Calm Down is the 2018 full-length debut of Caleb Campbell, a Texas native who began releasing EPs under the Ari Roar pseudonym in 2015. A songwriter and arranger with a fondness for both '60s psychedelic pop and later lo-fi, his backstory includes childhood panic attacks, a months-long recovery from back surgery at 18, and wanting to write songs in the first place when he heard Jason Schwartzman's "Ethan's Song" in the film Slackers when he was 14. All of these seem relevant upon hearing the quiet tension and straight-faced whimsicality of Calm Down. The album was produced by Hunter Davidsohn, whom Campbell sought out because of his work on Frankie Cosmos' Next Thing (2016). Sharing that album's succinctness, the 15 tracks here average less than two minutes apiece. The title track opens the album with skittering drums and trippy, meandering harmonic progressions as the singer reveals "I try my best to calm down/I lie still and make no sound." The song "Called In" follows with a typically Beatlesque arrangement that includes Mellotron or similar-sounding vintage keys, fat guitar tones, and no-frills drums under Campbell's conversational melody. Throughout the album, his calmative, somewhat detached vocals often betray anxious lyrics about everyday encounters and situations. "Lost and Found," for instance, is an under-90-second uptempo ditty about looking for a lost dog ("It's not your job, I know/But I have hung up these signs/Can you spare some time?"). Later, "Don't Have a Fit" is a gently jaunty pop confection with some inspired chord transitions that meanwhile takes note of a tightened airway and need for a vacation. Full of contradictions -- anxious and soothing, articulate and dreamy, simple and complex, enchanted and alienated -- Calm Down is the kind of album that will hold up to deeper scrutiny but is better enjoyed for its warm, tuneful surface.
AllMusic Review by Marcy Donelson