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Published: 2004/09/30
by J San

The Big Eyeball in the Sky – Colonel Claypool’s Bucket of Bernie Brains

Prawn Song Records

It would be easy for Colonel Claypool's Bucket of Bernie Brains (born at Bonnaroo I) to imitate Praxis (born a decade earlier). Praxis: Bill Laswell (bassist/producer), Bernie Worrell of Parliament Funkadelic (keys), KFC bucket capped Buckethead (guitar) and Primus's Brain on drums. Switch Laswell with Primus's Les Claypool and it's necessarily a new entity entirely — C2B3. Thinking about it, it would be so easy, but also so unwise, to sound like Praxis does. Praxis uses more hip-hop beats and basslines than C2B3 and, although Laswell is a creative bass player and a prolific producer (great dub music), he can't play like Claypool. Nobody else sounds like Claypool and, if the Big Eyeball in the Sky didn’t snap crackle pop with basslines oinking (growling often) into and out of form, this would have been a disappointing (maybe not bad) listen.

Worrell ushers in The Big Eyeball in the Sky, sounding much like his Praxis introduction did at this year’s Bonnaroo; without a bootleg for comparison I cannot be sure if it is the same. Worrell’s Baptist church organ (reminds me of my youth) turns Scottish for Buckethead’s self titled track (maybe Buckethead is Scottish little is known). Les Claypool always tells vibrant tales (this one about Buckethead): "He didn’t like to jostle in the light, finding it much soother in the night, with his face as pale as pancakes and his posture in rebellion with his height." All the while, Buckethead stretches incremental squelches over Claypool’s pops. Worrell has enough, capturing the squelches and squeezing them, congealed, from his keyboard. That string passes and Claypool is just keeping time, picking a four count, and Buckethead shreds, exactly what I was waiting for. Forget anything G3 plays and just grab something from Bucketheads vast canon, if shredding is your thing.

"Thai Noodles" yields heavier Claypool and Brain influence, sounding a lot more like Primus, Worrell and Buckethead basically there to accent Claypool's bassy valleys and snapping peaks. Buckethead transfers his penchant at playing like a blipping sci-fi computer into C2B3, usually ending at live shows with him doing a bad-ass robot, and Worrell breaks form to attempt harmony with the erratically airy sound.

My favorite track, "Elephant Ghost," happens to be an instrumental (who woulda thunk it?). I want to take too many psychedelics and script the video to this song, please! Claypool's elephantine bassline (I thought it might be his Whamola being stretched; it isn't.), Brain's cymbal raindrop clicks and Bernie Worrell's echo chamber keyboard moan sounds like an elephant's ghost. In my video, this trio represents the herky jerky pump of an elephant's legs (bass), the rippling, constantly re-wrinkling of his skin (shredding percussion), and Worrell the trunk's exclamations (Worrell's keyboards). Buckethead plays a clean, undistorted melody perfect for the ghostly tusks, which have been twisted out by a mongering poacher. At eight minutes, Brain makes the elephant strip any lasting hide with his own skins, Worrell and Buckethead both take the elephant's noggin into orbit (Claypool is very much in the background; no legs are needed). Nirvana — that's just what I see. A rare pleasure, I had to play this track repeatedly to get a whole read, finding myself gleefully lost in the nine-minute tapestry every time.

On "Scott Taylor," Worrell coerces non-correlative organ sounds into a full melody and Brain's drumming would have benefited from more evolution. Claypool and Buckethead rock (Claypool drops basslines and sucks them back up with the same ease your best friend dropped and re-absorbed sopping loogies for a gross out back in the day), but the package is not as interesting as "Elephant Ghost." This is more a dick-off session in the studio than a composition.

The album hints at current social affairs throughout. More than I love a creative slap, I love the melancholy warmth of a bowed bass and "Ignorance is Bliss" is just too aware of reality. Brain plays a standard military snare roll and and then it's war. Claypool's bass writhes and he sings, "When Jesus saw the pain of the things done in his name he packed his suitcase and his golf clubs… to be all knowing is quite stressful, while ignorance is bliss." Back to military snare and the battle continues; Claypool is war worn. "

"The President is reacting like an old near-sighted mohel," Claypool quips, "I'll see you on the other side as our heads implode from blind pride." Near sighted or not, the shock and awe shreds Buckethead closes with will open any senses you may have closed and Worrell's organ squeals so passionately that I think it may have dissolved in the process. Everyone has had their say and it is done, except for Claypool's bowed bass, which knows too much to be quiet and winds the album down.

This is an album that had to be made, thanks in part to the magic of Bonnaroo. The benefit of not rushing anything, The Big Eyeball in the Sky is better for the wait.

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