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Courtesy of Golden Child Recordings / Pitchfork

September 22, 2017

TEST SPIN | Daniel Caesar – Freudian

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As I walked across the arts quad on a nippy Tuesday evening, I began to hear vibrations that resonated with the current zeitgeist of my soul. To love, to lose, to suffer, to love again. Toronto R&B singer Daniel Caesar’s debut studio album Freudian gives artistic form to that central pillar of being human. The album consists of 10 tracks, making it his first full length work. It was released on Aug. 25, 2017, and has since climbed to number six on the Billboard Top 100 R&B ranking.

Thus far, Caesar’s work has been choppy. He has gained much of his acclaim through the release of short, powerful EPs. Having been kicked out of school in 11th grade, Caesar has experienced great hardship, from homelessness, to heartbreak, to struggling to make ends meet while nurturing his musical talents. His second EP Praise – produced mainly in his own living room – brought him into the public sphere of recognition. That was in 2014. Since then, Caesar has produced another EP, Pilgrim’s Paradise, and 3 singles, 2 of which appear on his newest project. Building up to his first full album, Caesar found his niche in a fusion between gospel, soul, rock and R&B. His dreamy, pure singing style and bouncy synthesizers target some of the deepest human emotions.

The name of the album so-correctly captures it’s essence. Freudian. A meditation on all the suppressed feelings of passion, the ghost emotions that whisper underneath the surface of love. And it’s not just a male’s perspective. Features from artists  Kali Uchis, H.E.R, Syd, and Charlotte Day Wilson allow the album to express female perspectives as well.

The album starts with, his pre-released single, Get You. A slow bouncy beat equipped with quiet funky background guitar riffs, a buzzy bassline, and a dramatic falsetto chorus, culminating into a full picture of what it means to feel lucky to be in love. Whereas most artists would portray lightheartedness and pleasure, Caesar’s sound brings light to the idea that with luck comes the perpetual fear of loss.

Next comes the deep-reaching Best Part. With the help of H.E.R.’s whispery harmonies, Caesar describes the feelings of dependence. He sings, “You’re the Tylenol I take when my head hurts.” Through a 4-chord guitar-centric background track that runs deep, we come to realize that the song is emphasizing the hesitance to announce one’s own dependence on another. The song is an expression of the hesitance to “say something”, as he puts it. This is a perfect transition to the next track. Hold Me Down employs a trippy synthesizer, backed up with echoing drums to ponder the games we play in love. Caesar writes “First you love me, then you leave me in the basement, I know I’m you’re favorite”. In love, though we yearn to be one with another, we are still separate individuals. This idea comes to fruition in the mind-games we play with each other, explains Caesar. Loose expands on this idea. With quiet organs, and employment of a more baritone side of Caesar’s voice, it expresses the possessive nature that often comes entangled in love. “You better cut that girl lose”, he says.

The album reaches a catharsis with the following song, We Find Love, which had previously been released as a single. Here, we find Caesar coming to terms with the human nature of love. Permeating  through an angelic choir, and undercutting a clean  piano chord progression, Caesar accepts the sadness of love. “We find love, we get up, we fall down, we give up,” he laments. The song is a breath of fresh air amidst the heavy emotional load unleashed by the album. With Take Me Away, we see a total vibe change. More synthesizers, a rock-and-roll riff, and a funky singing style reminiscent of Hozier, make this song quite complex. It’s complexity mirrors the emotion it portrays. The mystical nature of new love, and the memories of old lost love that always come tangled into new love.

The album is topped off with a 10 minute ballad. Freudian, the title track. It begins with a dense beat, a shifty piano progression, and a whammied-out guitar, another review of thoughts of love, loss, passion, and suffering. But it ends strangely, with a sample of someone speaking (presumably Caesar). He is talking to his mother, saying “Face to face with my faith mama, I lost my faith”. What follows is over a minute of heavy silence. A chance for reflection. Caesar has talked largely about his struggle with religion. His mom is a 7 day adventist,  and he is hesitant to express his faith in the same way she does. In the section of the song that follows, he admits his shame over a melodious organ,  singing “I don’t deserve my own life”. Here, the Freudian theme of the album is revealed. Caesar’s constant complication with love and loss emerge from his own yearning to be closer to his mother, which has been highly impeded by his lack of faith in her religion. This last song is spoken through his highly developed superego.

The album Freudian rings in the soul. It is a tear-jerker, an object of meditation, and a source of inspiration. Listen to it after a late night in Uris. But be ready to feel.

Adam Kanwal is a freshman in the College of Human Ecology. He can be reached at ask272@cornell.edu.