If Symptoms Persist Kill Your Doctor
wo years ago Six.By Seven split up the day after they released their fifth album. Two weeks ago a friend told me they’d reformed and released a new record.
After splitting, the various band members continued with solo projects and tried forming new bands, but nothing quite worked out. In March of this year, original members Chris Davis and Sam Hempton expressed an interest in reforming the band to Chris Olley. Around the same time, “Another Love Song” from the band’s The Closer You Get was used on the soundtrack to Danny Boyle’s sci-fi film Sunshine. If you want to know more about what went on between Artists Cannibals Poets Thieves and now, you can find out here.
Inspired by a BBC documentary called The Trap, which was produced by Adam Curtis, the man behind the award winning The Power Of Nightmares, If Symptoms Persist Kill Your Doctor is a bleak, disenfranchised album obsessed with the world’s fractious, conflict-ridden current state and the politics of fear. The machine Six.By Seven protest is equal parts Brave New World and 1984, a place where control is established by both coercion and brutality, cultivated, medicated, and tortured into acquiescence; the tone of their music has always reflected this.
Sonically they’ve almost gone back to their roots; Symptoms is an album of near-minimalist grooves and drones. The frenetic gobbets of spite that punctured their second and third albums and the streaming anthemics which did the same for their fourth and fifth have been stripped away. Now, it’s just the band alone in a room, playing music for themselves, remembering why they first began over a decade ago.
The sleeve credits are typically terse, simply stating that the album was “recorded live in a room in Nottingham.” Notes on their website detail a little more about the band’s wish to preserve the dynamic of their music, and one listen makes it clear that sonic integrity was more important to the band on Symptoms than either of their last two albums; the six-minute instrumental build of opener “Nations” starts with quiet chatter disparaging other bands’ weak wills in the studio, while the crawling, sub-atomic attention-to-detail of “Liberation” begins and concludes in a shroud of near-silent detail, slowly rising through vapor to a subdued but powerful tumult.
Guitars, organs, bass, percussion, and quintessentially distorted vocals make up most of the sonic palette; “Diplomatique” is little more than a rising, streaming line of guitar noise and a succession of dishearteningly unanswered questions from Olley. “Push” is the closest thing to ‘pop’ or even ‘rock’ on the record, but still exists several removes from the norm. Lyrics are sparse, repetitive, and shrouded in jagged-edged blurs of over-exposed guitar, but not particularly oblique; “Radio Silence” sees Olley clawing “Turn off the radio to enjoy the silence / Turn off the radio to stop the planes / Homing in on the house you live in / You can’t trust the one you love.”
By seemingly ridding themselves of any expectations or demands, Six.By Seven have recaptured something, and in the process made what might be their best album since The Closer You Get. Hopefully they have finally overcome their history and can simply continue making music this good from now on. Symptoms is a surprising return to both existence and excellence.