For several generations now, bands in the UK have excelled at mirroring American music, casting it in a decidedly British light, and beaming it back across the pond. From the British Invasion approximating rhythm and blues to the nascent punk scene of 1977 adopting a sense of nihilistic New York cool to a host of electronic acts coopting the sounds of Chicago and Detroit, the American musical landscape has served as a wellspring of inspiration for countless Anglo artists.

Continuing this long and storied tradition, Sheffield’s Nai Harvest picks up the mantle of the latest emo revival, reimagining the sound and feel of innumerable acts that crisscrossed the American underground during the turn of the last century. With their frenetic, grimy guitars, driving rhythms and throat-shredding vocals, Nai Harvest calls to mind dank basement shows at makeshift DIY venues filled to capacity; a seething mass of humanity, all crowded claustrophobically in a mixture of sweat, youth and unbridled angst. Theirs is the sound and fury of youth distilled into intense, emotional punk rock at its finest.

The duo of guitarist/vocalist Ben Thompson and drummer Lew Currie energetically deploy their studied take on the genre. And rather than serving as a pale imitation of their most direct inspirations, Hairball functions as a master’s thesis that raises the bar for what should be expected of contemporary emo bands. Finding themselves very much at home on Topshelf, themselves top-notch purveyors of the current emo renaissance, Nai Harvest manage to take a decidedly American genre and repurpose it in their own image, making it feel at once utterly new and vaguely familiar.

“Melanie”, with its gorgeous melodicism and pummeling guitars, sounds like a combination of Mineral (think “Gloria”) and the Get Up Kids (“Red Letter Day”), less the whiny, adenoidal vocals. It’s a blistering slab of pop delivered with a heightened sense of emotionality and the requisite melancholic chord progression indicative of the genre’s strongest moments. But rather than wallowing in self-pity and eternal navel gazing, Nai Harvest, like many in the current crop of emo practitioners instead employ a more celebratory approach to the genre.

More pop than morose, Nai Harvest tends to lean more to the Weezer end of the emo spectrum, focusing more on melody and hooks in favor of wandering, intricate guitar lines and diary-cribbed lyrics. While the guitars are certainly present and an integral part of the band’s sound, they don’t serve as the sole purpose of these songs’ existence. Rather as with all great accessible guitar pop music, they service the lyrics and melodies. “Buttercups” is an intense, highly melodic track that manages to cast massive guitars alongside shouted vocals while delivering a truly memorable hook.

It’s in this middle ground that British groups tend to excel when approximating American music; an understanding of effective song construction that goes beyond rote interpretation and into genre reinvention. It’s this same spirit that saw the Beatles one-upping the Beach Boys and Dylan and countless punk groups adopting wholesale the aesthetics of the Velvet Underground, the Dolls and the Ramones. Each reinterpreted the sounds of these acts, employing subtle variations on their pioneering styles, adopting a more populist approach to song craft that helped break the sounds of the British Invasion, punk and the like to a broader audience.

While this may admittedly be somewhat overstating the case for and importance of this third wave emo revival, it’s representative of a long-standing Anglo spirit that continues to thrive in the face of American malaise and seeming disinterest in our own indigenous art forms. But that’s part of a larger discussion for another day. In the meantime, Nai Harvest’s Hairball offers an exemplary take on a genre that, 10 years ago, had become a cultural punching bag. These ten tracks help make a case for its continued relevance.

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