Daniel Caesar’s Freudian is an Exploration of a Love in Transition
This is love working in reverse. As if one was born with Cupid’s arrow already attached to their person, and spent the rest of their life trying to Benjamin Button their way out of it. This is love bright hot in emotion, yet shallow in its infancy. Akin to dousing gasoline on scattered debris, only to see the flames wither away, shrinking from the lack of timber it needs to thrive. Freudian is brilliant for its honesty. It is beautiful in its stark contrast, with its gospel influenced sound running perpendicular to an ethos seemingly bereft of hope. This is a sobering piece of work, that tells the tale of what happens when two people dive head first, without realizing how deep the bottom goes. This isn’t self-deprecating, as much as it’s a declaration of acceptance of who Daniel Caesar is, and what he is able to offer someone in regards to love, or lack thereof.
The beginning of this project greets us with a newly awakened love, as two people get lost in each other. This is love fresh out the package. Everything is uncharted territory, and everyone is the best version of themselves as they are still in awe, because who would have thought they got you? But even in the midst of this burgeoning rose bush of affection, you see the first tendrils of what could be the weed that chokes out their love. Daniel sings, “everything I need is between those thighs.” Given the immediate context, as this is a song about two making sex, this can be seen as innocuous. But when you get to Kali Uchis singing about how this encounter “feels like summer” and her being left with the “memories,” it can be said that this is actually the beginning of the end. They’re both enveloped in the moment, and as much as they’re joyous in rapture, these are all fleeting feelings. This is exemplary of how excellent a song writer Daniel Caesar is, because as he is able to weave in these Easter eggs, we see the devil is truly in the details.
The church influences in Daniel Caesar’s music are obvious. Stripped down production, harmonious chords, voices in chorus, and numerous allusions to the bible. Which is what makes the thesis of this project stand out so starkly. Hold Me Down riffs excellently from the classic Kirk Franklin gospel song, “Hold Me Now.” But whereas the Kirk Franklin version is a plea for forgiveness and to not be forsaken in the midst of turmoil, Caesar asks the woman in question to accept him despite his flaws with no indication that he plans on attempting to “Transform.” This isn’t presented to the listener as an indictment upon himself, but more so a statement of fact. Caesar acknowledges, that just as the bible speaks of us all falling short, so does he. The difference being, Freudian doesn’t speak of a man willing to see these shortcomings as what they are. Shortcomings.
The 10th chapter of John. Insomuch as this passage reads as a description of salvation in the sense of Christianity, is also a dive into the necessary conditions of a relationship steeped in the spices of love. Namely, sacrifice. The laying down of one’s life and desires, for the good of another. This is a notion that Freudian speaks to time and again throughout its run; however, it is from the perspective of someone who finds himself unable and unwilling to do just that. On Transform, Caesar weaves a tale of someone unwilling to change, and is placing the blame on his love interest for daring to think he would, because tigers don’t change their stripes. On the title track, he compares love to human sacrifice. Questioning whether it would be better to just quit, than to take the necessary steps in order to keep this love alive. He sings of rushing in headlong, too excited to realize the consequences and cost of a mature love is truly like. Hence why he takes the “easy route every time.” This is flesh flayed bare. Freudian isn’t a cry for pity, as much as it asks the listener to understand the inner machinations of why he isn’t ready for anything past what feels like a fleeting summer.
Love isn’t a difficult concept to grasp, as much as it’s a difficult thing to practice. The openness of youth allows us to fall into love’s embrace, but that same sophomoric view is what keeps us from having something lasting. It’s akin to dancing in the rain fully clothed, only to find out the aftermath is drying oneself off and doing laundry, and being incapable or unwilling to do so. This album is nigh flawless in its execution of a descent into the psyche of a person realizing they are not yet built for this life. Only fools rush in. But there is yet hope for the protagonist in Freudian. It’s explored in “Blessed,” where we get a glimpse that the main character of this work has come to grips with who he is, and knows that it isn’t conducive to a healthy relationship, so changes can be made. Like the prodigal son of biblical canon, one should have faith that at some point Daniel Caesar will come back home.