A look at Toronto-based singer-songwriter Daniel Caesar’s latest release, Case Study 01, an album that grows on you with each successive listen…
by: Miki Hellerbach
When I have fallen in love, I have fallen hard, and this has happened only twice in my life. Currently, I am in the midst of that second happening, which came to be in an unexpected manner. I was not sure at the time of our first encounter if this was the sort of person I could fall for. It was truly the antithesis of love at first sight. There was an attraction for sure, but once I fell into it there was definitely a sense of: wait, how did I…well, I guess I’m here now. And then this newfound infatuation felt exciting, and natural, the sort of love I didn’t know I was looking for. I guess this is what is meant when people talk about “butterflies,” that feeling of opening a door that you sense has enticing possibilities behind it, but as far as what those possibilities are, that’s fully hidden.
About once a year I listen to an album that feels like this. On first listen, I don’t sense as if it is constructed to be understood immediately. Thus, I put it on the back-burner, though something lingers. In time a weird, innate desire to explore it manifests because it felt different to me. I then return to the few songs that I was taken with, and soon I begin to dig deeper. This was the case when I came upon Daniel Caesar’s latest album, Case Study 01.
Daniel Caesar is a Canadian singer and songwriter who in 2014 released the critically acclaimed EP Praise Break. With that success came 2015’s highly-praised EP Pilgrim’s Paradise, an album that saw Caesar’s star rise, and with it, his debut album Freudian. With the accolades surrounding Caesar’s first three releases piling-up, the news that 2019 would see another album was met with delight and anticipation. With assists from John Mayer, Pharrell, and Brandy, the album — Case Study 01 — centers around themes of spirituality and mortality. Initially, it was the Brandy collaboration, “Love Again,” that caught my attention. Later, after more time spent with the album, I fell for the smooth, welcoming nature of the sultry track “Open Up.” These two songs felt familiar and connected me to Caesar’s previous work and his buttery melodies, smooth yet simple lyricism, and satisfying falsetto.
About a month after Caesar released Case Study 01, my listening habits and musical tastes had journeyed me on to other artists. I was busy with my own music endeavors while simultaneously preparing for a visit from my latest infatuation, who had just recently moved to a different city. One sunny day, I found myself shuffling through several new artists that had caught my attention, but I stopped listening a few songs in, realizing they were not in sync with my mood. Out of nowhere, I had a desire to listen to Daniel Caesar’s latest album. I even remember thinking, Why do I want to listen to this? I had already decided that the album wasn’t for me, but that thought seemed fleeting at the moment and so I searched out Case Study 01 and let it play. In that instant, it was as if I was listening to an entirely different album. Every time I’ve listened since that day, I’ve rediscovered my affinity for Caesar’s latest project and its overall seduction. It turns out, I needed a new mindset, a new ear, and a slightly varied life circumstance to appreciate the music he had crafted. Also, what it seemed like I most needed was to listen to the album a few times and then give it some space.
What I initially viewed Caesar was doing when I first listened to the album was experimenting with new sounds that ended up not resonating with me. With my “new” ears, I realized that was not his intention whatsoever. The music I was hearing seemed focused more inwardly that I had originally comprehended. The album had become exactly as its the title foretold — it was a case study.
Case Study 01 is, to me, a case study of the a Caesar is currently experiencing. However, more importantly it is a case study of his own personal growth potentially through his grappling with new love and new life conflict. These new sounds feel more like a natural, residual effect of that analysis each time I listen to it. The melodies come in conflict and in alignment with the lyrics as they bend and weave, yet always connect with the ear honestly.
I fell in love with this album fully when I realized that he experiences the feeling of love in a way that feels so similar to me. He has to feel it in his heart, through sex, but ultimately through mind and conversations with himself. That combination of experience and reflection that help to erase doubt feels familiar and honestly expressed. Caesar goes back and forth between each of the experiences (Heart, Sex, and Mind) throughout the album. He then brilliantly closes with a full summation of all the experiences in one simple acoustic expression, the soothing, affecting “Are You Okay?” Case Study 01 makes me feel that almost unexplainable feeling that real love has given me, which is that you and your loved one travel in this pocket of energy navigating the world together once you’ve decided to combine your energies and fuse the parts of yourselves that make you work best. My current favorite song is the John Mayer assisted “Superposition.” The chorus is the melodic part of the project that is constantly in my head. It also happens to be my favorite lyric. It sums up the experience of love that Caesar is consistently analyzing.
“Exist in superposition / Life’s all about contradiction / Yin and yang / Fluidity and things / I’m me, I’m God / I’m everything / I’m my own reason why I sing / And so are you, are you understanding?”
Fittingly my current love, who inspired me to write this review, said a version of the following:
“There’s love that hits you right away. It strikes like lightning and it’s exciting and full force, all at once and it doesn’t last long. Then there’s the love that hits you with a left hook. It comes out of nowhere and you almost have to grow into it. Those are the kinds that usually last longer because you grow with the love. It’s like that with music too. Sometimes the vibes don’t hit you all at once, but the songs that grow on your ears usually leave a more lasting mark.”
I’ve always told her she hit me with a left hook.
Now, I find myself listening to the album daily.
Miki Hellerbach is a Baltimore raised, Brooklyn based independent journalist. He is also an independent alternative r&b artist under the name Miki Montebello and as a part of his group PM. His writing focus is Music’s intersection with Culture, Politics, and Personal Discovery. Read more from Miki here.