Album Review + Interview: Pie Eye Collective, ‘Salvation’

Buy Salvation on Bandcamp; other listening options.

Pie Eye Collective, nom de plume of Matt Gordon, has been making music for the better part of two decades. He estimates Salvation, released on Albert’s Favourites, has been in the works for about half that time. His debut album was predominantly crafted on a 2009 Macbook, using Logic 9, his own synthesised sounds, and some sample packs. “It was made almost entirely inside a digital environment. There are not even many recorded sounds, a lot of software as opposed to hardware synthesis. It started and ended in the computer.” The album’s synthy textures have the warm, raspy distortion of cassette tapes. “I grew up with tapes, it’s not empty nostalgia. I very consciously do not want that pristine, LA sound.”

The album’s ten tracks explore salvation – “what it means, why you would need it, and who can do it.” Although he is well-versed in its 15th century ecclesiastical connotations, Matt’s interpretation differs vastly. “It’s a means of going above, or being bigger than, overcoming the worst parts of yourself. Everyone’s got the darkness in them. If you don’t deal with your darkness, your darkness will expunge you. I think the only person who can do it is you.”
The album art, designed by Jonny Drop, borrows and builds from Freemasons and other esoteric groups. The four dimensional purple and black chequerboard symbolises one’s journey from ‘darkness to light’. Hovering above the squares are a collection of hieroglyphs Matt chose for each track, “elements/themes tools from my personal journey towards/with salvation.”  

Despite its serious subject matter, Salvation isn’t heavy-handed, but does immersive metaphysical work through its heavy polyrhythms and intricate harmonies. He is interested in auditory driving, the “wider shamanic tradition of inducing trance and other non-ordinary states of conciousness” through music. In the past few years, he has deliberately incorporated his ongoing study of maths into constructing polyrthyms. “Grouping 3 beats against 2, or 5, or 5 beats against 7, or 7 against 9 or 2 leads to some interesting phenomena when listened to very loud. Depending on how and when you emphasise different beats, it can cause entrainment, where things oscillate in tandem with each other.” He showed me a video of a bank of mechanical metronomes, all set to different tempos, on a surface light enough for vibrations to travel through. Within a few minutes, all 32 are synchronised. “Human beings do it, too,” he added. 

 For someone familiarizing themselves with the concept, the first tracks on each side – ‘Gratitude,’ and ‘Beta’ are good listening. The former is an optimistic tune, bright open chords progressing over drum kit rhythms and sampling pouring water. The latter starts with a jungle beat, layering scratchy cymbals before ushering in a creamy cadence. The tracks are as pleasurable as they are cerebral – ‘Saqqara,’ represented by a terraced pyramid, has a danceable house beat.  

This fun is most apparent in one of the two tracks written with collaborators. ‘Flibbers’ was written with Hector Plimmer. The two first had a day to make music together a few years ago, and enjoyed natural, easy collaboration. “The first time we got together to make something, I didn’t notice how freakishly it easy it was. It’s very rare to walk into with a person you’ve never done anything creative with, and walk out an hour later with completed music. I’ve never experienced it with anyone else.” It’s a whimsical thick track represented by an owl. “Don’t overthink it,” he said. 

‘Hymn,’ features Mettashiba. Matt loves her drumming and asked her to write and sing lyrics to accompany the instrumentals he had written several years before, during a period when he his compositions were largely sample-based. Her gentle, redemptive lyrics aren’t conveyed in a straightforward melody; she gently sets down the lines, pensively pausing before circular, reassuring meditations on belonging and growth.  

Matt’s considers the sounds in and of themselves, and how they are positioned in relation to each other. A lot of inspiration and emotion go into sitting down to make music, but he is sometimes puzzled by what elements resonate with other people: “It’s almost like not being quite able to gage the emotion of what’s there, but knowing there is something. Listening to and making music, I might like the sound of something, but in terms of people saying a certain song is their favorite ‘sad song’ or something – other than the cultural markers, which change a lot, texture-wise – there seems to be a kind of intrinsic normalled emotional response that I feel like I might be a bit distant from. Sometimes I think there’s a bit of disconnect when people first encounter what I do, because there’s not necessarily an obvious line you can latch onto.” 

This insight made sense as I listened to Salvation over the course of a few weeks. Each time it elicited different responses, depending on my  mood, or where I was listening. Whereas melody, and certainly lyrics, are more emotionally prescriptive, the album’s “big beats and nice chords” inherently stir a response. In ‘Djed,’ for example, the repetition of sustained chords over moderately paced polyrhythms alternatively felt like the comfort of a lighthouse, or an unfulfilled longing. Salvation’s tracks are dense, and play with depth, distance, and texture. ‘In Habit’ takes shape gradually; its first two minutes float, tumbling glissandos, chimes, and what sounds like uneven footsteps. The beat drop is deep and satisfying but maintains unrushed anticipation, and doesn’t bring with it the typical crest and full force of instrumentals: subtle chanting, as if heard from one room over, hovers in the ear.  

“Even though most of my music is instrumental, I still think about why what is put into a piece of music affects people. I like to make music that’s both intellectually and emotionally stimulating and beneficial. It’s pretty evident that music can be a really positive addition to human existence in a lot of different ways. If you’ve got the benefit of the knowledge of how to do it, why not help everyone else who is on the rock with you?” 

Photo by Emma-Jean Thackray

All tracks written, produced & mixed by Pie Eye Collective except;
Flibbers – written and produced by Pie Eye Collective & Hector Plimmer
Hymn – written by Pie Eye Collective & MettaShiba
Mastered by Adam Scrimshire
Art blended by Jonny Drop
A&R by Adam Scrimshire, Dave Koor & Jonny Drop