The hardest thing to adjust to since my move from New York to Los Angeles has been all the driving, which I know is a basic and “new to LA” complaint that people are sick of hearing about. But recently I started obsessing over Daniel Caesar’s album Freudian—just in time for its Grammy nomination—and everything about my 45-minute drive to anything cool has changed.
I put the key in the ignition and play it from the start with Get You. It just takes a second, and my mom’s old Subaru Outback seems to transform into a red hot Tesla convertible. The traffic subsides just for me, and I cruise on through, to Hollywood, Santa Monica, Malibu… I don’t care how long it takes. I want to drive… because I want to listen. Daniel Caesar’s music puts me in a sexy daze… “Through drought and famine, natural disasters, my baby has been around for me, kingdoms have fallen, angels be calling, none of that could ever make me leave.”
This is the only good thing about driving in LA: I know an album is good if it makes traffic even remotely bearable. And I know an album is great when I zone out so much I don’t mind it at all.
“He’s a cross between Leon Bridges and Frank Ocean,” my boyfriend says as we listen to Best Part over coffee. “That’s perfect,” I say, and jot it down, knowing I’ll be writing something about Caesar at one point or another. But now that I’ve given the album about 10 more listens and much more thought, I’d argue that though he’s spot on in terms of Caesar’s voice, as a complete artist, the true comparison to be made here is to SZA.
Caesar and SZA are both R&B/Soul singers whose lyrics feel equally as honest as their instrumentals. Like SZA, Caesar is singing about relationships, in a raw, real kind of way, without the “fluff” of love we hear all over the radio by so many others. In We Find Love, the lyrics “We find love, we get up, we fall down, we give up” are repeated heavily. Caesar is driving home a very true but sad concept, that people who have been seriously heartbroken often remain that way, with no faith in finding love again (unless they get back up a stronger, different person).
Similarly in Blessed, Caesar sings, “It’s the way that you pray, pray on my insecurities, I know you’re feelin’ me.” Though Caesar may be one of the few to admit it, he’s right: Love often begins when someone makes us feel okay about what we believe to be our greatest flaws, and vice a versa.
Though this honesty and vulnerability contributes immensely to the excellence of Freudian, the album’s most unique factor is without a doubt its emphasis on gratitude. Caesar seems to be in complete awe of everything he’s writing these songs about, taking nothing in life for granted.
In Blessed, Caesar sings “Yes, I’m a mess, but I’m blessed to be stuck with you” and in Get You’, he tells you “I’ll take some time just to be thankful, that I had days full of you, before it winds down into the memories.” In Take Me Away (my favorite on the album), Caesar sings about a girl he’s seeing: “Now it’s time to sit back and enjoy creation, see what Jah has done, every time she tops me off it’s celebration.”
There’s nothing expected or routine about this hook-up, he’s stoked about her every single time. Even though a lot of Caesar’s songs have to do with difficulty of being in love, from these lyrics, it seems like no matter what he’s struggling with, this guy just appreciates being alive, and the full experience of being human. That’s something we need more of in music today, and reason enough for Freudian to win some awards this weekend.
Maia Paras Evrigenis is an MFA candidate at CalArts and graduate of New York University. She is originally from Sacramento, CA.