Review Summary: The gift that keeps giving...
With 219* Pikes under his belt, all released within a 4-year span, Buckethead has drastically divided his fan base and pretty much shunned any accessibility into his colossal catalog. Unless you have an affinity for his trademark multifaceted sense (or lack) of melody, it will be very hard to start digging. Although there are a myriad LPs that showcase his musical prowess and really connect with you, there are just as many that can turn you off in a couple of minutes, making you question his sanity. This unorthodox pace he works at is definitely a gift and a curse, yet it can also be a way to cope with the recent loss of his parents (both celebrated in the Pike series).
Luckily for fans, he entered another rewarding phase after churning 32 Halloween inspired albums which relied mostly on sparse, horror sound scapes that most of the times felt run through an old radio playing in the other room. I guess they were successful given the context, yet were as listenable as fingernails scraping a chalkboard. Thankfully, the latest Pikes all feature some very inspired journeys, sometimes creating pristine ambient melodies (see Trace Candle
or The Wishing Brook
), plus the usual batch of groovy rockers (Crumple
, Sunken Parlor
). He even experimented with percussion and ethereal synths on Rooms of Illusions
, providing something rather different from what we're accustomed to. Still, it's been a while since we last heard a lovely Pike to bring all these sides together into one awesome ride. Those following might have felt Buckethead was getting close to another peak.
Enter Old Toys
, one of his most consistent albums this year. I can understand why the man chose to release it on Christmas Eve, mainly because it acts like a musical year recap (thank God he left aside the harrowing Halloween material or the ***ed up synth outings) and it might be his own way to thank those who keep up with his work. Starting strong, the title track is a powerful ditty that emphasizes both on the riffage and cool solos. What's nice is that it doesn't stray or exhaust you with a thousand notes per minute. Moving on to 'Zone Ahead' and 'Oak Island', two mid-tempo rockers with uplifting rhythms, they use several layers of lead guitars intertwining throughout. While he usually locks his tracks into a certain pattern, these cuts have a more dynamic structure, offering some nice variations and a live recording vibe. Even if very little background information is revealed regarding the recordings, you can usually tell the difference between the ones done on a computer and others tracked by real instruments. Nevertheless, they make for a nice transition to the emotional side of the album, provided by two of his best cuts in the past months: 'Mount Shasta' and 'Valley of the Fog'. The former brings to mind lush, summer vibes blended with heartwarming solos, whereas the latter clings to the ambient Pikes that somehow never fail. The faint, phaser-soaked chords and the nostalgic leads create an eerie setting that could easily transpose you into an empty city late at night or standing by some lake or sea at sunset. It's gorgeous how many moods can he transmit through music, so that you can imagine or relive different moments in only 30 minutes.
*There were 218 a few hours ago, but as I was finishing the review Buckethead dropped another one, so I guess this is already "old".