by Dom Jones
My phone buzzes, and it’s a text from my friend, asking if I’ve heard the new Daniel Caesar album, how much she thinks I’ll like it, and a YouTube link to the playlist for the album. When new music is buzzing, and people tell me they think I’ll like it, it’s usually one of two things: I actually like it or it’s a pseudo-facsimile of something that I would like. My first thought when I looked at the playlist for “Freudian” was that there were too many features. While having a concise 10-track album was smart in this age of gnat-sized attention spans, having four features felt like a bit much. Yes, I was analyzing before I even pressed play on the first track, but all of the energy around the project had launched me into an analytical space. That is the ear with which I took my first two listens to the album.
When listening to Freudian, from the first track, you can hear the soul influence that harkens back to artists such as Isaac Hayes and Curtis Mayfield, but that also feels reminiscent of more contemporary artists like Miguel (before “Sky Walker”). The production, though, is stripped down to either hard hitting bass, singer-songwriter-esque guitar, pads, or a varying mix of those. You may hear organ lying lower in the mix, and the vocals stay within a small range in melody and tone. At first listen, there are that songs stand out as these floating, ethereal gems, like “Best Part,” but other songs with a similar sound on the album (“Loose”) fall to the background as mere repeaters that you’d rather not hear again. The best songs are the ones where the production is allowed to open up to its maximum capacity (“Get You,” “Neu Roses,” and “Take Me Away”), but even in these tracks, the drum patterns can feel almost agonizingly similar.
Every artist is trying to strike that ever delicate balance between creating their own distinct sound while avoiding creating a boring, repetitive sound. Freudian comes very, very close to falling off of that tightrope and into oblivion. What turned the tide for this album was my third listen. I was feeling less analytical and more emotional this time, and this allowed the album to start to feel like more of a soundscape being painted as I journeyed through my feelings. Imagine a scene in a movie where the protagonist is having a moment of reflection, while driving down a lonely highway in the desert, in a convertible, sun high in the sky, hair blowing in the wind. Freudian would be perfect to score that scene. Imagine a scene in a television show where someone’s heart has just been broken, they’re lying on their back on their bed and we see them from an aerial view, the room spinning, as they try to figure out what’s next. Freudian would be perfect to score that scene. Ultimately, the listener needs to have some emotion happening before listening to this album, because it may not evoke feelings so much as reinforce or underscore feelings that the listener already is experiencing.
For me, this puts “Freudian” in an interesting category, where the album is not so much upheld by its own musical merit or distinction, but rallies when accompanied by something visually stimulating (a film or tv show) or when preceded by some strong feeling from the listener. It’s a solid, if not remarkable, debut from Caesar, and one which I hope is followed up with more sonic diversity so that listeners who are new to his music can hear his full range.
WHAT DID YOU THINK OF “FREUDIAN?” SOUND OFF IN THE COMMENTS!