Growing up in Rostock, Germany along the Baltic Sea Christian Grass and Martin Neumann met in the mid Eighties while in grade school. They shared many of the same hobbies and musical interests and in 1996 formed High Wycombe, taking their name from within a book about German Naval forces during WWII which mentioned an American base inside the large English town of Buckinghamshire. They formed the small independent label Wycombe Music as a means to release their own material as well as provide a spring board for like minded acts and soon after put out their debut, Reverse The Verdict. Since then they've offered a few more releases but after 2004's Retoure career demands separated Christian and Martin with the former taking up residence in Berlin and the latter in Hamburg. While not necessarily signaling the end of their partnership it has provided quite an obstacle for working together as a team.
As such, the latest High Wycombe release, Reverser, is a kind of solo project for Grass. While acts like Skinny Puppy, Frontline Assembly and Haujobb provided the impetus for Christian's form of expression 2-step Garage and other Electro influences have also shaped the sound of his music. There's quite a bit of sampling used with snippets from a variety of sources but regular vocals can be found on a number of tracks as well. For an independent act releasing its own work High Wycombe is probably one of the best acts you've never heard. The level of creativity and drive on display is ever impressive and the album makes for a compelling listen throughout.
One of the standout tracks is "Room101," which could be an Orwell reference but I had a difficult time deciphering the moody, hissed vocals. Of course that may be due in large part to the inescapable distractions inherent in the smooth bit of alternating percussion sounds and ephemeral noises hovering just above them. While the tempo of the piece creeps along at a slower pace than most DJs might care for the rhythm is structured well enough as to compel you to want to move, thus making it one of the few cuts palatable for clubs. Inspiring people to dance isn't the main objective for High Wycombe even as the beats thrown at you in tracks like "Polaroids" and the opener "Houngan," which takes a couple minutes to warm up, make it difficult to sit still.
"Cube" is fairly representative of what you can expect throughout. It begins with glitchy noise while a beat is phased into the mix, becoming slightly more aggressive after about a minute. The voice is reminiscent of a restrained Front 242. Halfway through the track opulent synth washes over the music ushering in a surprising degree of warmth while the beat continues on unencumbered, disappearing completely for a spell, then returning along with the vocals. Eventually these two divergent passages merge once again as the song draws to a close.
As catchy as the rhythms are the ambiance evoked by many of these tracks sweeten the deal and reveal the music of High Wycombe to be thoughtful and poignant works of passion that never come across as overwrought. Sometimes there are dark touches of unease. The menacing intro to "Patriot" evolves into an otherwise brisk number which occasionally dips into mysterious atmospheres. "Perturbation" and "Bokor" rely less on beats and more on mood, the former utilizing malevolent spoken word and the latter falling back on soaring textures you might otherwise associate with the French duo Air.
Closing the record are a reconstruction of "Room101" by Flaque and a remix of "Cube" by Xdynamics. Overall this is an album more concerned with tone than tempo and scores high with every passing track. I can honestly say that I can't find much of anything to criticize on this release. It's a near flawless work of impassioned restraint. I can't understand why High Wycombe isn't wildly popular with electronic fans the world over but it's high time we all start spreading the word on this astounding act.
See also: Christian Grass: The DTC Interview