The Ups and Downs of Daniel Caesar's 'CASE STUDY 01'
Two years since dropping his debut album Freudian, Daniel Caesar returns after with his dreamy sophomore record CASE STUDY 01 .
Freudian, Caesar's debut album from 2017, received critical acclaim putting Caeser onto the music map among the likes of Kali Uchis, SZA, and other R&B artists. Exploring the complexities of romance, Caesar's silky vocals paired with a buttery, soulful R&B sound made Freudian an instant classic. The album manages to create a world in itself with an atmosphere strung by swooning guitars and seductive bass, stitched together by Caesar's velvety voice and lyrics.
On June 28th, Caesar dropped CASE STUDY 01. With very little promo, the album came as a pleasant surprise. CASE STUDY 01 consists of 10 tracks with a variety of star-studded collaborations like Kali Uchis, Pharell, and John Mayer. While Freudian’s topics centered around love, CASE STUDY 01 attempts to explore more, with the topics ranging from love to loss to religion, and how all of these themes intertwine.
This blend of themes is evident in Caesar’s lyrics, as his ability to write specific and artful songs help him to stand out as a songwriter. Heavy on imagery and metaphors, CASE STUDY 01 explores these larger themes through specific moments and examples. “Frontal Lobe Muzik” reflects on Caesar's past (“Used to steal all my groceries/and now I get to the racks”), and on “Too Deep to Turn Back,” he artfully contemplates his relationship with religion (“We're like mosquitoes to light/in a sense/I feed off bioluminescence”). There are many successfully profound moments on this record that evidently come from Caesar’s soul; “Superposition” (written with John Mayer) is a great example of this, with Caesar using the motif of nature to question bigger themes of life and chaos — a superposition is a phenomenon where two waves meet and make a bigger wave or cancel each other out — While some songs fall short lyrically — for example, the chorus of “Open Up,” where Caesar half-heartedly muses over the “Yin and yang/Fluidity and things” — for the most part, Caesar shows evolution in his songwriting capabilities since Freudian.
The album is sonically cohesive, almost to a fault. While Freudian showed variety in sound, CASE STUDY 01 generally sticks to a similar soundboard. This is not always a bad thing on the album; for some tracks, the slow tempo, smooth guitar licks and Caesar’s velvety (often layered) voice work flawlessly (“Superposition,” “Entropy”). However, by the end, they all start to mesh together with the same tempo: a slow, wavy walking pace that is intriguing at first, but gets repetitive. There’s just something missing from many of the tracks (“Cyanide,” “Love Again”) that leaves the record feeling empty at some points. Perhaps the record could have benefited with more experimentation.
Along with this, there are some moments that feel unsettling on the record. Ceaser heavily explores sex in the album; while some lyrics are sweet and senusal (“When two fools be falling in love/Mix in some pain and some passion”), others come off as aggressive and chauvinistic. In “Open Up,” Ceaser describes having sex on the piano where he writes his songs, boasting how he doesn’t “feel like talkin’ unless it’s ‘bout me, or philosophy.” Similarly on “Cyanide” as Caesar “thirsts for a release,” begging a girl to understand him, saying “I’m not a monster/I'm just a man with needs,” the love theme is lost and replaced with shallow arrogance instead. While there are some lines that explore sex and passion constructively, there are far too many others that come off as shallow and arrogant.
Overall, CASE STUDY 01 is by no means a tragedy. Caesar delivers a well made album with honey-smooth vocals and intriguing themes. You can listen for yourself here.
Lead Image Credit: Daniel Caesar / Instagram