Last updated on October 28, 2020
Cameron Blake’s Censor the Silence is angry. The indie-rock record features songs about the Stoneman Douglas High Shooting (“Six Minutes Twenty Seconds”), the Syrian Civil War (“Chemical War Child”), people who change for the worse (“Kabuki Theater,” whose lyrics Blake notes are “relevant right now in the age of Trump”), and more. The apex of this rage is “How Dare You,” where Blake and a female vocalist literally howl the titular phrase over growling electric guitar and bass in a tune inspired by Greta Thunberg’s furious speech to the United Nations. If you’re mad about things, Blake is also mad about things, and you can be mad with him in these impressive songs.
If you weren’t convinced by “How Dare You,” there’s always the six-minute follow-up “Only Goya.” The suite starts with a spartan, delicate nearly-two-minute introduction before abruptly switching to a nearly-garage-rock electric guitar rumble with Blake spitting words like there will be no more left to sing after this one. It concludes with an arrangement even more torrential than “How Dare You”–the bassist is just pummeling his poor guitar into submission with massive bass slides, good gracious from hood space. The tune isn’t about a current event, as Blake says it’s inspired by three Francisco Goya works: Dutchess of Alba (1797), Yard with Lunatics (1794) & Saturn Devouring His Son (1823). Yet if you’ve ever seen Saturn Devouring His Son (spoiler: it’s incredibly dark) or know the story behind it (Goya feared insanity at the end of his life and accordingly painted his fears directly onto the interior walls of his house), you know that this song is literally guaranteed to have a lot of turmoil in it.
This song, and the album as a whole, is approximately the inverse of Alone on the World Stage, Blake’s hushed and intimate 2015 work. Where Blake was literally writing and recording by himself in 2015, now he’s got a full band that is not afraid to get punishing. Even the different album covers display a shift: Alone has Blake looking dejectedly at the floor and away from the camera, while Censor sees Blake staring directly into the camera and reaching out to seemingly grab the listener. The sonics here do grab, in ways they have not before. Take “Pale Cloud Covering,” which is a piano/keys-driven work that is less emphatic than some of the works, but only by degree. It’s a song that in other contexts would be a singer/songwriter tune that instead gets that stomp on. What it lacks in guitar noise, it makes up for in large-scale gospel choir fury and (more) (well-deserved) Blake hollering. Funky, soulful opener “Henny Penny” also employs the band to great effect and big gospel choir vibes.
Even more proof of transformation: there’s a rocked-out version of formerly-piano-ballad “Kabuki Theater” from Alone on the World Stage here. (It’s good, surprisingly good.) Even if you’ve been following Blake for as long as I have, there’s not really anything in the last 11 or so years that would really have pointed toward “indie-rock fury” as the next step in his evolution. (Not even a protest song in favor of Edward Snowden, which he definitely did once.)
Not all is pound: there are two quiet, beautiful singer/songwriter tunes here. “Honey Step Out of the Rain” and “Gillian” are both tender love songs. “Gillian” is a brilliant tune that is the most melodically memorable of the songs here and the most connected to his previous work, making it a great choice for the lead single in a vacuum. Outside of the vacuum, anyone who loves this song as the first single should be extremely forewarned that this is not what the rest of the album sounds like at all (except the relaxed “Honey Step of the Rain”). “How Dare You” really should have been the single, but I think he would have flattened all of his previous listenership with it, so maybe it’s a good thing he didn’t go there. Indeed, opener “Henny Penny” is a nice intro to ease people in before the second-track-blast that is “How Dare You.”
Blake’s work is always meticulously crafted, and Censor the Silence is no exception. The pounding arrangements are spot-on, the lyrics (which I have only scratched the surface of) are poetic and engaging, and even the sequencing is carefully done. It’s just in a very, very different vein than previous listeners will be used to. If you’re not familiar with Blake, now is the time to jump in: Blake’s songwriting voice is finely pointed after years of work, and this is his finest, most engaging work yet. Get mad. Highly recommended.