A Close Look at Daniel Caesar’s New Album, CASE STUDY 01

Broken Stereo
Jun 28, 2019 · 3 min read

Last night, Daniel Caesar dropped a surprise album that has made fans very emotional. CASE STUDY 01 is a medium-length album featuring 10 songs that stick to Caesar’s gospel and soul roots with very ambient and choral-based pieces.

While Caesar’s previous album, Freudian, was centred around love, CASE STUDY 01 is very much about existing. The album sees the young Oshawa-local collaborating with some big names including John Mayer, Pharell Williams, and Jacob Collier, who performed in Toronto just last week. His concert featured a surprise guest appearance from, you guessed it, Daniel Caesar.

What I really admire about Caesar’s work is that he’s pushing the boundaries between pop music and jazz. His previous album saw the use of very tasteful chords commonly used in jazz, which Jacob Collier explains in this video.

For example, in “SUPERPOSITION”, he uses a whole tone scale in the line, “So are you, are you understanding?” And then, he does it again to show that it wasn’t a mistake the first time. These very intentionally placed harmonic theories add so much richness and depth to Caesar’s pieces that only true music geek would be able to appreciate.

I was also very exciting to see the return of Pharell Williams who hasn’t released a proper song since 2017. “FRONTAL LOBE MUZIK”, which features Pharell Williams, leaned more towards a classic hip-hop tune. The ostinato of Pharell Williams singing “bop” in the background reminded me why I loved his songs so much. This is a similar technique that he used in “Happy.”

The song that sounds most similar to his last album is “LOVE AGAIN” featuring Brandy. However, the use of chromaticism in the chorus signifies that although “LOVE AGAIN” sounds like it could be from Freudian, it actually belongs on the new album.

In my opinion, “ARE YOU OK?” is the perfect way to end the album. The six and a half minute piece breaks all rules of pop music. The first half of the piece is a slow guitar ballad supported by ambient synth pads, which feels like a farewell. But the first half does not prepare you at all for what’s to come later on in the song. At the four-minute mark, the track goes completely silent and you think the song is over…until a few seconds later, when the song comes back with haunting minor chords that kicks into a hip-hop beat.

CASE STUDY 01 truly lives up to its name as what Daniel Caesar calls “an experiment.” He tries to do things that are unconventional and strange to make the listener really question what music can be. In his Instagram post, he writes “I’m grateful…I’m trying to be better, I swear. It’s all just a big experiment…a case study.” And that, I think, is a truly beautiful statement.

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