The apparition in the album art states a key detail about Daniel Caesar at this point in his career: he is still finding his voice. Last year’s “Freudian” proved to cement expectations from R&B listeners about where he plans to take his velvety vocals and sensual production in future works. The results yielded two years later, “Case Study 01,” the second LP from Caesar himself, and while he expands on his sound in unorthodox conventions, he now gravitates toward different shortcomings.
“Case Study 01” sets its sights on submerging in more sensual and nocturnal settings; however, Caesar contradicts these tones with apathy, destruction and of seeking solace. Opener “Entropy” utilizes an excerpt from American physician J. Robert Oppenheimer during an interview relating to the creation of the atomic bombing. Hovering over lo-fi percussions and sedated guitars, the Toronto artist uses scientific jargon to convey the inevitability of fate, most notably his own. In the chorus, he doubts love to be eternal (“Oh, how can this be? I've finally found peace/Just how long 'til she's stripped from me?”). He croons in the outro that all life is submissive to the coming perils and that the world’s demise is only a few blocks away.
“Front Lobe Muzik” exposes another complexity of him, something this album successfully executes. While Pharell Williams adds buoyancy and delight, Caesar questions his internal struggles of acquiring compassion. Verses like “I know the things that I been feelin', they ain't real” contrast with the chorus: “I'm in love with you still, ooh yeah.” The same is also found in “Open Up,” where his second head is dominant against his conscience in a relationship. “Can we get down to business,” he inquires in the first verse before he and his love interest start unlocking the emotional aspect. These lyrical moments become the antithesis of Caesar’s reputation. While “Freudian” flourishes in romantic gestures, “Case Study 01” perceives love as a difficulty, a walk between authentic relationships and ones grounded by ambivalence and half-hearted indications.
The theme of power also surfaces. On many occasions, he shows his awe for the abstracts. Religion coincides with science and enlarges his perception of the pendulum. On the John Mayer-featured “Superposition,” he sings: “Isn't it an irony? / The things that inspire me / They make me bleed / So profusely.” He warns on “Entropy” twice, “The good Lord he gives, the Lord he takes.” He even challenges himself on his faith on “Too Deep to Turn Back.” Caesar’s tone suggests frustration with God: “So what’s the price? We’re like mosquitoes to light, in a sense.” The sentiment is there, but at points, the argument feels washed up. He sings in the second verse, “Just tryna get money with my dogs / Is that so wrong?”
The album is at its best when it calms down from the various musical progressions and focuses on a single sound. “Frontal Lobe Muzik” fulfills this level, due to Pharrell Williams fabricating a rhythmic drum sequence while adding juxtaposition to Caesar’s soft vocal textures. The same can be said when he gets in touch with his female counterpart, in this case with ‘90s star Brandy on “Love Again.” Sparse bass and vocal harmonies fill up the space between the two’s voice, both basking off each other’s tones. These points in “Case Study 01” are some of the only joyous takeaways. Aside from those, Caesar’s pen skills prove to be efficient in some passages in various tracks, the first verse of “Too Deep to Turn Back” namely. He makes a comparison of people and their faith to mosquitos and light. The diction marks a pesty tone, but he rebuts it by crooning the reason why faith is needed for those individuals.
The LP most likely is a project for Caesar himself, an “either you like it or you don’t” project. There was little promotion upon the release of his second studio release, yet it still managed to surpass its mother album on the American Billboard Charts. And while that is another story itself, “Case Study 01” comes off either experimenting too much or having bland penmanship, such as the closer ‘Are You Ok?,” which feels like “Superposition” that never finds its footing, or Sean Leon’s verse on “Restore the Feeling,” where he digresses into questioning whether he can make a classic verse or a million dollars first. These small transgressions add up, and it surely overruns the good qualities that the LP showcases. Nevertheless, “Case Study 01” is a test, a sound that Caesar can build off of, and it will be more rousing to hear what he has in later segments.