I would classify this as a blues album. That judgment, however, only makes sense if you are a fan of Buckethead. It is his unique take on things, his own melodic style. He treats the guitar as the electric instrument it is, or rather, he treats its soul as pure electricity. Sometimes his music sounds more like electronica composed on a computer or played on a keyboard than a guitar, but with the freedom to break from the patterns at any time, jump from a sweet and simple melody to a blistering solo that only a handful of people in the entire world can play, all at the drop of a hat, but still at exactly the perfect moment. His blues, therefore, don't really sound that earthy, but still soulful and beautiful, full of feeling.
A little more background information before the review: Buckethead, if you didn't know, is probably the greatest guitarist on the planet, in the solar system, and maybe even the Universe. Dave Mustaine freely admitted that him and Slash together probably aren't half as talented as Buckethead. He is capable of all those usual virtuoso guitar tricks - transcendent speed, two-hand tapping, mastery of nearly every conceivable genre, and innovative techniques. Of the last, he is known mainly for his use of the kill-switch, usually to make that electronic sound I mentioned earlier, but I've seen him use it for a rap groove, too. Buckethead's strength is that he does not get distracted by his own skill; his playing always serves the music, and is always in good taste. In short, if you worked with Buckethead and someone asked you, "Who's the greatest artist you ever had the pleasure of working with?" then he would always be the answer. It's a universal constant. It's like if someone asked you "What's the fastest thing you ever saw?" If you aren't blind, the answer is "light."
If you are a fan of the insane-shredding Buckethead1, this might not be your album. This is really a study in melody. All of the songs have distinct similarities that are hard to describe, but they are definitely all in a similar style (with the exception of maybe Sketches of Spain and Kansas Storm). Yet, they are all different. I think this may have been a personal challenge he made to himself, sort of like a concept album. In retrospect, I think most Buckethead albums are like that. An important and more tangible feature of this album is that no track has drums. There is rhythm/backing guitar, and lead guitars. They are sustained only by Buckethead.
If you don't want to read the rest of this, just listen to Angel Monster, The Way to Heaven, and Datura.
All in The Waiting
I kind of hate this one. I usually skip to Sketches of Spain. Not to say this isn't brilliant from a technical standpoint, if you give it a chance. Just, who cares?
Starts with some insane flurry of (probably) tapped notes that sounds kind of like laughter. Then it segues to the quintessential Spanish tune. This is normal enough, but around 1:10 the distortion guitar
comes in (seamlessly). Then he plays with the motif
, messing with the wah
, throwing in harmonics, that sort of thing. I know, the words sound so bland, but just hear it. This isn't the strongest song on the album by far, but it should still blow you away.
This should really be the start of the album. As you near the end, you'll see what I mean. The composition of this is so similar to some of the other tracks, like say Datura and Angel Monster, that they're nearly interchangeable. But, even so, you'll want them all, if you have even slightly developed tunelust
I think this is the first that truly shows off Buckethead's melodic ability, since Sketches of Spain is a cover (or at least based on an existing song) and because I don't really like All in the Waiting. Also, and most importantly, given the length of this song, of course it takes a lot of effort to keep things fresh. You have the first riff, played on acoustic and chorus(?)-ridden electric. Then what I think is a louder acoustic mix with the lead playing. The style is a mix of classical guitar with a hint of blues. At around the three minute mark, he adds some electric lead. Then it retreats to the background, with the acoustic lead dominating again, and then they take turns. At 3:57, the blues guitar comes in panned right with a little lick, and then the acoustic seems to pick up where it leaves off, like they're finishing each other's sentences. Then the bluesy riffs come and go, crying out here and there for emphasis, becoming clearer or more muffled against the rest, which is a theme you'll hear in more of these tracks. At around the five minute mark, the melody changes completely into something befitting a child's lullaby. Over a minute and a half later, it changes again, taking a darker turn in the lead while returning to the original backing riff. The blues has a much stronger presence here. The saturated minor licks overpower the acoustic that dominated earlier. Hardly any of these licks are cliché. Listening intently will probably make you a better musician by sheer osmosis, much the same way seeing God will make your hair turn white and give you a gnarly beard.
This one uses a lot more space and is much less densely layered. To which I mean, there seems to be a single track for a decent chunk of the song. A similarly timed delay
is used through much of this album, but I think this is the first track where it figures prominently. The first minute is pure anticipation, but not a calm before the storm. It is darkly foreboding. This gives way to a galloping riff, but one with a very strange texture
. I don't know what's up. Bits are added in here, with maybe too much wah, but I think he was going for that Sergio Leoni spaghetti Western
sound. Before the four minute mark, he returns to the melodic territory of most of the rest of the album. It will sound familiar already, comparing to Padmasana. The end merges that stuttering melody tone with the strange wah backing of the beginning.
The Way to Heaven
This was my favorite for a while, and it's generally in a back-and-forth with Angel Monster. I think everything is on electrics. The blues riffs start from nearly the beginning. This is what Electric Tears sounds like in full swing. It's hard to describe this lead, as at the same time you have these normal enough licks, there's some weird uniqueness behind it all, a combination of this peculiar set of effects and tone with Buckethead's technique in an inimitable synthesis. At 2:57 there's some kind of slidy thing that is one of the greatest examples I can give you of that "electronic" sound
, along with the very beginning of Sketches of Spain probably one of the tracks I haven't gotten to yet. There are about a million little flourishes here and there in every song though that give them that eccentricity.
Baptism of Solitude
Kind of bores me. Sounds sort of like a continuation to All in the Waiting. At least until about 1:22. So, I dunno, maybe skip the first minute of this song. It actually gets pretty awesome after that, but I don't usually make it past that first minute.
I don't like this at all. You could say this is the closest to a rock song on this whole album, but fuck that. Some of the texture and composition
is kind of like rock. I think this would be called post-rock, if musical genres didn't restrict themselves to such narrowness in meaning so soon after they're named. From Wikipedia:
Post-rock is a subgenre of alternative rock and progressive rock1 characterized by the use of instruments commonly associated with rock music, but using rhythms and 'guitars as facilitators of timbre and textures' not traditionally found in rock.
I'd say that fits very well here, but just know that this doesn't sound anything like Explosions in the Sky
or like that.
This is one of the "singles". Basically anyone who's heard of Buckethead has probably at least heard of this track. Stylistic themes: the spacy wah-ed chords of Mustang at the beginning (now somewhat like quietly crackling thunder), and that slidy thing from The Way to Heaven, which now is the basis of the song. In terms of the play of dynamics
and interweaving voices
, this is one of the most complex. There are a few quiet volume swells here and there, nearly buried behind the lead and rhythm tracks. They have a ghostly sound that I believe is used with even more importance in Angel Monster. At around 3:12 things speed up a bit with a new riff. Then there's a delayed thing that sounds really synthy
. A relatively standard, and in fact almost normal guitar tone plays over that. At 4:50 two tracks hold one note in a lead harmony that sounds like an ordinary person's rock. It then quickly becomes Buckethead again.
I'm not entirely sure, but I think this intro may be a little easier to play than it sounds, using delay similar to Big Sur Moon
Witches On The Heath
This one is really mellow. It uses some of the themes set forth in earlier tracks, in particular the blues style and backing arpeggios
. It's closest to The Way to Heaven, but without the intensity. The licks aren't too different - they have the same sort of timing, use the same kinds of emphasis - but they are much more subdued somehow. Mourning the situation, but finding no way to fix it. They sing futility.
My current favorite. At the beginning, there is a ghostly sound made through changing volume, probably either through a pedal or the knob, since Buckethead tends to work simply. The most important volume swells ever. (Remember when I said that up at Datura?)
This is one of the must listens.
It's simpler than a few of those earlier tracks, but it is the triumph of the album. An example of that simplicity that works so well is the long trill
that starts around 2:06. You can do this at home if you have a guitar. It's just
But the acoustic backing keeps up behind that, giving it meaning. At three minutes Buckethead's famous kill-switch
technique is used, so if you were playing a drinking game, take a shot.
What, you're still listening? You should probably end it at Angel Monster; it's hard to get much better than that, and I can assure you, it doesn't. But hey, I can't blame you for wanting to hear the titular track. It is really good. Like Witches On The Heath, it has less potency, less urgency. The sense of futility may not be quite as strong, but it isn't because it has been replaced by hope. It's more like there has been a numbing, a sense of loss that surpasses mere futility. There are major chords in parts of this song, that may make you think there was a sliver of hope, but it is only a fleeting, a joke to remind you of what was lost.
Spell of the Gypsies
Okay, now you can stop. This song is very clearly intended to wind down the album. It does have some brilliant parts to it, because it is by Buckethead. I mean, no shit! I usually skip this, but for the purpose of reviewing, I have made it past that one minute mark, and this has some of the most genius acoustic work on the album. Traces of flamenco
surface and recede. Actually, I want to learn this now. Thanks E2!
Less layering here than other songs, but some more complex lead at parts, that shifts between flamenco, jazz, and a little of that Buckethead-style2 blues. The ending picks up and has that great Spanish feel to it, just brilliant.
TL;DRIt's like wordlessly opening and closing an umbrella while staring at your dying grandfather.3
Buy the album, smartass! If you claim to like music at all, you should give this a listen.
1. You should totally watch that. The ending also features the greatest keyboardist on the planet, Bernie, showing a modest fraction of his skill.
2. Maybe somewhat Hendrix-inspired blues licks.
3. DO NOT DO THIS! It will give you about a jillion years of bad luck.
4. REFERENCE NOT FOUND
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