Review Summary: DIY – make an ambivalence-inducing Frankenstein of a guitar album without even picking up your guitar
Buckethead is definitely one of the most prolific artists around – 2007 saw the release of 27 (yes, 27, I did not mistype) discs featuring a various level of the masked guitarist's involvement. 2007 was the golden year though, and his fan base isn't nearly as spoiled nowadays, since Forensic Follies is merely the third album out this year. All unnecessary lame jokes about Buckethead's inhuman efficiency aside, his thus far 2009 output was pretty good – Slaughterhouse On The Prairie marked a solid return to the more disturbing and dissonant side of things, whilst the follow-up coming three months later, A Real Diamond In The Rough, was a good installment in the all-mellow album series (coming a full seven years after the previous offering, Electric Tears). As Buckethead's late May tour dates approached, everybody waited for another new CD, since Big B almost always takes a fresh disc with him on the road to be sold at shows.
Needless to say, Big B didn't disappoint this time around either. Happy folks were greeted at the merchandise table by a bizarre cover of a brand new record, Forensic Follies. Even before I read the first opinions on the album, I was a little tentative towards another Buckethead record coming so soon after the previous outing (the gap between Forensic Follies and A Real Diamond In The Rough was only about a month)... a huge chunk of the 2007 output came in the form of a monstrous 13 disc set which sounded like a compilation of random scraps sitting around the studio archives, and Buckethead seemed to take a bit more time to create each of his solo releases. Would Forensic Follies turn out to be another worthy offering, or just a random mess to take on the road?
Both of these options are in some way correct... since this record is simultaneously provokingly original and jarringly cash-grabbing. The thing is... there is not a single note of original material on here. All of the album tracks are made of chopped up tidbits from previously recorded songs... a concept that can be interpreted as innovative or lazy. Maybe it's just me being limited, but it's the first time that I hear of an idea like this, and I don't know what to make of it... anyway, the concept leaves the door wide open for the quality of the execution. Buckethead, Monti and Albert could have just gone into the mix room for half an afternoon, tossed together two or three fragments of established songs because the segues work and tadaa, a new album (the cheap way out). Another possibility would be that the threesome were hiding out in the studio for a few months, slowly cooking up completely original songs, utilizing tiny shards from previous albums instead of real instruments (an exercise in studio trickery, a tone bank, or some other reason?).
To only add to the head-scratching value of Forensic Follies, the CD is both – the songs have been fittingly chopped up and constructed anew, the fragments are never long enough to provoke thoughts of quick, cheap execution, but the majority of the guitar tidbits that are longer than a single note can be traced back to their origins and their familiarity slightly kills the experience. Whilst upon a quantitative analysis, the bulk of the record seems to be made up of Crime Slunk Scene and Island of Lost Minds shards, I am especially disturbed by the bits coming from Slaughterhouse on the Prairie – one of my favorite Buckethead albums, one which I can't seem to be able to put down since it first entered my ears in February. I grew attached to it pretty badly, and see it as a focused unit that would be best kept away from a mad scientist's scalpel. The bits that I can find make me long for the original and usually when Forensic Follies end, Slaughterhouse on the Prairie starts...
Some of the tricks done here do manage to make me happy and proud of the guys – whoever came up with the idea of taking the whammy frenzy of “Slunk Parade AKA Freaks in the Back”, hacking it up and utilizing the remnants to create a scratch-like sound effect is a genius. The approach stays pretty consistent throughout the disc – take a riff from days gone by, lawnmower it into shards and use the pieces to construct something retaining a familiar air, like a very loose (and killswitch-rich) variation on the original theme, occasionally take a random unrelated scrap and enhance the new creation. The end result – a heavy, freaky, disturbing album not for the faint of heart. Dissonance is plentiful, complete jerky weirdness is the glue holding the thing together. There is one soft moment (parts of “Splinter In A Slunk's Eye”) pieced together from bits of Albino Slug as well as a taste of “Don't Use Roosts If You Raise Broilers”, but the bizarre entity is anything but a soothing tidbit. If you expect to find another “Soothsayer” on here, I'd suggest staying away. This record also offers a fun pastime for the die-hards – attempting to pinpoint where each of the tiny shards came from is far from easy, and requires an excellent knowledge of Buckethead's back catalog. From what I managed to pick up, the album features fragments of Crime Slunk Scene, Island of Lost Minds, Slaughterhouse on the Prairie, The Elephant Man's Alarm Clock, Decoding the Tomb of Bansheebot, Albino Slug, Kaleidoscalp, Cuckoo Clocks of Hell, Inbred Mountain... and most likely there's more.
This is probably one of the most specific and ambivalence-inducing records around, since there is no way to know if piecing together an album from shards of songs you already released is a cash-grab or not. The mosaic is chopped up enough to dismiss the notion of a lazy, one-afternoon job, but the familiarity of many of the riffs (their foundation basing on a riff coming from a song of old) makes for a disturbing listen. This treatment adds an additional freaky edge to the featured snippets, giving the previously conventional tunes a wild, Cyborg Slunks-like experimental feel. No matter how many times I listen to Forensic Follies, I keep having mixed feelings about it... if you're only considering getting into Buckethead, try something else, he's got a very broad and diverse discography and something else is bound to appeal to you more. If you enjoyed any of the mentioned chopped-up albums, consider giving this a try. You have been warned about this perplexing beast though...