Case Study 01 — Album Review
A look at Daniel Caesar’s second studio album
After being “cancelled” by mainstream consumers after a drunken IG live, many missed out on a classic R&B album. Even after demanding to be cancelled (and succeeding by most standards), Daniel Caesar went out and created an amazing album which didn’t receive the love it deserves — ultimately, due to the timing of its release. However, if you find the fallacy of “cancel culture” redundant, then you will find this album to be a true masterpiece. Otherwise, look the other way.
This album feels like classic Daniel Caesar: beautiful singing ability backed by underrated lyricism with an emphasis on love and the human connection. With features from Brandy, Sean Leon, John Mayer, and Pharrell, the production of this album is very cohesive. The largest emphasis is Caesar’s singing ability, as it is not drowned out by the backing music or surrounding artists and the multifaceted meaning behind the highlighted songs. This is album I’ll be dancing to, while my grandkids look on in bewilderment, talking about, “What y’all know ‘bout this right here!?”
From the opening seconds, the theme of religion is apparent as a distorted voice speaks on the Hindu religious figure, Vishnu. Specifically the following line of scripture:
“[…] and, to impress him, takes on his multi-armed form, and says, ‘Now I am become death, the destroyer of worlds.’”
According to Genius, this sample was taken from an interview with J. Robert Oppenheimer about tests done in the Manhattan Project which would lead to the atomic bomb. While this is a loaded and multifaceted use of a sample, the most likely intention of the sound byte relates to how love is, ultimately, fleeting. With the all powerful deity being the end all, be all for how our lives play out which emphasizes just how futile it seems to be in love. This becomes more evident throughout the album.
For example, the very next verse of opening song “ENTROPY”, Caesar questions just how long will it be that his love interest is stripped away from him. Entropy, by definition, is simply chaos and/or the lack of predictability. Caesar wants to divulge in this potential relationship because chaos, along with the end of life, is inevitable. Despite his religious upbringing, Caesar doesn’t find comfort in his creators all-seeing eye. Even describing it as intrusive as the KGB, a former Russian intelligence op. There is a sense of inner turmoil as Caesar acknowledges we drift slowly towards the deep freeze, the death of the universe.
In the most popular song of the album, “CYANIDE”, Caesar speaks of a relationship that is toxic like the poisonous cyanide. It is performed in a Jamaican Patois and has massive reggae influences, an obvious nod to his heritage. The song feels addicting as does the relationship Caesar describes as he finds his lover irresistible.
Following with “LOVE AGAIN” featuring Brandy, the artists go into a musical back and forth. They blame each other for faults however both are beyond willing to make it work as they still croon for each other. The two perfectly complement each other as two powerhouse R&B singers, the chemistry feels natural. It feels, despite divine intervention, that the two lovers will find each other once again and make it work, one way or another.
Opening with Pharrell’s signature 4 count entrance, “FRONTAL LOBE MUZIK” is the recollection of the life that lead Caesar to where he is now. Reminiscent of what it was like being lonely and before the fame, he uses his frontal lobe to access these memories, hence the song title. Ultimately, the purpose of this song is to refuse from keeping yourself withdrawn as sung on the final chorus by Pharrell. Caesar puts it humorously plain:
“I wanna venture into the unknown
Never got shit poppin’ layin’ ‘round at home
Never got no pussy actin like a pussy
Let my nuts hang, God damn, look where that shit took me”
Next is “SUPERPOSITION”. This song continues on the scientific jargon like the introduction did. What exactly is superposition? By definition, it is the action of placing one thing on or above another, especially so that they coincide. Generally, this is placed in context with (sound) waves and how they combine to either make a bigger wave, calm completely, or somewhere in between. See where I’m going with this? The things in Caesar’s life that inspire him holistically make who he is. Even at the highs and lows, these things are a part of him and made him who he is and are a consequence of every interaction he has had. Most importantly, Caesar emphasizes his role of the impact of his life. There is a hint of existentialism in this part. Ultimately, there is yin and yang and we are all a combination in how we express the balance the two represent.
Lastly, is my favorite song of the album, “COMPLEXITIES”. While this song has very few verses, the slow cantor in which the song progresses along with the nihilistic meaning of the song make it one of my favorites. Does that make me nihilist? Maybe. Regardless, the meaning I gain from this song is as follows: the overwhelming complexities of human life as we know it, despite each of our unique experience, amount to nothing. And as Caesar puts it, there’s “nothing new under the moon”. He uses this line to encourage a lover that despite these meaningless complexities, he’s has spent many nights thinking of them and they should still be with him.
If you’re interested in slow, almost depressing music, this is the perfect selection for you. Even if you’re not, I would still recommend this album as it can be an important form of introspection. While this album doesn’t get the appreciation it deserves, the experience it provides is unmatched.