Freudian (released August 25, 2017)
If you’re a fan of our What Ever Happened to… series, or just a longtime R&B historian in general, you probably know that some of the game’s most renowned voices were cultivated in choir stands.
Sure, R&B’s secular content often clashes with the gospel’s divine intent but the similarities are unmistakable. The storytelling, delivery and, most importantly, the heartfelt passion, go hand-in-hand. Still, bringing those two musical worlds together is no small task. Only R&B’s greats have done it well.
By the sounds of Freudian, it might not be long before we add Daniel Caesar’s name to that list.
Caesar pricked the ears of R&B critics a few years back with a couple of critically acclaimed EPs, both of which built upon his gospel roots. Freudian, Caesar debut LP, keeps the momentum rolling – and is blessed assurance that young Canadian vocalists can bring more to the table than hollow “trap&B.”
Lead single “Get You” is an alluring duet with Kali Uchis, with Caesar coming to terms with a love he appreciates but doesn’t feel he deserved. It’s pretty mature songwriting from an artist who is still finding his voice. The album is filled with duets, with Syd joining him for “Take Me Away,” Charlotte Day Wilson helping out on “Transform” and even the mysterious H.E.R. adding her etherial vocals to “Best Part,” arguably the best paring on the album. “If like is like a movie, you’re the best part,” Caesar croons over an acoustic backing.
Caesar’s gospel roots are quite visible on Freudian but he wisely never overplays his hand. This is first and foremost an R&B album. “First you love me then you leave me on the pavement,” Caesar laments on standout “Hold Me Down.” His yearning is earnest but blink and you’ll miss a cool flip of Kirk Franklin’s “Hold Me Now.” It’s a great, subtle tribute to his gospel pedigree. Tight songwriting and Easter Sunday organs bring out the best in “We Find Love,” with a hook that will ring familiar to Donnie McClurkin fans: “We find love, we get up/And we fall down, we give up.”
Songs like “Blessed” may put Caesar’s spirituality in the forefront but more importantly, they offer an insightful twist on the fragility of relationships: “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.” This guy is wise beyond his years.
A big part of the album’s success should go to the CaDaRo Tribe, Caesar’s backup choir. Their vocals are absolutely angelic on the title track. Oh, and speaking of harmonizing, give Caesar credit for resurrecting the long-lost spirit of “ney-ooo” on “Neu Roses (Transgressor’s Songs).”
My only small nitpick on Freudian (come on, you know i had to find at least one…) is that the album pretty much resides in the same midtempo groove. The album’s solid production is diverse enough to stave off monotonousness but it would have been cool to see Caesar spread his wings a bit with a quicker tempo. However, that won’t hinder your enjoyment of this album.
In a year crammed with so-so, R&B releases, Freudian is heaven-sent – easily among the year’s best. Whether you’re a saint or an ain’t, Caesar is speaking your language.
Best tracks: “Hold Me Down,” “Get You,” “Neu Roses (Transgressor’s Song)”
4 stars out of 5