Throughout the duration of their second album, Hairball (which is also their debut record with Topshelf Records), Nai Harvest express a strong sense of identity; they know what their sound is at this point in time and they’re completely immersing themselves in it. The two-piece from Sheffield in the UK comprising Ben Thompson on guitar and vocals and Lew Currie on the drums are hitting hazy indie pop/punk right in the sweet spot. I’m really impressed by how seamlessly the drums, vocals and guitar blend together as one cohesive unit rather than three components of a band.
The duo kick off with Spin, a track that sets the standard for the entire album. We’re first introduced to the upbeat indie-pop guitar hook motif, then Currie’s intense drumming and Thompson’s distorted guitar are established in the mix. Although their sound sits on the heavier end of the indie pop spectrum here, Nai Harvest also evoke a spacey depth with reverb-heavy vocals that, at many points, is countered with a punk-like intensity.
There’s a general theme of yearning hovering above the whole album, and Thompson’s droning vocals are a big contributor to this overall feel before lyrics are even taken into account. His voice is pretty constant in that hazy but forceful drone, but there are times when emotion is laid bare, like the end in Sick On My Heart, when things are stepped up a notch to a wailing, almost screaming tone. The lyrics suit the vocal style and revolve around desire, either to be somewhere or with someone, or to avoid experiences. Listen to the album’s second longest, and most varied track, Ocean of Madness, for example: “Don’t let me drown in an ocean of madness/I wanna swim in an ocean of you.”
At times it the vocal melodies seems a bit repetitive, and I think this is because the guitar sound often emphasises its simplicity. Thompson likes to use as few notes as possible, but when he does leap up in pitch, the guitar follows with him. While I think this is a pretty cool technique generally, the fact that it was particularly recurring diminished the distinct character of some tracks.
But there are also a lot of things to love, and the album’s intrigue is definitely increased with the knowledge that there are only two guys making this big sound (check out some of their live performances on YouTube to see that this isn’t because of multiple tracks created in the studio). Ben Thompson knows how to get the most out of his guitar in the circumstances, not just reeling us in with melodious hooks in All The Time, Melanie, and Dive In, but also by bringing the subtle nuances to the front like the feedback-fillers in Buttercup, awesome muted harmonics in Melanie and interesting chord inversions in All The Time. Lew Currie is equally responsible for the album’s highs, with a constant supercharged intensity that, somehow, he manages to keep up when many other drummers would drop from exhaustion.
Although I personally felt that things were almost a little too constant on Hairball, this is an admirable example of dedication to a particular sound that stretches indie pop with the influence of heavier punk and alt-rock tendencies. Hairball embodies Nai Harvest through and through.