O.L.D. – Formula
As an electronic musician who initially got his start by creating songs in which the backbone usually consisted of a few repeating sound loops with various permutations throughout the song, “Formula” has a special place in my heart (and subsequent music collection). While this is far from the album typically thought of first when thinking of “O.L.D.”, it is unique in that it marked the end of “O.L.D.” and was clearly an influence in his solo album “The Joy Of Disease” (created two years later).
Old Lady Drivers (O.L.D.) began in the late 1980s, as a juvenile grindcore band, one with plenty of talent, yet could never be accused of taking itself too seriously. From then until 1995, they released three more albums, each noticeably different from both their 1988 debut and the album that immediately preceded it. “Lo Flux Tube”, released three years later, was a dramatic departure from their previous self-titled. Gone was the elderly jokes and scatological humor. Instead, listeners experienced a blitz of high-octane guitar experimentation, highly distorted vocals screaming nihilistic proclamations to an unknown audience, and an especially intense guest appearance by John Zorn (who makes his saxophone sound as if it is trying to escape from drowning.
“The Musical Dimensions Of Sleastak”, released a short time later, continues the development of the “pysch-freak-out” industrial-grindcore, with an increased amount of guitar synths and effects (and a strange remix called “Backwards Through The Greedo Compressor”).
While both of these albums enjoyed a small cult following, it is commonly assumed that the band floundered due to the lack of commitment Earache (the band’s label) had towards promoting them. When the “Formula” album arrived four years later, it would be the last for “O.L.D.” as Plotkin bid the record label adieu.
“Formula” is the end-result of O.L.D.’s progression: an album so alluring and compelling as their debut was frenetic and immature. Composed of cyclical guitar rhythms, steady drum beats (provided by a rhythm machine), half-spoken/half-sung vocoded vocals, and a very few amount of synthesizers, “Formula” is an interesting album, to say the least. While there is no guitar heroics to be seen, the strength in the songs is that they are structured to be very catchy, in their own way. The guitars, for lack of a better term, shimmer and glow (sometimes immensely, such is the case for “Break (You” and the beautiful “Under Glass”). Far from “mainstream” (as has been claimed), there is definitely an “accessibility” to the record that was willfully absent from previous records. But do not mistake “accessibility” for “friendliness”. Alan Dubin, though not performing with nearly as much manic energy, instead has a very robotic and/or alien delivery in his words. This is especially apparent in the pitch-shifted introduction to “Devolve”, as he tonelessly states: “Under a rock/ We call it a home/ Me and myself/ We’re never alone/ Reaching for things/ That never stay/ Me and myself/ We scare them away”. Imagine your answering machine (male voice). Now imagine that this answering machine is at an alien corporation, powered by a robot with a massive case of depression, existential angst, and societal disconnection/alienation (which must be pretty intense, seeing is that it is amongst aliens). Although the vocal treatment changes on every song, it manages to fit with the song perfectly, almost as if the spoken words are trying to bleed into the music. Finally, while there is nothing incredibly unique about the drums and bass of the songs, they commendably serve their intended purpose, in propelling the songs along (although, in all honestly, they need little prompting).
Ironically, though the album is called “Formula’, it also has several instances of random occurrences as well. Most notable of these are the orchestral tune-up sample in the first song “Last Look”, and the multiple samples in “Thug”. For the latter, Plotkin inserted various clips from his first hardcore band, which recorded back in 1983. Though this lo-fi song, abrasive and primitive, is obviously not meant to jel completely with the song, it nevertheless manages to maintain a strange harmony with the main segments of the song.
In the end, O.L.D. would be terminated (though both Plotkin and Dubin would later find a greater degree of recognition in the influential doom-metal band Khanate), an apparent casualty of label indifference. While this album is not for those new to “O.L.D” (that distinction, arguably, goes to “Lo Flux Tube”), it is a fascinating glimpse into the final days of “O.L.D.” as well as the early evolution of James Plotkin’s solo career. He would later go on and refine the methods and techniques of “Formula” for his solo album “The Joy Of Disease”, which has all of the beauty of “Formula”, but, ironically, is not constrained by the need to adhere to a “formula” or pre-conceived expectation.
PS Thank you for the heads-up on the album cover pic! 😀