Daniel Caesar deviates from the norm with his debut Freudian

By NIKITA SHTARKMAN | September 14, 2017


EDDY RISSLING/CC BY 2.0 Canadian R&B singer Daniel Caesar’s single “Get You” won him praise.

The Canadian R&B singer Daniel Caesar burst onto the R&B scene with a hauntingly beautiful love song, “Get You,” featuring the amazing Kali Uchis.

Caesar’s high vocal delivery, his smooth, beautiful tone and gorgeous delivery of sweet, melancholic lyrics over a lazy, dragging beat mixed perfectly together to create this unique R&B track.

With that breakout, and a few other loose EPs, Caesar came into the scene as an evolution of the otherwise stale R&B scene. Finally, on Aug. 25, Caesar released his first full LP, Freudian.

Caesar is a breath of fresh air in this auto-tune driven, trap-minded R&B rut that popular music has fallen into. Rather than succumbing to the banging kicks and rattling high-hats, Caesar takes more inspiration from earlier soul music and sprinkles the fundamentals with elements of new-age sheen. He has the funkiness and groove of D’Angelo, the high croons of Bilal and the quirkiness of Erykah Badu.

I can only describe listening to Freudian as a sublime experience. The music is smooth and sweet. The melodies rely on long, drawn out notes mixed with pure, clear choral stabs.

The album cover of this project is absolutely fitting — a lone man, Caesar, climbing this makeshift pyramid to heaven. Freudian is airy, bouncy and cloud-like. Caesar incorporates the smoothness of early 90s R&B, slows it down and pitches it up, creating dragging but heavenly choral compositions.

The instrumentation on this album is sparse but effective, allowing Caesar to display his wide vocal range. It consists of a mix of guitars, organs, keyboards and a few tinkling synths. Freudian is an album that relies on reverb and sustain, drawing out full, gleaming washes of sound. It is also a project that uses silence and empty space to great effect — every lapse of sound contributes to the groove of each track.

The first song on the album, “Get You,” featuring Kali Uchis, does not require much of a description, since it absolutely blew up soon after he released it. It is a gorgeous song, with a very simple instrumental track that allows Caesar to croon and wail with absolute freedom. Uchis has a great few lines and uses her distinctively sultry, clean voice perfectly. It is probably the purest love song on the project, which explains its popularity.

The funkiest track on the project is the latter half of “Neu Roses (Transgressor’s Song),” with a ridiculously bouncy instrumental consisting of a sweet rhythm produced by an alternating bass hit and a guitar strum.

Caesar leans further into his D’Angelo influence for this track, following the trippy beat with an effortless swagger. The title itself is an interesting play on words: a homophone for “neuroses.”

“Blessed” is the simplest, clearest song on this project, but it has a kind of perfect beauty. It sounds like sweet smelling honey pouring from a golden container in the sky, glimmering in the sun. The touching piano chords, basic but effective, provide a perfect backdrop for Caesar’s playful melody.

While “Blessed” continues with the airiness of the previous songs, it also contains a melancholic undercurrent that keeps this song grounded in a fairly harsh reality. The play with the soundscape only emphasizes the duality of this track. The sound moves from natural to synthetic, and Caesar’s voice moves from a single melody to thick harmonies, never allowing a moment without some change. It develops into this majestic wash of sounds.

“Freudian” is a phenomenal and fitting end to the album. The final track brings the high, airy elements of the whole album to a halt with instruments that are more distinct, singing that has a sharper edge to it and a heavy bass element. Caesar stays in his lower ranges, begging for forgiveness while simultaneously displaying his gratitude.

“You are the reason, the reason I’m alive” is a lyric that comes out painfully over this oscillating beat. The album climaxes on the strong chorally backed, “I want to thank you, for saving my life.”

On Freudian, Caesar does something that few other R&B artists do: present himself and his relationships as flawed. Gone is the sheen and effortless glamor that other neo-soul and R&B artists thrive on. This isn’t Usher deftly wooing every woman up in the club. This isn’t Jeremih having sex on a plane, while sipping champagne. These songs have complexity, darkness and elements of truth.

“We Find Love” is a song about quite the opposite: lovers that do not love each other any longer. The chorus “we give up” is not a statement that is found in many of the simple love stories presented on the radio. “Yes I’m a mess but I’m blessed/To be stuck with you,” from the refrain of “Blessed,” is a perfect synopsis of this project. Rather than simply glorifying sex, Caesar uses Freudian as a way to explore the cobwebbed nooks and hidden crannies of the most complex relationships.

The only part of this album that felt completely out of place was Sean Leon’s verse near the end of “Freudian,” essentially the close of the album. Leon uses a style that is absolutely ripped from “Futura Free,” a track off Frank Ocean’s recent masterpiece, Blonde.

The pitch shifting is already close enough to this reference track, but Leon goes so far as to repeat “mama” the same way that Frank does. There was something cheap and inappropriate about this incorporation.

Nonetheless, Freudian is one of the best albums to be released this year. It is a cohesive, powerful project that doesn’t just flirt with soulfulness, as a lot of recent music seems to, but embodies it. It is spiritual, descriptive and experimental.

With “Get You,” Caesar set a high bar, and I was afraid that he wouldn’t be able to deliver more tracks to back it up; I was wrong. He surpassed “Get You” by leaps and bounds. Every piece of this album contributes to this divine listening experience. This is an album made for long flights, drives and walks; This is an album that purifies. Please check this album out, since it isn’t getting the attention that it deserves.

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