Daniel Caesar’s Freudian is a case study in strength-in-vulnerability

At a time when the news is a never-ending parade of angry white men, it’s easy to feel doomed. To forget that other energies and ways of thinking and being not only exist, but are more powerful.

In recent months, a counter-narrative to Trump’s election has been the string of Black artists and musicians exploring vulnerable masculinity at a mainstream level – namely Barry Jenkins’s Moonlight and JAY-Z’s 4:44. Although the theme of strength-in-vulnerability has long powered R&B, Toronto-based Daniel Caesar’s debut full-length nonetheless feels aptly timed.

In an interview with NOW, the 22-year-old described his mind state as “head in the clouds,” and that comes across in Freudian. It’s not an album of sweeping gestures, but rather an ambling, pleasant account of a 20-something falling in and out of love. It’s full of small moments, nuance and detail. Opening in the bedroom with Get You, a slow-burner duet with Kali Uchis, Caesar and his main producers, Jordan Evans and Matthew Burnett, lay the groundwork for more love songs, with dreamy chords, honeyed melodies and unhurried grooves.

The idealized romance concept starts to crack slightly on Best Part, featuring H.E.R. as the female foil. There’s a yearning for something definitive, which continues on Hold Me Down and proves ever elusive as the album progresses. Caesar sings with practised precision, but there’s nothing cynical in his falsetto.

The thematic and musical threads coalesce on We Find Love, one of several songs that deploy gospel-like backing vocals as a reassuring counterpoint to Caesar’s questioning. The song builds toward a spinning chorus that acts as a kind of comforting echo chamber. It’s one of many beautiful moments drawn from a simple and direct sentiment, and typical of how Freudian is more impressionistic than insightful in its ruminations on love. It lingers as long as possible in heightened feelings, far away from understanding.

Top track: We Find Love

Read NOW’s interview with Daniel Caesar here.

kevinr@nowtoronto.com | @kevinritchie

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