Daniel Caesar might still have it, but not on ‘CASE STUDY 01’

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Grade: 3.0/5.0

This music shit’s a piece of cake,” posits Daniel Casear on “SUPERPOSITION.” 

The song comes off of Caesar’s latest album, CASE STUDY 01, the long-awaited follow-up to his critically acclaimed 2017 debut album Freudian. Yet despite this display of confidence, the jubilant and frenzied collection of tunes is not as successful as Caesar imagines it to be. While his first record was a balanced and consistent departure into the self — told through the languid croons of an acoustic guitar and the supple breathiness of Caesar’s voice — CASE STUDY 01 is not quite so contemplative, not quite so clear and, ultimately, not nearly as impressive. 

This is not to say that the album fully lacks successful songs. Many of the tracks in the folds of this record are vibrant dispatches of tranquil beats, flourishing melodies and hymnlike lyrics that hark back to the ecclesiastical accents of Freudian. 

When Caesar strings these individual songs together is when the album reveals its disorganization and lack of certainty in what it wants to be. Take the opening track, “ENTROPY.” This song begins with a haunting sample in which J. Robert Oppenheimer is discussing the Manhattan Project. It then shifts into a lightweight rhythm beating below disillusioned lyrics. Caesar sings, “Oh, how can this be? I finally found peace / Just how long till she’s stripped from me?” But while this track balances buoyant joy with fearful disarray in a deft manner, the song that follows immediately disrupts the tone. 

CYANIDE” is not about the longevity of love, but about sex. The Daniel Caesar of “Japanese Denim” and duets like “Best Part” who was committed to romance and sweet nothings is no more. The Caesar who appears on “CYANIDE” and other tracks from CASE STUDY 01 is much more concerned with quenching his sexual thirst. It’s a harsh jolt from the simple melody that precedes it and, though a catchy tune, leaves the listener massaging sonic whiplash. 

Setting aside the album’s confusing pairings and contradictory instrumental arrangements, some songs bring familiar, and much-welcomed, elements from Freudian to the forefront. 

“LOVE AGAIN,” featuring Brandy, is sweet and sanguine like the aforementioned Caesar-H.E.R. duet. Here, Caesar’s siren cadence melds delectably into Brandy’s low, riff-filled croons. In “SUPERPOSITION,” Caesar sings, “If I die before I wake / Please do not resuscitate,” as a dark play on religion — akin to his commentary throughout Freudian. 

Put simply, CASE STUDY 01 is not a bad album by any means — it’s just a disappointing one. And though featured artists like John Mayer and Pharrell Williams bring their A-game to their respective tracks — glimmers of gold in an otherwise empty washbasin — Caesar does not. It seems he lost his stride as quickly as he found it. 

But from the hints of glory tucked beneath the rubble of this indecisive collection, it is clear that Caesar still has the makings of R&B royalty. And hopefully, he will find his stride once again. 

Contact Maisy Menzies at [email protected].