Growing up in the church separates Toronto singer-songwriter Daniel Caesar from the pack. Popular R&B acts such as R. Kelly and T-Pain integrated elements of gospel music in the past. However, those tracks were some of their least accessible. Caesar, on the other hand, makes R&B and gospel sound like long lost twins. Contemporary R&B is doused in so much synthetic atmosphere, it’s difficult to tell who is who. This debut album from the Canadian newcomer follows no trends or label agendas. Freudian is a breath of fresh air for a genre dying from a lack of inventive artistry. Looking down the track list, you will find a handful of complementary guests. The album’s lead single “Get You” has been gaining buzz on social media, deservedly so. Featuring the angelic vocals of Kali Uchis, “Get You” prepares listeners for the smooth, breezy collection of tracks that follow.
This album reminds me of last year’s Blood Orange offering. Dev Hynes’ Freetown Sound consisted of much more ethereal soundscapes than this debut. Yet both albums highlight a plethora of female talent. Guest vocalists Gabi Wilson aka H.E.R., Syd Bennett of The Internet, and Charlotte Day Wilson execute well. “Best Part” with Wilson revitalizes the love ballad duet archetype. As promiscuity dominates the charts, love songs go underappreciated. The gospel sound on Freudian is mature and soothing. Caesar’s voice stays under control and never attempts to knock socks off. Each of these 10 tracks have a mellow pace. Daniel’s suave voice is a sturdy anchor throughout. Despite competent guests, Caesar remains prominent. He works well with others. But that doesn’t mean his solo efforts are slacking. “Blessed,” “Neu Roses,” and “We Find Love” are much more than your average album filler. They are integral and cohesive building blocks.
Daniel Caesar, much like John Legend’s “All of Me,” is bringing a romantic flair back into the mainstream. Personally, I’m a fan. This rookie songster may never get the radio spins John does. However, Freudian is a warm and affectionate debut that is sure to land on playlists of all kinds. There is a steady simplicity here that welcomes listeners with open arms. These tracks burn slowly, like an anniversary dinner wick. Upon my initial listen-through, this album flowed well and kept a consistent mood across the near-45-minute runtime. With more listens, though, I noticed a few flaws. Of course, borrowing an idea or two from your influences is not a big deal. Nevertheless, in regard to a concise project such as this, adopting entire melodies feels bland. “Hold Me Down” and “We Find Love” are derived from iconic gospel tracks by Kirk Franklin and Donnie McClurkin respectively.
Whether Caesar’s tracks were meant to pay homage or pay bills (or both) is up to him. Most mainstream listeners may not have ever heard these two songs. I, however, also grew up in the church and recognized them immediately. This paraphrasing Caesar aims for harms his overall creativity, in my opinion. Taking out the copycat closer track (see Frank Ocean’s “Futura Free”), Freudian runs for about 34 minutes. Such a short track list makes the ratio of original ideas to total tracks moderately disappointing. Had this album been slightly longer, having a sizable interpolation or two would blend nicely. Here, matched with modest production, they lose their luster rather quickly. Many of these hooks lack a dynamic presence. This album is cohesive but at times can meld together. For the most part Freudian strays from the norm, which in today’s R&B world is more necessary than ever.