“Sky Station: Z4 - First Contact” is the first chapter in what Sonic Oyster Records have called a ‘progressive odyssey’ – a concept album of sorts in four parts - and Andrew Paine has set a very high bar on this initial sliver. Paine’s love for progressive rock is a major strand in both his solo work and as a member of other high profile projects (Ilk, Space Weather and his duo work with Richard Youngs), and its no surprise that its referred to here as well. The extent of Prog’s influence here though has been reduced to glittered fingerprints in “First Contact”s sound. That genre’s palette and the ideas of a larger concepts, most specifically on the deftly dripping notes through the seas of “The Controller Peers Through The Darkness”. But the disc is removed from the possibility of the overblown into something much more unique and puzzlingly pretty. Coasting through horizon cloud cover, “Sky Station Z4” is a monastic opener; darkly Spartan sounds cover the aforementioned spoken word. This is the disc’s quietest moment, elsewhere Paine nimbly slips between catchy synthrock riffs with a faltering bass (“Sub Space Divisions”) and achingly short musical underwater sculptures made of some celestial body version of underwater fluorescent clay (that’ll be “The Mercurians Have Come” then). Probably most unexpected though is the almost rakish charm exhibited on the concluding “Queen Of The Skies”, the Les Claypool rhythms playing a central part in the track.
Being a 3” CD-r with the longest of the five tracks coming in at just under 3 ½ minutes, this release definitely feels like a small riddle as a part of a larger tale. Though if Paine is laying out a set-in-stone plot in this first part, the tale he’s introducing is unclear at this juncture. The spare and FXed narration vocals seem mixed to fly in just under the easily comprehensible and the disc’s titles aren’t deliberately explicit either. Paine has packed this with enough mystery to keep listeners invested in the series, and enough left-turns and thick atmospheric moments to make “First Contact” an unreserved success – and a tease. 10/10 -- Scott McKeating (28 October, 2009)