Jake Schrock makes music that feels breezy and calm, but always with a sense of unease just under the surface. Vintage synths and drum machines click, hiss, and breathe like ancient devices discussing the world’s end in a language we can’t understand. Yet, those mechanical tomes pull us in and allow us to get lost in the rhythms and sway. It’s as if we’re standing on some steely shore looking at a beautiful sunset dissipate into the horizon as a darkness makes its way across too calm of waters.
Welcome to Jake Schrock’s Tropical Depression.
So as not to scare you off, Schrock isn’t some synth-wielding doomsayer espousing through music humankind’s certain destruction. He’s a Texas-born musician that prefers his instruments of choice to be analog. He loves the connectivity of analog synths and drum machines; building these circuital worlds and allowing the instruments to change and open each other up for new and unique sonic experimentation. His debut album for Holodeck Records, titled Tropical Depression, is much more calming than all the talk of doom and unease would lead you to believe. It’s a warm and breezy affair. One where German synth pioneers make their presence known in the subdued waves of analog sound. But with all great and engaging music, there must be light and dark, and Jake Schrock gives us both. The results are stunning.
“Surface Data” feels like an opening. It feels like a door we find and step into that allows access to Schrock’s musical world. A world of imagined islands and looming mountains that look over warm sand and a foamy shoreline. A rhythm ticks along a groove for all as wavering synth lines carry you into Jake Schrock’s sonic experimentation.
Calm before the storm?
No, “Cosmic Ocean” is the calm before the storm. There’s a sense of something otherworldly about this track. An uneasiness in its slow build. Schrock proves to be quite adept at the slow build. It’s an art form, really. To be able to create a mood so palpable through simple beats, swimming melodies, and an undercurrent of aural excavating that you never want to find some resolution. You’re happy in the ether; somewhere between the light and the dark. “Cosmic Ocean” is like being stuck between two worlds.
I find myself thinking of the wildly inventive but sadly under-appreciated synth builder and musician Rüdiger Lorenz as I listen to “Hyperphysics”. There’s something mystical about the sound of the rhythm and synth here. Lorenz built his own synths in order to structure the worlds he imagined in his head. Jake Schrock seems to be building here as well. “Progress” is a tip of the hat to Kraftwerk, in-particular Trans-Europe Express. There’s also bits that bring to mind 80s film scores like John Harrison’s Day of the Dead soundtrack. This leads to title track “Tropical Depression”. This song has a low end that moves you. You can feel the rhythm. There’s a Caribbean vibe in the song that brings to mind miles of shoreline, the sound of the waves in the distance, and an other-worldly contemplation. There’s also an early 80s Europe late night feel here. Some of Schrock’s love of Depeche Mode, Human League, and Minimal Wave makes its presence known throughout this excellent and epic track.
“Pressure Change” is this looming musical piece that hints at things are changing. Skies darken, wind picks up, and those shores feel stranger than before. This leads into the excellent closer “Cerebral Shelter”. There’s an uplift in this track that wasn’t present in what came before it. Schrock builds a calm within this closing track. There’s a sense of closure. Is it weird that I’m reminded of Billy Idol’s “Eyes Without A Face”? Maybe, but I’m okay with weird. And I’m really okay with “Cerebral Shelter”.
Jake Schrock has given us an incredible debut with Tropical Depression. I was on board from the moment I heard his excellent “Levitation Station” on Holodeck Records’ Holodeck Vision One compilation this past spring. Schrock makes good on the promise of that track, and them some, on his Holodeck Records debut. He builds worlds and moods expertly, like those that came before him.
Tropical Depression is a masterclass in Berlin School and Komische heady and heavy hitting.
8.3 out of 10