Life after Commencement humbled Kanye West. Battling invasive tabloid protection amid the dying of his mom and a damaged engagement, he mused, “Do I still got time to grow?/Things ain’t always set in stone.” Daniel Caesar would later cowl “Street Lights” on considered one of his early EPs, 2015’s Pilgrim’s Paradise. Although he was barely 20 when he recorded it, Caesar’s model (retitled “Streetcar”) captured angst past his years. He ditched the electro-R&B however retained the emo confessionalism, backing his falsetto with piano, drums, and guitar. It was a preview of the minimal, ethereal tone of his full-length debut, 2017’s Freudian. The music that adopted wasn’t as polished or poetic. “I wanted to free myself from replicating Freudian,” Caesar instructed interviewer Tom Energy in 2020. His new album, By no means Sufficient, poses the query: What if ChatGPT wrote half of 808s & Heartbreak?
Touring far afield from the gospel preparations and acoustic ballads that outlined his debut, Caesar has collaborated with Justin Bieber, T-Ache, and Free Nationals, choosing up items of their sounds alongside the way in which. He’s erratically experimental on By no means Sufficient—Auto-Tune, pitched-down vocals, random rap verses, Frank Ocean-like ad-libs. “Shot My Baby,” a bluesy story of infidelity turned manslaughter, is probably the most intriguing departure from his typical autofiction. He’d been engaged on “a country-bluegrass type album,” he’s mentioned, however switched instructions when longtime producers Jordan Evans and Matthew Burnett weren’t positive what to do with the music. As an alternative, he lands on woozy psych-R&B that feels like sleepy karaoke, or else the form of music you hear within the background of ABC crime-drama trailers.
The album is, in a phrase, sedated. Many songs open with about 20 seconds of eerily muted or distorted synth. The Slowed + Reverbed midsection of “Ocho Rios” accentuates Caesar’s melancholy and lyrics about prescription tablets. “Toronto 2014” romanticizes life earlier than the cash and the Grammys. But regardless of how hoarse or comatose he sounds—“You’re my saving grace… grace… grace”—propulsive drums, divine strings, and gossamer harmonies assist to camouflage the weaknesses.
By no means Sufficient leans into the superficially cerebral material of 2019’s Case Examine 01, which sampled a theoretical physicist and devoted a music to a mind lobe. That album was about as pseudo-academic because it will get. However if you happen to’ve ever taken a scenic late-night drive, placed on Channel Orange, and had been unfortunate sufficient to be accompanied by a suitor hoping to seduce you with Maslow hierarchies and Jordan Peterson quotes, By no means Sufficient gives you flashbacks. “Do I titillate your mind?” Caesar asks on “Do You Like Me?” (Would you imagine me if I instructed you it was co-written by Raphael Saadiq?) Lyrical absurdity peaks on “Vince Van Gogh”: “Used to be ugly, now I’m a handsome Charlie Manson/Wrapped in a Snuggie.” And lest we overlook this utterly unique red-pill remark: “We’re stuck in the Matrix.”