Love is a steep climb. The hike requires preparation, care, caution and an exorbitant amount of energy; then upon embarkation, it can cause stress, exhaustion, doubts and questioning when there are sticks and stones jutting out on the path. But pushing past those points of struggle will reveal the clouds, crisp air and breathtaking rewards at its peak. Daniel Caesar gets it. At least, so much seems to be confirmed in the cover artwork and content of his debut full-length, Freudian, a lush LP mining through matters of the heart with the nuanced delicacy of nascent affection.
It’s damn near September, metaphorical eons away from the wintery month reserved for that flowers and chocolate, showy kind of love. Toronto-born Caesar, né Ashton Simmonds, opts to use pre-autumn’s waning warmth to reacquaint us with feelings we haven’t paid attention to since Valentine’s Day bouquets wilted in their vases. His 10-track project aims to soften hard-hearted skeptics as they ride shotgun along the course of his relationship. “Ooh, who would’ve thought I’d get you?” he sings gently on his breakout collab with Kali Uchis, “Get You,” not hiding his disbelief at being privy to a love too good to be true.
The romance follows on what is easily the album’s most affecting song and most loving ballad. “The Best Part,” a duo with cloaked chanteuse H.E.R., reveals all the best parts of being loved. “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 on my life,” Caesar croons in response to H.E.R.’s own sweet nothings. “You don’t know babe/When you hold me/And kiss me slowly/It’s the sweetest thing,” she sings, her fluttering harmonies awash with the endorphins sparked by the embrace of someone you’d die for. The tenderness is audible, indicative of the innocence of their lovemaking, breathless bodies entangled after the sharing of bare souls.
Caesar isn’t always a sanitized lover, though. The 22-year-old has a pleasantly surprising slick tongue, and isn’t averse to sprinkling a little dirty talk into the mix. “P***y so good, it sets me on fire/I leave myself, I elevate higher,” he sneaks in on “Hold Me Down.” (Hilariously, the same song later interpolates Kirk Franklin’s gospel number, “Hold Me Now.”) “Take Me Away,” featuring Syd Tha Kyd, makes less romantic romping the focal point. None of it is exploitative or objectifying, though. Respect is established, leaving room for the sensuality of sex and private moments of freaky exchange in that safe space. After Daniel’s woman “throws that ass back” and they lose themselves in lust, all vulgarity leaves. “Every time I go inside of your protected/Place with reverence/I’m reminded of a time I was neglected/It seems you’re heaven sent,” he sings. Instead of enjoying the physical and bouncing, he takes that moment of rest to adore his love, marveling at the person Jah created for him.
His vocal and temperamental delivery mirrors that of a musical lovechild between John Mayer and Frank Ocean, two exceptionally gifted wordsmiths and emoters. He’s an obvious student of the latter on the title track and kicker, where he employs the same song structure as Blonde. He borrows Frank-like wonky vocal pitches (courtesy of Sean Leon), audible interaction with objects in the room and lengthy pauses bridging two interludes. Similarly to them, the restraint in his songs—just a step above acoustic deliveries, none of Freudian’s songs are busy or full of distracting production—allows the feelings behind his words to exist front and center.
Sonically, Freudian exists without rough edges, and even if the telltale signs of heartbreak are written on the wall, they’re padded in the safety of pillowy harmonies and falsetto tremors that aim to soothe, not stir. “Neu Roses (Transgressor’s Song)” signals the downfall, and he calls upon iconic 90s R&B nayhoos and D’Angelo-esque funk to try to mend a rift in the relationship. It’s beautiful begging, basically. “There are times I think about that fateful day I threw your love away,” an all-female choir sings. “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.”
If his soaring single “We Found Love” is the reluctant stray from and desperate cling to an expired love, “Blessed” is the rekindling, working to make those funny pieces fit together because, in his eyes, they’re supposed to be one. “Yes, I’m a mess but I’m blessed/To be stuck with you,” he sings. And whether it is freeing a lover who wants to be freed to refrain from making a chore of love (“Loose”) or fumbling through regrets and separation withdrawals (“Transform”), the tougher lessons are all there.
Love has gotten the best of Daniel Caesar. His recollections reveal that he’s still in the honeymoon phase with the feeling of it, having once had it in his grasp, even if he has to also sing about its thorns. However, scorn, bitterness and cynicism feel absent here. He still believes in love’s sweetness, might and wonder, and when it comes to the listener’s ear, that’s the best thing that could’ve happened.