In the city of Waterloo, Iowa, in an area of town generally considered to be a place to be avoided by "upstanding" citizens, there is a nine-block section that seems to be a completely different place than the surrounding gloom. This is Highland Park.
Picture a young man, no longer a boy but only beginning to explore the disarray of adult life. He begins to search around him for something solid in what seems to be an overly fluid and random world. Thoughts become words on paper.
The streets surrounding Highland Park are crime-ridden, tired, seemingly ready to collapse under the bloated weight of the sickness that pervades people who have given up before they've tried, because they know nothing else. Yet, when you enter the boulevards that serve as the entrances to this almost separate community within a community, you are instantly struck with the beauty and aged charm of buildings, streets, and even the yards themselves. The resilience seems to go out of its way to defy the rot outside of its boundaries without denouncing it- rather, it offers a vision of hope for what lies around it.
The words are no longer written trains of thought. Combined with music, they've become songs, but they're not quite ready to really be songs for others. For now, they exist as ideas, and the young man holds them to himself. Even when he plays in several bands, and trots the songs out, they never sound quite as right as they should to him.
It's not until, while in the pursuit of one of the dominating themes of life- love- that he stumbles upon the lost Eden of Highland Park. Struck with the grandeur and beauty in the midst of decay, he begins to see where the songs he has written should be going. Even so, it will take the rise and fall of yet another band for clarity to finally come to him.
The band? Nearfall. Matthew Hepworth, guitarist and sometime vocalist for the band, was a founding member of the band, which, even though it showed so much potential, never rose beyond being a simple high school band. Frusturated, Hepworth fled, and began to rework the songs in earnest to match the sounds he heard in his head.
It would be a long process, however. Hepworth, not a drummer by nature, insisted on recording drums by himself, a process that took three long and often frusturating months. He was driven, however, by the belief that the songs deserved to exist in as a full a manner as possible. At times, the anger that he felt at his former band was THE driving force for each take, even if it meant scrapping a hundred before it.
Even the instruments that he had some grounding in- bass, piano, and even guitar- were by no means easily tracked. Yet the seeds sown from frusturation ultimately bore the sweetest fruit, as broken-down riffs and lines served as the foundation for yet more sublime ideas.
When it came time for vocals, however, the self-reliance which had worked so well for Hepworth ran out of gas. Luckily, a suggestion by a trusted local guitar shop employee paid off well- Chris Brown, a local musician (a member of The Beat Strings, who were recently given a nod by Entertainment Weekly), also happened to be producer and engineer by his own right. On a whim, Hepworth fired off an e-mail to Brown, and the next week, Hepworth was in the studio, tracking vocals with Brown at the board.
While Hepworth considered himself first and foremost a guitarist and then a vocalist, with Brown at the helm, his voice took on a life of its own, seemingly schizophrenic in its capabilities- from high pitched clean singing to a gravelly moan, machine gun raps to breathy whispers, and fierce shouts to razor-gargling screams, Brown brought out the right voice for every line and every story.
And there were stories to be told. Written over a period of three years, Highland Park takes you on somewhat of a journey through the 13 tracks, using a variety of styles to paint a sonic portrait of one young man's mind. Rather than it being a messy, scrambled glimpse of someone trying to find their voice, the clashing feelings instead provide able and ample contrast that only makes the whole deal that much more of an experience. Subjects such as the slippery illusion of time ("Six Seconds Away"), authoritarianism ("My Mask," "Negative Zero"), love lost ("Blessed September," "Silent Scream"), criticism of complacency and fanaticism ("Rivets," "A Mile And A Half For Deja Vu"), and angst ("Beyond All Things," "(Bitter)Sweet Sixteen," "Glass Salamander") are all covered, but it's not all doom and gloom- "Leaves," for example, provides a breather in the form of an sweetly sincere apology, and both the title track and "Decline" propose a message of hope in a rebellious manner.
Yet, to describe each song as a part takes away from their collective sum, which is infinitely greater - in line with Hepworth's original vision of it being a soundtrack to a movie of life, a living, breathing collective that doesn't merely lash out against the wrongs, but seeks to right them as well.