On the west coast of the United States of America, there is a magical place known as Portland. Portland is home to an eclectic art scene and is the inspiration for at least one blissfully funny, absurd, and “hip” television show, Portlandia. Portland is also the home of this review’s artist of interest, Colin Fien. Also known as Telephobia (fear of telephones), Mr. Fien produces what I would describe as glitchy, wonky, downtempo beats. On his 2013 release titled माया [māyā], he places a lot of emphasis on the synthetic – electric keys, feedback, deep bass, warped samples – but he makes room for organic sounds like finger-snaps, tambourines, and even a harp (or maybe it’s a guitar, hard to say). For a 14-track album, the total length is 41 minutes, making the average track length just under 3 minutes long. You might get through it fast, but it won’t go unnoticed.
Those squiggly text in the title is Sanskrit text that translates into “maya”. At the risk of over-simplifying, maya is the idea of illusion or delusion. In other words, what we experience might seem “real” or permanent, but is actually imaginary, ephemeral. To help us understand where he’s coming from, Mr. Fien includes a few poetical lines on the album’s release page:
Not white as in
but a familiarity
like faces in a dream//
intangible –a dead language
Illusion and delusion are likened to a dream. They seem real at the time, but upon waking, the sense of the dream’s reality fades to the point where you begin to question if it ever really happened. Several tracks throughout the album have titles that underscore various aspects of this phenomenon, for example “[?]”, “Dark”, “Blue Dreams”, “Sleepfall”. For the review, I’ll focus on the former and the latter..
“[?]” is filled with a fuzzy, thumping rhythms; splashy cymbals; hollow, crystalline keys; shrill accents and more. It combines a wide variety of unusual and sometimes bizarre sounds to construct a unique musical experience. Its pace is slow and steady, its mood curious. Mr. Fien explores a variety of highs and lows throughout the track, all of which contribute to the enjoyment of this auditory opus.
“Sleepfall” is a short track (just over 2 minutes) that introduces itself with what sounds like a harp or a lute. It’s pacifying and even a bit disarming – not unlike the moments of sleep prior to a dream – as it masks the sudden yet welcome appearance of the rest of the track. Once again, we hear the warm, feedback-y pads; digital melodies and rhythms, featuring synths and whistles; and an array of percussive elements including cymbals and snares. About halfway through, while we’re well into a dream, the track drops everything but the initial string plucking only to bring it all back again.
Real or otherwise, Telephobia’s माया [māyā] is an extraordinary work of art, well worth serious listening.
Telephobia – “[?]”
Telephobia – “Sleepfall”
माया [māyā] release page