staying in one mood throughout - melancholy without getting too mellow - and developing themes rather than seeing how many licks he can string together. Definitely worth a spin, or a click, or whatever the kids do nowadays. (DBW)


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