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Bryce Vine - Carnival Music Album Reviews

The debut full-length from the “Drew Barrymore” singer isn’t designed for conscious, focused listening. This is music for poolsides and basements.
Bryce Vine describes himself as “OutKast and Blink-182 got drunk with the Gorillaz.” Perhaps a more apt comparison is KYLE taking bong hits with Dave Matthews Band, or Jason Mraz sniffing poppers with Doja Cat. At 31, Vine is at an unconventional age for frat-rap prominence. He established a fanbase nearly a decade ago, as a contestant on “The Glee Project,” a reality television show based off the Ryan Murphy high school drama. His real rise came with 2017’s “Drew Barrymore,” a swirl of neon synths that went platinum, possibly by being added to every “Chill Vibes” playlist in existence.

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Daniel Caesar - CASE STUDY 01 Music Album Reviews

The Toronto singer croons his way into a sapiosexual world of love and philosophy, though not without controversy.

There are few R&B singers who would sample J. Robert Oppenheimer, the American theoretical physicist who helmed the design and research of the world’s first atomic bomb. But Toronto singer Daniel Caesar spotlights a quote from the scientist describing the Hindu deity Vishnu as the “destroyer of worlds” at the start of “Entropy,” setting the mood for his new album, Case Study 01. Coming from a love ballad crooner that previously held a reputation for having an insane amount of people proposing at his live shows, this might seem a little morbid and heady. But considering that 2017’s Freudian, was, well, named after Sigmund Freud as a tie-in to his grappling of ego and id within his romantic serenades, the 24-year-old artist now delves further into his philosophical explorations.


On Case Study 01, Caesar employs science metaphors to work through ideas of death, spirituality, and absolution. He does this best on the aforementioned “Entropy,” where he uses the thermodynamic chemical reaction to represent the chaos in his life and also to suggest we, as humans, have little control over the potentially catastrophic rules of nature. But his resolve is impressive as he quells his concerns and turns to his belief and trust in God. And when he sings about welcoming the end of life (“Raise my jersey to the rafters/Let moths consume me in the light”), his lithe voice trembles. It’s a beautiful, vulnerable display of a young man’s faith, despite his uncertainty of the future. He shows more of this serenity on the standout “Superposition,” as he sings about the natural balance of life through a Buddhist lens, referencing “yin and yang” and the principle of superposition. “I’m me/I’m God/I’m everything,” he sings in his airy falsetto over John Mayer’s hypnotic guitar licks and ghostly background vocals, sounding full of grace.

These transcendent moments are accentuated by subtle production that shifts outward from the more straightforward gospel-R&B of Freudian. The Frank Ocean-inspired closing track “Are You OK?” pans out into a psychedelic dreamscape that opens with the introduction of each instrument: glittering chimes, a touch of slide guitar, a skittering synth, and later, the howling sound of distorted voices. While “Frontal Lobe Muzik,” featuring production and vocals from Pharrell, reveals a scattering of new age-y synth bleeps. They sound like they’re ready to drift into space, mirroring Caesar’s sentiments when he says: “I wanna venture into the unknown.”

Caesar doesn’t completely ditch the love songs on Case Study 01. “Love Again,” a glowing funk ballad features Caesar and Brandy sharing their respective breakup stories and reassuring each other through the heartsickness. This is the mode that he thrives in, as shown in his many collaborations on Freudian with H.E.R., Kali Uchis, Charlotte Day Wilson, and Syd, respectively—their voices providing an extra texture and point of view that complements his so well. But this is Brandy we’re talking about, and she unsurprisingly shows up Caesar on his own song, as her powerful, multi-dimensional voice glides between the sultry and dark, and airy and light.

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However, her appearance sits in the shadow of Caesar’s recent controversial comments about race. “Why are we being so mean to white people right now?” Caesar asked his black followers on Instagram live as he defended Yes Julz, the embattled internet personality and “culture vulture,” after she ranted about black women criticizing her. Later he added, “You can’t win the game by choosing to not accept the winning team’s strategy” and urged his fans to “make [him] suffer for his opinion” by boycotting his music. So a cognitive dissonance arises when Caesar admires his lover’s skin, comparing it to “Rich dark chocolate, sweet melanin,” on the Kardinal Offishall-featuring, reggae-tinged bop “Cyanide.” Or when he positions himself as a beacon of enlightenment when he sings, “Follow me to salvation/Your mind still ’pon plantations,” on “Too Deep to Turn Back.” Contrary to false reports that his album flopped due to the controversy, it didn’t result in any major consequences. Case Study 01 debuted higher than Freudian on both the U.S. and Canadian charts.

And while there are flashes of wisdom on Case Study 01, there are also a handful of clunky moments when Caesar’s out of his depth. On “Open Up,” he puts on his best D’Angelo impression by deepening his voice, but fails to provide any of the soul legend’s smoothness, as he sings, “I don’t feel like talking unless it’s ’bout me or philosophy.” And it gets even more unsettling horny when he sings in the chorus: “Then you can open up to me, girl/Let me plant my seed, girl.” Or when he brags about his glow up on “Frontal Lobe Muzik” by saying, “Used to be ugly, but now I hit from the back,” demonstrating the antithesis of his earlier humility and tenderness. Like his contemporaries 6LACK and Brent Faiyaz, Caesar is clearly talented, but he’s got a lot of learning to do.


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