Jesse James Allen – In The Company Of Machines

 Jesse James Allen – In The Company Of Machines

Jesse James Allen – In The Company Of Machines – Album Review

If there’s one title for an album that you’ll find perfectly sums up what a record is really all about this year, it’s likely to be this one.  What ARE all these wonderful machines and things and three-letter words that symbolize programs and interfaces and all this incredible stuff at Jesse James Allen’s disposal?  This is one of those days where I get to recognize the enormous black hole of my technological knowledge and get to simply marvel at the GIGANTIC list of digitalized instruments, synthesizers, and programs that JJA has used to create this album.  In The Company Of Machines indeed – this album would be silent without’em and their contributions.  Word on the street is that the guy has been programming synths for longer than most of you have been alive…he has designed the sound for a whole bunch of video games you’ve probably spent countless hours playing…and for what’s sure to be regarded as a career that draws so heavily on the technical side of things, he’s spent his life immersed with crossover media in a wild variety of ways.  Make no mistake y’all…he might be able to read the kind of machine code that would make the majority of us all run for the hills screaming, but this dude is an artist by every measure.

You can hear the influence of the 70s/early 80s instantly as the album’s title-track begins.  “In The Company Of Machines” has that distinctly synthetic vibe that comes hand-in-hand (albeit, machine hands, sure) with the serene openings and wonder-filled vibes that have fueled many great tunes throughout the years, inducing our curiosity quickly through a blend of interesting and mysterious sound.  Ultimately, you’ll probably find Jesse James Allen in the company of artists like Brian Eno or Rick Wakeman & whatnot…masters of the synthetic…you get it – and with respect to that whole style of music and its approach, you kinda have to be ready to let things build.  As in, JJA’s not just going to give the whole game away in one first track – you’ll find that “In The Company Of Machines” serves more as an opening theme, an introductory sample, and a tiny fragment of what the guy is capable of.  You’ll hear the quality in what he creates through his production immediately, which yes, was essentially implied through the massive list of equipment that he’s used to create this entire album.  Believe me – I might not know what half of that stuff actually IS, but I know how to spot a gear-head.  Jesse clearly has a lot of respect for the digitalized side of sound and an equally profound level of knowledge to go with it.

The difference is crystal clear.  You go from an introductory style of tune with “In The Company Of Machines” that hits the mark of its intentions to provide ya with the ol’ slow-build…which serves the album brilliantly for you to be wowed by “Chaberier” right afterwards.  As much as we get caught up in comparisons and there’s no really escaping that in the context of discussing a whole record, we’re talking about audible apples and oranges here.  “In The Company Of Machines” is a soundscape of sorts, whereas “Chaberier” is a stunning example of imagination and technology combined.  You’ve got styles like Orchestral/Classical infused into this tune…you’ve got a clear appreciation for so many of the true fundamentals of analog-based music, yet all recreated for your enjoyment here within the digital realm.  Honestly, it’s nothing short of inspired when it comes right down to it…anyone out there that would try to argue that synthetic ideas can’t compete with organic ones would only need to have a single listen to something like “Chaberier” and understand that composition like this deserves recognition & accolades.  I’m absolutely in love with the melody at the core of this song, but every bit as stoked about the way that JJA goes about using dynamics to his advantage as well.  “Chaberier” will go from a stunning calm to an involved intensity as you listen, with a seriously inspired energy and aura that is present at all times.

Something like “Gears Of Time” will give you a greater understanding of what JJA creates and the large expanse of his ideas.  It’s a track that draws on things like video game themes, but also exploratory vibes that he likely would have ventured into throughout his 2020 record Cassini: A Musical Tribute.  You get this mix where fantasy meets technology, and I genuinely feel like that’ll be intriguing to a whole lot of potential listeners out there.  Suffice it to say, I don’t think that Jesse James Allen should necessarily just be lumped in with the New Age crowd…there’s definitely an element of that in what he creates for sure, but that’s merely one piece of the actual puzzle.  He’s a real hybrid when it comes right down to it, and I feel like the level of audible imagination he brings to his music is a bit more exciting than what most folks tend to associate with New Age tunes, in my opinion.  I’m not disrespecting the genre or style, there are tons of great songs and artists to be found in that category…call it a reverse compliment if you like – I’m simply saying that someone like Jesse seems to be more willing to discover where his music can take him, right out to the fringe of where his style would meet another, like a musical Venn diagram.  Ultimately, I think that’s to his benefit…there’s a very cinematic and vivid sound at work on tracks like “Gears Of Time” that play in a way like we can see the song in our mind as we listen to it, and I dig that.

Where you’ll find a bit more opportunity for placement on playlists and the lifetime of a song, would be on something like “The Celestial.”  Theoretically, a track like this one could go on to live many, many lives.  As to whether it does…I mean…that’s gonna be largely up to Jesse, but what this dude has got here could certainly have a high degree of appeal with the DJs out there looking for something to remix and whatnot.  That’s not me saying that “The Celestial” ain’t already great – it totally IS – I’m just saying there are further opportunities for a song like this to continue living on post-release.  As it stands, it’s already a killer listen, and I seemed to keep circling back to it being my favorite of the first four tracks on In The Company Of Machines for my own personal taste, but I think that’ll be a fairly universal opinion overall.  “The Celestial” has a bit more of a relevant sound for what’s happening out there in the scene right now, and that’s definitely something that should play to JJA’s advantage.  That synthetic bass-led rhythm at the beginning is as mesmerizing and addictive as the tracks you love most from Nine Inch Nails, and with the pairing of a more cultured, world-music style vibe along with it, you can’t help but feel like Jesse’s onto something really strong here.  As it continues to morph along with his creative intuition as “The Celestial” ticks past the halfway mark, you’ll find that Allen ain’t all that far removed from the stuff you’ve been putting on your Trip-Hop playlists.  That’s exciting to me – this guy seems to continually flex a very versatile approach to music making and shows the limitless possibilities of digital creations…”The Celestial” has an irresistible level of appeal to it, and a wonderfully addictive groove.

“Through The Valley Of Ice And Fire” is really damn good too, but for entirely different reasons.  I suppose that’s where larger umbrellas being used to describe the music he makes come in the most handy…stuff like cinematic or New Age…digital-orchestral…or even just soundscapes in general – these are the places you’ll likely find are easiest to help categorize the music of Jesse James Allen, rather than simply say he’s the guy you definitely want to score & do the soundtrack for your next film.  So…I mean, there’s really no question about the level of interest he’s capable of generating with his music, but at the same time it’s fairly safe to say that it’s got a more niche appeal in terms of who is going to spin it on a regular basis – make sense?  It’s like he’s got the gift to entice everyone in to listen on one level, yet on another, it really takes the kind of supremely dedicated listener to keep on listenin’ – I suppose that’s what I’m saying.  Like, even for myself, a guy that basically listens to anything and everything and all of the time – I know there’s going to be a time & a place where I’ll feel like reaching for what JJA creates.  It might not be every day that I’m looking for a track like “Through The Valley Of Ice And Fire,” though in those more specific moods where that’d be what I want to listen to, it’ll always be exactly what I want to hear.  You feel me?  That’s why he’s been able to craft himself such an extensive career to this point so far…because he’s got a fantastic understanding of where music will fit into all kinds of different scenarios in life.  That doesn’t mean everything is always everyday listening material – and it’s perfectly alright to create stuff that would appeal to us more at certain times than in others.  It’s in that exact sense that songs like “Through The Valley Of Ice And Fire” become part of the soundtrack to our own lives.  No song rages throughout an entire film, ever – it comes in to support a scene or a moment at a very precise time in fact…that’s how an album like this and songs like this one will be most appreciated.

There’s merit here.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not gonna be the guy to tell ya everyone in the nation is about to go grab a copy of In The Company Of Machines, because that’s genuinely not how this style of music tends to be received, though arguably it is the kind of music you’ll hear in more places than most.  Tracks like “Orion” confirm how gifted composer Jesse is, and the level of imagination that he is capable of bringing to his music…whether that translates into hits & clicks…I mean, it probably doesn’t, but also who the hell cares?  When you’re really into your craft and giving something the attention to detail that you’ll find in a record like this one, it truly doesn’t matter.  You make albums like this for the love of the game more than anything else.  The level of skill speaks for itself…and the rest is just like, opinions, man.  I know I’ll listen to “Orion” eight ways from Sunday and I’m confident a lot of folks out there are with me on that – but this kind of music is always going to be a tougher sell to the masses, that’s the reality.  And that’s OK!  I’m sure Jesse knew that prior to making this album.  Those that’ll get it, will love what they find on In The Company Of Machines – even those out there that might not be the intended audience or would regularly listen to something like this, you can’t tell me that something like “Orion” isn’t at least interesting to your ears on some kind of level.  This is a bold cut that’s got a metric ton of artistic depth to it.

Where things become a real delight is when you hear Jesse meet the majority of us in the middle and create tracks like “The Celestial,” and “Dawnbreaker” – these would be some of the best examples of how he’s able to generate a significantly potent dose of crossover interest that covers a whole lot of ground.  While it’s true that most instrumental music is still fighting an uphill battle when it comes to securing a mainstream audience, it’s proven to not be impossible.  When you hear songs like “The Celestial” or “Dawnbreaker,” you realize how close JJA’s music is to finding that essential compromise that allows him to be as creative as he wants to be, while also satisfying the ears of the 9-5 crowd on their way to work.  It’s totally within his grasp, it’s merely a matter of whether or not that’s something he wants to do, and what his goals for his music really are.  I listen to “Dawnbreaker” and feel like he’s simply scratching the surface of his own potential here when it comes to making music for the masses, but at the same time, you have to recognize how long the man has been in the game as well.  Jesse is already long past the point where he had to make those kind of choices, but tracks like “Dawnbreaker” still reveals that he can bring a larger audience to his music anytime he chooses to go in that direction.  I’d put “Dawnbreaker” up there with the most highly universal tracks you’ll find on this album, 100% – the more that JJA leans into hybrid creations like this, the more accessible his music will become overall.

Mind you, uniqueness truly has its own strong level of appeal, even if it can be perceived to be a tougher sell than what we typically experience from the mainstream.  I listen to collaborative efforts like what you’ll hear on “Nightfall In Formentera,” which features Flamenco guitarist Don Soledad, and I’m like, give us more of THIS!  This track might very well be the easiest to like on the whole album…there’s so much character, color, and flavor in a song like this…you truly have to hand it to both Don and Jesse for finding such an extraordinary way to work together.  It’s a seamless blend where analog meets digital – that’s what “Nightfall In Formentera” really is, and it’s freakishly awesome.  Understated in the sense that it doesn’t feel like either side of the equation dominates the other, and while it would take a remarkable amount of skill from both sides, neither feels like it champions over the other.  Instead, what you get is this outright insightful and impeccable balance that will instantly have you craving MORE.  I’d listen to these two play together all day, every day if I had the opportunity – these are two artists that are quite clearly thriving at the top of their game, and they’ve created a seriously exceptional tune with “Nightfall In Formentera.”  I’d be looking into placing this song everywhere if I were them – and by everywhere, I certainly mean to the recording academies and such – they deserve awards for this kind of effort.  It’s relentlessly engaging in all the right ways, and serves up something decisively different that what’s likely on any of your playlists right now…dedicated music fans will love “Nightfall In Formentera.”

I think it is fairly clear however, that Jesse really does have his own thing goin’ on and a signature style that he likes to employ most, which is usually to take his music out of our Earth-bound realm and into the atmospherically-inclined type of vibes that draw upon a mix of space, artistry, and fantasy combined.  A track like “Inside Into Within” is a great example of how he’s able to use his main strengths and interests to his advantage, while also broadening the potential reach of his music by including more than just a collection of sounds that seem like they belong in outer space.  It’s tracks like “Inside Into Within” that actually speak quite strongly on behalf of how grounded his atmospheric ideas can be – you’ll find a lot of cultured/classical ideas on display in this hybrid tune.  Listen to what happens around the 1:40 mark for example…that’s both somewhat familiar to us, and yet entirely special in the context of an album like this that is more drawn towards technology and the advantages of its advances, rather than relying on what has worked in the past from centuries ago.  In this tune, you’ll find both to a large degree…it’s got all the technological advantages and glowing synth sounds that feel like you’re drifting through the cosmos towards the verge of the next big discovery, while also diving into a classically cultural sound that celebrates the origins of music that brought us to the incredible point where at now.  This is great stuff all-around in my opinion, and a very thought-provoking piece of music from beginning to end.  I do like the vast majority of what I hear on this album, clearly – but I love “Inside Into Within.”

It’s a really cleverly conceptualized record when it comes right down to it…I feel like people will seriously enjoy the mix of imagination and professionalism to be found on Jesse’s new album.  If you’re among those out there that dig on something different…you’ll find what you’ve been searching for here.  As the album wrapped up with “Fata Morgana,” I couldn’t help but feel like so many of the fireworks on this record were really saved for its second half.  Like I was tellin’ ya earlier on, there’s a certain type of instrumental artist out there that really values how to build things up, just like a great story would do, only obviously without any actual words involved.  You get that feeling of triumph by the time you reach the ending of this album…like your ears have achieved something by listening to it…like you’ve contributed to your own evolution by having bought the ticket to take the ride, so to speak.  From the delicate and beautiful piano sounds of “Fata Morgana,” to the intense samples and sounds threaded into its ending, Jesse proves to once again be a master of contrast in how he’s able to take us so willingly from point-A to point-B as he morphs the sound around us.  In The Company Of Machines is impressive to listen to no matter how you slice it…you genuinely feel satisfied by the time you reach its conclusion, and it’ll have you cheering for the powerful degree of imagination & authenticity displayed throughout.

Find out more about Jesse James Allen at IMDB:

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