It’s wedding season somewhere, which means honeymoon season looms. This is all very timely, because Daniel Caesar has crafted an essential honeymoon album — literally and figuratively. In Freudian (released Aug. 25), the Canadian R&B singer lets loose a gospel inherently sensual enough for an actual newlywed getaway. At the same time, the studio debut serves metaphorically as Caesar’s grace period work; its existence as his first extended release allows him to flesh out his most comfortable sound without receiving veteran-like scrutiny. He’s coasting, really, evading technical experimentation and instead embracing each and every neo-soul trope. Nonetheless, the product remains remarkably fresh.
From the start, the magic is in the ambience. On “Get You,” Caesar croons “Don’t you love when I come around” over a bass riff that accentuates his near mastery of the proverbial nudge of affection. He immediately wins over with an implicit assertion that he’s The One, and it’s right here where listeners first notice his impressive range. Caesar shows off impressive pitch both on this hook and on the equally catchy “Hold Me Down,” which again shows off his cheeky assertiveness. It would serve Caesar well to hold onto that.
It’s one thing to make this style his own — at the same time, what’s not his own sometimes becomes the problem, as certain influences occasionally torpedo Freudian’s momentum. It gets difficult, for example, to continue basking in Caesar’s gospel glow during “We Find Love,” which, with its recycled and sometimes jumpy piano arrangements, detract from the album’s otherwise well-paced production. The cut sounds like it was borrowed from a Sam Smith album, with an irrevocably cheap feel that undermines Caesar’s otherwise successful (see: “Hold Me Down”) other gambles. It becomes clear that the singer is at his best when working with either extreme: explicitly incorporating the styles of those who came before him, or simply not doing so at all. When Caesar does decide to go all-in, however, it pays off.
On “Neu Roses (Transgressor’s Song),” he fuses lush Petsounds-esque harmonies with vocals in the style of something off Brown Sugar, and it proves to be a dynamic slow jam through a relationship’s shakiest times. Caesar’s absolute peak, however, is when he sounds most loose, which on Freudian happens over rich, almost tropical instrumentation. Dreamy undertones carry “Take Me Away,” which also provides a smooth segue to “Transform.” Both tracks benefit from additional female vocals — Syd on the former, Charlotte Day Wilson the latter — and with the sneakily sensitive jams Caesar puts an exclamation point on his streak of nuanced suave.
With Freudian, Caesar works with his sound’s intricacies at a level unseen in Praise Break (2014), or even 2015’s Pilgrim Paradise (both EP’s). While it would be nice to see Caesar completely run with his increasingly distinct lush soul/R&B/church ballad-type space he’s making for himself and see just how far he can push this burgeoning sound, we remember that in listening to Freudian we’re taking ourselves on our own honeymoon, and so we can ignore whatever doesn’t quite feel genuine enough or — cue pretentious cliche — adequately advanced. Listen in a relaxing setting, or with someone whose presence you enjoy, or if you just want to hear good shit. For now Caesar is in (positive) career limbo, and so he can operate without pressure to evolve. That’s why Freudian is what it is, and until his next release, that’s all it needs to be.