Remain Calm is the first full-scale collaboration between innovative cellist Oliver Coates and composer Mica Levi, known for her experimental pop guise Micachu as well as her brilliant, suspenseful soundtrack to 2013 sci-fi film Under the Skin. Coates played on that soundtrack, and had collaborated with Micachu & the Shapes before as part of the London Sinfonietta, on the 2011 album Chopped & Screwed. In addition, Coates also worked with Jonny Greenwood on his scores for There Will Be Blood and The Master, and helped to shape the sound of Radiohead's 2016 full-length A Moon Shaped Pool. Earlier in 2016, he released Upstepping, a fascinating album that was influenced by British techno and garage, but was almost entirely created by cello, updating Arthur Russell's '80s avant-disco hybrids for the 2010s. Remain Calm is brief, not even reaching the half-hour mark, but it packs a wealth of ideas into its time frame. "Dolphins Climb Onto Shore for the First Time" combines shadowy Oneohtrix Point Never-like drone with the fourth world textures of Jon Hassell, adding a pinch of Steve Reich's phasing techniques. "Barok Main" consists of deep, melodic cello lines over eerie, gently distorted loops reminiscent of Autechre's ambient excursions. While clearly not as pop-minded as most Micachu & the Shapes albums (which are already very abstract), the album isn't devoid of beats or vocals, but the beats are rarely linear and the vocals are usually trapped inside loops and buried under echo. "Xhill Stepping" is an odd collision of chopped and screwed vocal samples, timpani boings, cello pluckings, and a sporadic drum machine that seems more like a dripping faucet than a rhythmic instrument. "New Wren Kitch" features a very muted clip-clopping beat out of sync with rising, mutated synths that seem ripped from the interlude of a mid-'90s jungle track -- not unlike Lee Gamble's work, but Coates' cello scrapings and the periodic bursts of feedback make the piece sound far more unsettling. By description, the album appears to be more of a difficult listen than it actually is. It's not exactly a "fun" album, but there is a sense of playfulness to it, and the duo seem excited to uncover such unexpected combinations of sounds. The result is an unpredictable, captivating listening experience.
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AllMusic Review by Paul Simpson