Album Review: Daniel Caesar- “Freudian”

By Keshav Sharma-Jaitly, Featured Photo via The Xavier Herald

With his smooth voice and genre-bending talent, it’s easy to compare Toronto crooner Daniel Caesar to the cultural tour de force that is Frank Ocean. So easy, in fact, that I’ll get it out of the way immediately: Caesar’s debut album Freudian plays like the gospel-soaked sequel to Ocean’s blonde we didn’t know we needed.

Through Freudian‘s 10 tracks, Caesar proves himself worthy of this comparison, creating landscapes of lovesick, end-of summer poetry that wear its influences on its sleeves. Caesar transcends the usual nocturnal trap-infused R&B that other Toronto artists bring to the table, instead creating ethereal and pure soul music. This is through the use of gospel, which takes a front seat throughout this project, with the incredible contributions of the CaDaRo Tribe choir on nearly every song and numerous interpolations of gospel classics. Also, Caesar seems particularly adept at blending genres, fusing jazz, funk, and soul to strengthen his songwriting and provide effective backing to his already impressive lyrics.

Many of Freudian‘s songs are about sex or Christianity or both, often managing to find a remarkable balance between the two without tarnishing either topic in the process. Take the album’s opener, “Get You,” for example. The song opens with the line “Through drought and famine, natural disasters/My baby has been around for me/ Kingdoms have fallen, angels be calling… You’re all I need/ Every time I get a bit inside I feel it.” It’s immediately clear that Caesar lives within the dichotomy of an urban life and a church upbringing. He experiences love and relationships in a modern world without wanting to let go of religious enlightenment. “Get You” features contributions from Colombian singer Kali Uchis, playing Daniel’s foil in the song’s romantic narrative. Caesar ends up doing this quite often and humbly devotes large portions of his album to other artists (à la Tyler the Creator’s Flower Boy). The work of Kali Uchis, H.E.R., Syd, and Charlotte Day Wilson all strengthen their respective songs by providing the perspective of the woman in Daniel’s relationship. These features ground the album in what feels like a lived reality.

While Freudian doesn’t attempt to emphasize narrative, it seems to take place over the arc of a relationship. The highs of love are represented by songs like “Get You” and “Best Part,” in which the apparently lovesick Daniel duets with H.E.R. and sings”Where you go I’ll follow/ No matter how far/ If life is a movie/ Then you’re the best part.” The pitfalls of passion quickly become apparent and by “We Find Love,” the halfway point of the album, it appears Daniel Caesar has fallen out of love with his partner. Easily my favourite track on the album, “We Find Love” takes Kyle David Matthews’s gospel tune “We Fall Down” and spins it into a gorgeous slow-burner, with a chorus of “We find love, we get up/ And we fall down we give up” to remark on the resilience of the human spirit.

The rest of the album tests the limits of Caesar’s devotion to his lover and to Christ. On “Blessed,” Daniel sings “I’m a mess but I’m blessed/ To be stuck with you,” leaving the lines purposely blurred as to who he’s referring. On the penultimate track “Transform,” he sings “Can’t quit you, you’re like drugs…save my soul like Jesus,” suggesting that perhaps he cares more about faith than his partner. Freudian closes with an eight-minute title track in three movements, featuring a funky opening, a short, auto-tuned middle, a minute of silence, and then a whirring, live organ to bring about a graceful exit to the LP. “Isn’t it nice? Human sacrifice,” he croons over minimal instrumentation, with an existential thesis to summarize the album’s romantic and religious themes.  

If I have any criticisms of this album, it’s that its warm pallet can sometimes feel like wallpaper, creating a perfectly nice background soundtrack without being constantly active in your ears. Also, at 45 minutes and 10 tracks, it doesn’t overstay its welcome. In fact, it could’ve stuck around for a track or two longer. Despite this, I know that as the temperature drops and summer turns to fall, I’ll look to this album for when I’m missing the warmth.

 

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