In the modern world, music has become a viable platform for artists to publicly demand—and hopefully enact—tangible social change. Powerful records like Childish Gambino’s “This Is America” and entire albums like Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly have been able to successfully shed light on—and stimulate crucial discussion about—some of today’s most pressing issues. The popularity of these works proves that there is a genuine hunger for this kind of introspection, too.
Yet, the beauty of music lies in its vast applicability. Sometimes, a project can serve as a simple reminder of everything that is right with the world, not just what needs fixing. Daniel Caesar’s 2017 opus, Freudian, is one such shining example.
Originally released last August, Freudian is the Toronto singer's debut studio album, a journey into the intricacies of young love that channels inspiration from a number of genres, spanning R&B, hip-hop, gospel, and soul. Much like the influences that guide the project as a whole, the topics that Caesar explores are extensive and far-reaching.
On “Loose,” over simple acoustic instrumentation, he waxes poetic about his role in contributing to failed relationships:
“You don’t love me anymore / Let’s see how you like this song / See you walking out that door / Wonder why it took so long”
In the haunting outro of “Hold Me Down,” he expresses his frustrations with the constant uncertainty of romance and the unavoidable push-and-pull at its core:
“I never asked for much, only that you stay true / Need I remind you all the things I do for you?”
In spite of the commendable transparency of such admissions of confusion and guilt, the album gains its true power from the palpable optimism that surrounds them. On each and every track on the project, the 23-year-old singer-songwriter showcases an incredible ability to identify—and communicate his appreciation for—the positive elements in his life.
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From confessing, “I’m a mess, but I’m blessed to be stuck with you” on “Blessed,” to insisting that “it’s time to sit back and enjoy creation / See what Jah has done” on the Syd-assisted “Take Me Away,” it’s abundantly clear that Caesar has mastered the ability to overlook the gloom in steadfast pursuit of something much more energizing and liberating.
Before writing for DJBooth, I self-published a personal reflection on Caesar’s “Blessed,” and how the one lyric I mentioned above allowed me to learn to finally accept my flaws. This discovery, in turn, gave me the conviction to embark on a journey of self-improvement, one ultimately bearing fruit that would have (just a year prior) seemed unimaginable. Yet, over these past 12 months, I’ve also realized that the scope of Freudian’s applicability shouldn’t just be limited to myself and my own growth. The themes of persistence, compassion, and genuine positivity that pervade the album can be of use on a much larger scale.
Now, seemingly more than ever, there appears to be a tendency for individuals to unite based on what they hate, rather than what they support or legitimately enjoy. Because we have begun to allow contempt to define us, it’s as if this issue now dictates almost every major political and cultural development, in our country and beyond. And while the complexity of the problem undoubtedly requires a sophisticated solution, one that necessitates action beyond merely listening to an album, learning to appreciate the little things—as Daniel Caesar does so well on Freudian—is a start.
For me and so many others, the themes of open-mindedness and hope at the very heart of the album have, since its release, proven downright infectious, and have thus made Freudian worthy of, at the very least, high recommendation. Yet still, the recurring messages of optimism present throughout the project have the potential—and simply deserve—to reach an even greater audience in the future.
On the eponymous closing track “Freudian,” a 10-minute ballad, Caesar sings, “Better believe it / I’m rising up from the flames / The Phoenix that I became.” Despite everything and everyone trying to drag us down, we have the power to rise above it all, and Freudian can be the soundtrack empowering us to do just that.
It’s an album about love, but it can also teach us how to love.
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