Rating: 3 out of 5
Not yet a week since his Great Escape Festival performance in Brighton, Ari Roar is back on the Bella Union radar as he releases his debut album 'Calm Down'. Ari, real name Caleb Campbell, is, if you're not familiar, a Texan singer-songwriter with a laidback lilt and a casual, relaxed delivery who, on the evidence of his debut record at least, can't ever be accused of over indulgence.
Ari's first release has a full fourteen tracks but, in its entirety, it doesn't quite fill half an hour. It's the very definition of concise and succinct. There are only five tracks that break the two minute barrier and at no point would you ever think that Ari needed to, as the album title suggests, calm down. (Maybe it's irony?)
The atmosphere on Roar's record is very whimsical and whistful. It's a little like a coming of age soundtrack where Ari's life and thoughts unfold before you with more than a nod to the likes of Kimya Dawson, Barry Louis Polisar, She & Him and even Jonathan Richman. There are hints of French chic and images of big brimmed, floppy straw hats, maxi dresses and lovely, carefree, hippy types bathed in eternal sunshine. There is a reflective element that more than conjures up a heady 60s cocktail reminiscent of the counterculture captured in Timothy Leary's phrase, "Turn on, tune in, drop out."
The title track and album opener 'Calm Down' sets the scene for what's to follow. There is restraint and reserve, a low-fi approach to the whole offer and an inclusive, inviting openness to each song. 'Calm Down' mixes the lyrical narrative that Ari navigates with a minimal arrangement that draws on a paired back percussion and a looping guitar riff that's akin to one of Badly Drawn Boy's. The album's shortest track, 'Called In' at 1m09secs, follows on and you could forgive yourself for still thinking you're in a Nick Hornby novel as the lazy beat meanders along whilst Ari's vocal approaches falsetto. 'Don't Have It' has that similar Damon Gough touch with its playful, happy-go-lucky delivery.
Ari expresses himself throughout the album almost in spite of himself. The vocal is never pushed or forced and always works in complete symbiosis with the backing track with neither one that eager to share the limelight. At times the BPM does increase to drive a little more gusto into the performance as on 'I Picked The Lock' and the more electrified 'In My Day' but generally you're not jolted out of a familiar framework across the fourteen tracks. Ari's voice becomes ever more embedded and almost soothing and reassuring as he imparts his songs. Aside from a couple of last minute downers, in the form of 'Sock Draw' and 'Choke' the album exudes a breezy, light and positive attitude inhabiting the spaces often occupied by the likes of Belle & Sebastian.
Calm Down undulates casually between reflective contemplation and contemplative reflection and therein lies its flaw. Whilst the songs are on the whole good and the album is completely cohesive it is a tad one dimensional. Perfect for slackers and stoners and those in need of an unobtrusive, relaxed easy listening experience but not necessarily one to add to the end of year best of lists. A good debut that clearly showcases Ari's promise as a singer-songwriter with an expectation of better things to come.