Rumor has it that Daniel Caesar failed choir when he was in high-school. According to him, he was never good with theory – apparently, he still isn’t. But the music theory seems almost superfluous when listening to the Toronto native’s music: a seductive blend of gospel, blues, soul, and rock in the same lineage of other contemporaries such as Moses Sumney, Sampha, and Sabrina Claudio.
Listen: “Japanese Denim” – Daniel Caesar
Listening to “Japanese Denim,” from Caesar’s 2016 Get You EP, the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end as Caesar captures the longing of a lost love and the bittersweet sadness that lingers. The song opens with a humble drum beat and guitar riffs, and Caesar’s voice soon takes center stage:
I don’t stand in line, I don’t pay for clubs, fuck that
But I wait for you
I don’t like to drink, I don’t like to think, fuck that
But I ponder you
Caesar is disarmingly seductive – a proclivity that producers Jordan Evans and Matthew Burnett buttressing with the jazzy instrumentals of the prodigious BADBADNOTGOOD (the Toronto jazz ensemble that Caesar collaborated with on their recently released album, Late Night Tales). Caesar has a knack for stripping bare the inessential, and wastes no time on what does not matter to him – like lines and clubs. However, he is willing to endure all of these annoyances for his girl, to whom he feels utterly blessed to have:
I’m bending it over
You’re my four-leaf clover
The image of being bent over, while laced with sexuality, is also referring to the subject of being taken advantage of. He surrenders himself to this person, allowing himself to be fully taken advantage of. The verse closes professing his love and questioning his faith in the process. He acknowledges the implications of such doubts, but he doesn’t care.
As the chorus opens, a choir begins to hum in the background, soulfully swaying behind Caesar’s enchanting falsetto. His love story transforms into an ode to his jeans:
My blue jeans
Will last me all my life
So should we
I’m spending all this time.
Denoting to the song’s title, Caesar compares the amount of time and craftsmanship that goes into making the Japanese denim he’s wearing to the amount of time he is spending on his love. To him, both should last forever, but it seems only his denim is.
He opens the second verse by painting a nostalgic past encounter with his lover:
Met you at the shop, sun was getting hot,
I’m in the city on my own.
As the story goes, Caesar grew up in a particularly religious household – his family never missing a Saturday mass. Where this song was taking place, he was suffering from a crisis of faith and left the sanctuary of his suburban home to wrestle with his own doubts through music. In an interview with COMPLEX news, Caesar muses, “It was either jump off the edge and make it, or come back to my parents like the prodigal son.” And make it he did. But not without falling in love:
Never would’ve thought you’d be the one,
I got a homie
But that’s the way it goes.
Setting out to answer the existential question plaguing him, Caesar unexpectedly finds love in the process, reaching the bliss that he so desperately sought:
I’m reaching Nirvana
Goodbye sweet Rwanda
High-school was never for me
Rather than attaining the notion of Heaven that he grew up on, he arrives at his own paradise, Nirvana, and like those who died in the Rwandan genocide says goodbye to his own home and traditional education in the process. In reference to The Beatles, he closes the verse by simply saying, “Let it be, let it be,” letting his remembrance linger in the breaks.
As the song comes to a close, a final chorus ensues, and a polyphony of synthesizers and voices swell to the fore as Caesar’s voice despondently cries out to his lover: “You don’t even know me.” After spending so much time courting his lover, Caesar remains lonely and ultimately takes his own life: “I’m hanging from the tree.”
Now dead, the cacophony of noise suddenly cuts out leaving Caesar’s bittersweet falsetto lingering behind. Presumably, he is still wearing his blue jeans, the only relationship of his that truly lasted forever.
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photo © 2017