A Walk Through Buckethead’s Massive Bandcamp Catalogue

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Illustration by George Wylesol

Buckethead has one of the most unique careers—and personas—in the history of rock music. Over the course of the last 25 years, the enigmatic guitarist has operated in paradox, working with high-profile names like Guns N’ Roses, Bootsy Collins, and Serj Tankian, while still managing to maintain a shadowy aura. But for all of his marquee collaborations, Buckethead’s true magic lies in his solo performances, where he decorates the stage with small statues and plays scenes from Japanese animated videos behind him.

He also flat-out shreds on the guitar, peeling off licks while wearing a Michael Myers mask and an upside-down KFC chicken bucket labeled “funeral.” At every show, there’s an intermission where the 6’6” guitarist demonstrates his skill with nunchucks, and passes out toys to the crowd. He generally follows that by playing the theme songs for Mighty Morphin Power Rangers and Star Wars.

In addition to his already storied career, Buckethead has constructed his own imaginary theme park, called Bucketheadland, in Claremont, California. His debut album of the same name provided a virtual walking tour of the park during its “construction.” Fast forward to today, where not only is his fictitious park “up and functioning,” he’s added 272 kiosks that each carry an album, according to his website. In other words, since 2011, Buckethead has released a whopping 272 “real” albums for his made-up theme park.

Each album—or “pike,” as he calls it—is numbered like a comic book, and has unique artwork created by Buckethead. His massive discography covers a wide range of sounds—from heavy metal to ambient to experimental noise—which doesn’t make it easy to choose which “pikes” to start with. This is our rollercoaster ride through 15 essential Buckethead albums.

Look Up There (#5)

Look Up There almost perfectly presents both the duality and the range of Buckethead’s career. “Golden Eyes,” the first segment of this pike, demonstrates his perfect pace and control. He knows how to stutter step his riffs around the grungy bass groove, and when to rev up and speed into sweeping arpeggios. The second part of this release (“Look Up There”) is the reason why this pike makes the list: Clocking in at over 20 minutes, the track evolves from a calm progression of notes to a thrilling guitar jam. The sweetest spot comes near the track’s end, right around the 20-minute mark, when Buckethead pulls back to a clean guitar rhythm as a way to ease into further shredding.

The Boiling Pond (#16)

The Boiling Pond is the best example of Buckethead joyously getting filthy, grungy, and messy. His guitar tone throughout this pike is smothered in distortion, and will speak to the lovers of Buckethead’s fast-paced riffing on the lower end of the spectrum. “Conductor” is a clear standout, opening with rattling, muted guitar and immediately easing into a calm interlude that provides momentary relief from the album’s haunted house atmosphere.

Pearson’s Square (#31)

Pearson’s Square showcases Buckethead’s softer side, channeling passionate and powerful emotions into beautiful acoustic guitar chords and heartfelt melodies. “Hearts Delight” is a perfect marriage of melody and rhythm, in which every note feels like it’s directly channeling Bucket’s emotions, providing a small glimpse into the man behind the mystery.

Coat of Charms (#40)

“Hall of Aluminum” begins with an infectious riff, something unique to Buckethead’s repertoire. That opening riff is wrapped in slight delay, and sporta a twangy tone and a hopscotching rhythm. The rest of Coat of Charms plays out differently: heavy rumbles and psychedelic, delayed guitar chords build bridges between the different sections of the “Jettison” run.

Monument Valley (#49)

Monument Valley is one of the few pikes where the album title is written legibly on the cover art. That artwork—depicting a shadowy desert valley—is also a good indication of the album’s sound, which feels barren and solemn. Here, Buckethead experiments with chord delays; the slower segments and riffs on this pike feel rawer than his other work, with slight hisses turning up at the end of track. The layers of Bucket’s guitars aren’t too intricate, and the mood and reverb put the listener right in the center of each song.

Hold Me Forever (In memory of my mom Nancy York Carroll) (#65)

Buckethead lost both of his parents over the span of one year between 2013 and 2014. He dedicated the 13th pike (which untitled and no longer available) to his dad, and Hold Me Forever to his mom. Past releases dedicated to his parents have landed on the softer side of the musical spectrum, but with Hold Me Forever, he says his goodbyes with a powerful, widescreen ballad. Everything on this pike feels energized—it’s as if Buckethead is coping with grief by summoning strength through his guitar.

Final Bend of the Labyrinth (#73)

Final Bend of the Labyrinth sounds like a fairy tale that’s inappropriate for children. The solos are less audacious, and the overall goal seems to be to create a kind of grand spectacle. The key to this pike is the intricacy of the rhythms and backing harmonies, which build perfect bridges for the magical solos. Many of the riffs are revisited throughout the pike, but my favorite arrives early during the first track, where he matches a riff with an equally resonant harmony, eventually nailing a wailing, slow-paced solo.

Northern Lights (#95)

There’s a pug running from an explosion on the cover of Northern Lights, while being chased by a Terminator-style cyborg. Imagine this pike as the backing track to that pug’s escape, and it works perfectly. While the first half of this pike is a headbanger’s delight, the title track is a bit more flavorful and riff-driven.

Project Little Man (#104)

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Project Little Man is full of intriguing riffs and electrifying guitar solos that defy the human ear to keep up. “Project Little Man” is essentially a jam session, complete with hairpin twists and turns that stretch out across a riveting 18 minutes. The tapping solos are otherworldly, and the energy remains in the red throughout. “Thorne Room” is a showcase of Buckethead’s incredible riffage; Near the tail end of the track, he moves down to the lower frets for a groovy sequence that provides the perfect contrast to the song’s high-octane opening.

Herbie Theatre (#113)

In Buckethead lore, Herbie is an evil farmer from the farm where the artist grew up. Because of what Herbie did to all of his chicken friends, Buckethead avenged them by beheading Herbie and turning his head into a puppet. Backstory aside, Herbie Theatre is one of Buckethead’s funkier projects. Taken under the eccentric wings of Bootsy Collins in the ‘90s, Buckethead proves he knows his way around both funk and vivid experimentation. He helicopters guitar pop and slaps, sprinkling them with gliding, wah-wah effect. And it wouldn’t be a Buckethead pike if he didn’t end this Herbie-centric showcase with a fiery, demented solo.

Quilted (#175)

This is “intermission Buckethead” at its finest. Quilted is the perfect listen to help restore your energy and rebuild your sanity. A complement to his usual off-the-rails riffage, Quilted is both dreamy and reverby. It’s just one track, and rightfully so: Buckethead’s guitar swells calmly, getting louder when chords need to be accentuated and softer when he wants to hold back. Ornamented with meditative delays, there’s never a dull moment on Quilted, which is transportive and meditative from beginning to end.

Mirror Realms (#220)

Mirror Realms makes the list because the transition from “Blue Slide” to the three parts of “Mirror Realm” makes for a phenomenal, neck-snapping switch-up. “Blue Slide” has a romantic vibe—melodic, slightly-distorted solos snake beneath lovely, floating acoustic guitar. But the daydream doesn’t last long; “Mirror Realms Part One” reaches an 11 out of 10 on the Spinal Tap meter; the guitar screeches shake you awake, and the horrifying riffs feel built to accompany a Buckethead nunchuck dance.

Cove Cloud (#221)

Like his fleet-fingered fretboard-burners, Buckethead’s calmer music has many dimensions. Where pikes like Pearson’s Square focus on acoustic rhythms, Cove Cloud dwells in the realm of ambience. There’s no need for shredding on this album—instead, Buckethead focuses on comforting with open space. He takes advantage of smooth reverb and trickling delay, especially on the outro of “Cloud,” where the departing sequence is minimal, yet powerful.

Santa’s Toy Workshop (#243)

Santa’s Toy Workshop isn’t as jolly as the title suggests. The anxiety-inducing “Santa’s 20 Minutes Away” feels like it’s meant to score a particularly grueling Christmas Eve for Saint Nick. But “Winds Through Antlers” is the winner here: the ringing guitar tone is reminiscent of surf rock, and Buckethead executes it well, diving in and out of galloping rhythms and piercing melodies. It’s his way of saying “Merry Christmas.”

Poseidon (#264)

Films could be made around the ideas contained in Buckethead’s pikes. On Poseidon, the guitarist mixes epic ballads with stadium rock. A six-part journey, Buckethead blends light strings and transitional bridges, keeping the consistency of these cloudy, mellow segments at the same high-intensity level as the big sound from the heavier sections.

-Ryan Magnole

 

15 Comments

  1. Posted October 3, 2018 at 4:02 am | Permalink

    Buckethead is one of my favorite guitar players of all time. He has such an insane diversity, playing probably every existing music genre out there.

    He is my role model when it comes to mastering guitar.

    Even as I’m writing this, I have his music on.

  2. MikeJ
    Posted May 13, 2018 at 1:19 pm | Permalink

    this extraordinary talent should be world wide news. Good looks Bandcamp,Awesome.Awesome..Awesome

  3. C Duggan Harrison
    Posted November 28, 2017 at 5:30 pm | Permalink

    My son talked me into going to a live concert. I still am very impressed with his talent and humble approach of the fame he has aquired.

  4. DeathCubeK
    Posted November 28, 2017 at 10:59 am | Permalink

    Good list but Pike #51, Claymation Courtyard, is a glaring omission.

  5. Posted November 27, 2017 at 6:40 pm | Permalink

    I have a spreadsheet with all of the pikes (well, the first 220) and my notes and a rating system. Many of your hits here are on my list, but it’s it’s been fun going back to your list…yup, I really didn’t hear some of these right the first time.

    The only thing I would tell someone exploring Buckethead’s pikes is to echo what someone above said: the Halloween pikes are their own set for the most part and probably the most challenging. Stick with anything named here – let me add 222222222, Thank You Ohlinger’s, Teflector – and you’re spending the best $2 and 25min on music you can spend.

    One more thing: his stuff sounds amazing in the car. I like listening at work (headphones, get a groove on to work), but it’s best in the car.

  6. Joey C
    Posted November 27, 2017 at 9:27 am | Permalink

    People ask me which Buckethead pike is my fav and I always reply “CTRL+A” Just get them all . NYC4EVER

  7. ejs
    Posted November 25, 2017 at 7:37 pm | Permalink

    I discovered Buckethead a couple years ago and I’m not particularly a fan of instrumental rock. Buckethead is the exception to that. Once I started listening, I listened to nothing else for months (and I’m a huge music fan in general). Now I have purchased ($2 if you wait) most of the pikes, save the Halloween countdown pikes. Even those are interesting, but that’s another story.

    If you asked 100 different fans for a best of pike list, you’d get 100 different lists. My favorite Buckethead mood is what I call his grinders – they are dark, slow, lurching, and usually groovy in their own way. I would add the following pikes to a best of list – Twisted Branches (Pike 158), Down In the Bayou Parts 1&2 (Pikes 130&131), and my all time favorite Along The River Bank (Pike 125). The first and third tracks off Pike 125 are awesome!

    Buckethead is one of a kind for sure. Thanks Buckethead for all the great tunes and thanks Bandcamp for the article of recognition and the great platform where I can buy FLAC!

  8. ZNPMAGE
    Posted November 25, 2017 at 6:23 pm | Permalink

    Buckethead is a maniac, when it comes to music, it makes perfect sense. Glorious.

  9. Posted November 25, 2017 at 2:21 pm | Permalink

    I have never seen a concert where the entire crowd stared in such awe as he unleashes all of his various styles of guitar playing. I cannot believe I only discovered him in the last year! His performance last year at the Ardmore Music Hall was the best entertainment I have ever experienced.

  10. Steve Carpenter
    Posted November 23, 2017 at 10:07 pm | Permalink

    I gave Buckethead a serious listen for the first time less than a year ago. I’ve listened to almost nothing else since. I absolutely love his softer side, his groovy side, and his melodic rock side. No one else compares in terms of variety and emotion. I enjoy instrumental rock guitar from a variety of artists, but none have touched me as deeply as Buckethead!

  11. Posted November 22, 2017 at 8:31 pm | Permalink

    I’ve long considered Buckethead as my favorite artist, even though much of his material is questionable. Very funny coincidence that this is the first time I’ve ever logged into bandcamp daily, and here this is front and center. Anybody who reads this and doesn’t know his legacy, let me summarize it with some of my favorites – Soothsayer, Too many Humans, All in the Waiting, Padmasana, Witches on the Heath, leave the light on, Beyond the Windmill… I could elaborate at lease 100 more songs but that’s a good stopping point.

  12. Matthew
    Posted November 22, 2017 at 6:18 am | Permalink

    I read this little article this morning. I now own 8 Buckethead pikes… Impressive! :)

  13. Matias
    Posted November 20, 2017 at 2:22 pm | Permalink

    Buckethead is GOD. He is the most talented guitarrist and musician the world ever know. Thanks Buckethead for your music!!! This fan from Argentina will always love your work and I thank you for help me in my life with your sounds. A true legend.

  14. Posted November 20, 2017 at 12:34 pm | Permalink

    Great article. Glad to see bandcamp finally giving the king a nod on the front page :)

  15. Posted November 20, 2017 at 12:02 pm | Permalink

    He always delivers. Buckethead is my god.

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