Lust, Love, and Desire – A Review of Daniel Caesar’s Freudian

“I sing to myself more than anything. I’m always chastising myself, telling myself to be better, or comforting myself” – Daniel Caesar

On August 25th, 2017, a series of lyrical narratives were released into the universe. Each one portrays the various lovers and relationships that Daniel Caesar has encountered. Canadian-born Caesar (née Ashton Simmonds) has recently gained tremendous momentum, exceeding 20 million streams on Apple Music and 12 million streams on Spotify, reaching over 740,000 Spotify users per month.

Freudian is formally Daniel Caesar’s debut album. The album title is said to be influenced by the work of Sigmund Freud, who was a pioneer in understanding the role of human sexuality and erotic desires (Genius, 2017). “Freudians” are individuals who support Freud’s methods, and Caesar certainly captures the essence of lust, love, and desire within his lyrics and music.

In an interview with the FADER,  Caesar mentions that he grew up listening to acoustic guitar singer-songwriter music (specifically John Mayer, and Jason Mraz), which explains the distinct acoustic feel that monopolizes Freudian. Dreamy falsetto and harmonies are infused throughout the album, and each song touches the soul, while perfectly encompassing Caesar’s relaxed musical style. The album consists of 10 tracks: Get You feat. Kali Uchis, Best Part feat. H.E.R., Hold Me Down, Neu Roses (Transgressor’s Song), Loose, We Find Love, Blessed, Take Me Away feat. Syd, Transform feat. Charlotte Day Wilson, and Freudian.

The opening song, Get You, portrays the climax of any relationship. Caesar sings, “Kingdoms have fallen, angels be calling/None of that could ever make me leave,” depicting a very loyal relationship. On top of the rhythmic drum line, the vocals are the main highlight in this song and they are complimented by occasional deep bass and synth riffs during the chorus. During the bridge, Caesar layers two vocal parts; his main voice sings, “Build you up when I take you down.” The other vocal part is sung in a lower key and serves the same purpose as the bass in the chorus: to complement Caesar’s natural head voice.

Featuring H.E.R, Best Part is a confessional love song, and the two singers take turns professing their love. The song starts out with a gentle acoustic guitar intro- a very Fergie/Big Girls Don’t Cry vibe and livens up during the pre-chorus. H.E.R sings, “You’re the coffee that I need in the morning/You’re my sunshine in the rain when it’s pouring,” and later, Caesar sings, “You’re my water when I’m stuck in the desert/You’re the Tylenol I take when my head hurts/You’re the sunshine of my life.” One of the figures depicted in this song is head-over heels in love with the other, but in the song’s outro, Caesar sings, “If you love me won’t you say something,” implying that perhaps this is a one-way relationship. This song isn’t immediately recognizable as Caesar’s work, simply because it opens with female vocals.

Hold Me Down is the confrontation in a relationship. “If you love me baby let me hear you say it/I know I’m your favorite/First you love me then you leave me in the basement/I know I’m your favorite” are the opening lines of this song. These phrases have negative connotations. Caesar sings from the perspective of someone who feels undervalued, which can be seen from his word choice: “First you love me then you leave me on the pavement”.

There’s a shift of power in Neu Roses (Transgressor’s Song). Caesar turns into the heartbreaker, instead of the heartbreaker. The phrase, “There are times I think about that fateful day/ I threw your love away”, is the opening of this song and is sung in a barber-quartet style of layered harmonies. Even though Caesar seems to have done the damage, in this case, he is still repenting for their love: “But baby, baby, please don’t leave me (please don’t leave me) /I know I made a big mistake, don’t turn my sunshine to shade”.

Loose almost has an intro to a 50’s song vibe (think Beauty School Drop Out from the musical Grease). In a somewhat gloomy and ominous way, Caesar forewarns listeners that, “Most of the time, everything’s fine/But as soon as she starts to whine/If you have no patience/You better cut that girl loose.” This song is almost an inner monologue for someone who is considering ending a relationship. Loose also features a reprise of We Find Love.

Being raised in the Seventh-Day Adventist Church, the concepts of sin, salvation, and redemption are scattered throughout Freudian. The piano phrase repeated throughout We Find Love reflects the classic gospel style. An uplifting and hopeful sense overwhelms this song, in contrast to Loose. The chorus shows strong influences from church music and their soulful, multilayered harmonies. Caesar’s lyrics seem melancholic: “We knew we’d come around/This thing called love comes crashing down now/Pieces all on the ground/What once was lost cannot be found out,” but appears to have closure.

Blessed is a dead giveaway that the lover figures that Freudian sings about are back in their honeymoon phase. The chorus: “And yes, I’m a mess but I’m blessed/To be stuck with you/Sometimes it gets unhealthy/We can’t be by ourselves, we/We’ll always need each other,” features someone who is expressing admiration and devotion to their loved-one. More mellow and gentle than most of the other songs on the album, a sensation of floating overwhelms the listener during Blessed.

Take Me Away (featuring Syd) describes pure lust. The lyrics depict a fueled romance: “She loves to top me off/She’s cut from the finest cloth, my love/Plus, we like to take it easy/All she wants to do is please me.” Caesar also conveys a sense of comfort and trust in this relationship, by singing: “Everytime I go inside of your protected/Place with reverence/I’m reminded of a time I was neglected/It seems you’re heaven sent.” The rhythm returns to that of a soul/R&B song, as opposed to a romantic ballad, and it is anticipated after two fairly chipper songs.

People change and relationships evolve; a theme in Transform. “Don’t be a fool, baby I know you’ve changed,” is the opening line of the chorus, and Caesar continues to sing about how even though the person you fell in love with may change, it can still be hard to let them go even if that’s what’s best. The outro repeats this theme: “Can’t quit you, you’re like drugs/Swear I tried to clean up/Too much shared between us.” The instrumentals intensify as the song progress, almost mirroring the urgency to leave a dying relationship.

The last track on the album, Freudian, is musical release. Waltzes have a soul-warming quality of their own and the finale song doesn’t disappoint. Caesar alludes to finally doubting his born-religion: I feel ashamed when I’m face to face with my faith/Face to face with my faith momma, I lost my faith,” and this shift in perspectives almost seems like his final transformation.

Freudian sums up the hardships and sacrifices that must be made for love, but reassures listeners that love conquers all.

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