Been Stellar‘s debut album Scream From New York, NY adds another chapter to the sonic novel of New York City rock and roll.

Release date: June 21, 2024 | Dirty Hit | Facebook | Instagram | X | Bandcamp

On the title track to their exciting debut album Scream from New York, NY, Been Stellar‘s Sam Slocum begins with the following treatise: ‘It’s the end of the world and I feel fine,‘ he insists, ‘a moment away. I take my time.‘ It’s a profound non-call to arms, a shaggy-haired 20-something transplant acknowledging that their generation has drawn the shortest straw of the bunch. There’s a propulsive insistence that whatever my generation of balding 50-something curmudgeons left to the millenials and Gen Z to scramble over, there’s nothing there, much less a straw. We took it all, and didn’t even bother to care.

Been Stellar‘s roots begin a thousand kilometers west of Brooklyn in Michigan, where Slocum and guitar player Skylar St. Marx began writing songs influenced by The Strokes and Interpol before they found themselves as freshmen at New York City’s biggest landlord, New York University. The story of Been Stellar is not so much the story of a generation that’s been royally screwed, but about the magnetic pull of what some (mostly New Yorkers) may describe as the cultural capital of the world. The five members of the band could probably barely walk when the towers came down and a bunch of disillusioned trust fund kids from Williamsburg, the Lower East Side and Bushwick decided to say fuck it all, throwing rock and roll caution against the wind. Been Stellar are now redefining what it means to be ‘the’ band from New York City. Scream from New York, NY seems to encapsulate all of this on an enigmatic, noisy, and compelling debut album.

If you’re expecting more of “Manhattan Youth” or “Kids 1995”, two of the songs that put the five-piece band on the map and attracted the attention of ears across the pond, you’ll only get snippets of that.  It’s not that the melodic heft of those two strikes of sonic lightning are missing – the melodies on Scream from New York, NY are more subtle, shimmering close to the surface, buried underneath the dueling noisy guitars of Knapp and fellow NYU alum Nando Dale, and the economic yet propulsive rhythms of bass player Nico Burnstein and drummer Laila Wayans. Considering all of the members of the band met at school, Been Stellar is a true embodiment of the 21st century ‘college rock’ band, paying homage to the New York bands that paved the way for them and tens of thousands of kids on campuses across the US. Sonic Youth, My Bloody Valentine, and the Afghan Whigs all rear their ugly heads, among others, alongside the usual ’00s suspects of Brooklyn infamy. It’s hard not to listen the album and constantly be reminded of the links that bond all good rock and roll bands, and in the case of this debut, that’s a good thing.

The one-two punch of album opener “Start Again” and “Passing Judgement” are big, soaring pronouncements of the ‘Next Great Guitar Band’. The first song “Start Again”, a longtime opener for the band, has an earnest intensity to the pulsating rhythm with which Burnstein and Wayans drive the song, the latter’s drumming conjuring up images of Bob Bert from the late ’80s, with Burnstein playing no more than he needs to. By the time Slocum starts shouting that ‘New York is wasted! Start again!‘ – as if a mantra to his entire generation of peers who’ve been priced out of the city, much less the entire country – you are either with the band or against them. “Passing Judgement” is equally manic, an opening that smacks of Gentlemen-era Afghan Whigs, before it drops into a more subdued, sexy verse.  Slocum’s lyrics come across a purposely obtuse, but he sings them with such snarl and conviction that it’s easy to feel as if you know exactly what he means. After all – as he sings – ‘if you feel it’s a stick in your side, it’s a stick in your side‘. Been Stellar are not working with metaphors. You either get it or you don’t, and the band doesn’t give a shit.

It’s been over twenty years since Interpol released Turn On the Bright Lights, and this review would be remiss in not acknowledging the debt Been Stellar obviously owes to these NYC stalwarts from the “Meet Me in the Bathroom” era of righteous abandon. The sonic comparisons are almost too on the nose to discuss, but this doesn’t take away from the band’s unique twist on the New York sound. ‘The subway, she is a porno and the pavements are a mess,‘ Paul Banks sang on “NYC” way back in 2002. Title song “Scream from New York, NY” updates these topical observations, a passing of the gothic torch from millenial to Gen Z, as Slocum inquires, ‘You ask me the question, who made the rats?‘ It’s a deeply cynical, almost paradoxical twist on Interpol’s romantic fascination with the city.  While Interpol painted an Impressionistic picture of New York, a swath of warm colors wrapped up in their Degas-like appreciation of the metropolis, Been Stellar have slapped the urinal on the wall, and hung up a plaque. It’s a Dadaistic reflection of New York: they are clearly enraptured with the glories of the city, but understand it will never truly be theirs. And that’s okay, because that’s just how it is.

On the second half of the album, however, the band takes an exciting creative shift. The cover art of Scream is remarkably similar to that of Radiohead‘s OK Computer. The font is the same, only with the band’s name bigger than the album title, and the static-y, blue-white image of a roadway graces both albums. It’s a hint as to what lies within the grooves of each record, a reinterpretation of the world that both bands found themselves in. The difference is Radiohead by this time had been well into their career and were standing on the precipice of a major creative shift in their art.  Been Stellar has the audacity to come out of the rock and roll gate with an album that screams of a shift that’s come and gone, a gloriously fuck ’em all attitude. It’s hard to think this artistic decision – to make an album with a cover so similar to one widely considered a classic – wasn’t deliberate, not to mention incredibly ballsy.

The guitar noise orgy of “Can’t Look Away” – a mass of screaming tremolo guitars that wash over the listener like a giant mid-ocean swell – hints at the band’s willingness to take chances. Sam Slocum’s vocal phrasing, echoed by Wayan’s sparse, effective drumming invoke visions of a mid-’80s Sonic Youth. The song sequeways quickly into the flickering shoegaze of “Shimmer”, the most Radiohead-esque song on the album, featuring a melodic three-note melody that could have been lifted right from the intro of “Airbag”. The album is filled with these subtly hidden references, as if the band was left with a pile of auricular puzzle pieces: you know where they might fit, but you aren’t a hundred percent sure, and that’s half the fun.

It’s a tall order to be the unofficial ‘it’ band of New York City, much less one that speaks to a generation of kids who are struggling to make sense of the world that’s been left behind. And Been Stellar isn’t speaking for a generation; they are simply another part of their generation’s collective voice. Get enough pieces together, then that order may not be tall enough to hold them back.

Even before their debut was released, the band found themselves touring with the likes of IDLES, shame and Fontaines D.C., never mind serving as the opening act for The 1975 on their European tour. Scream from New York, NY is one of the better records of the year so far, if not the best debut; and as they forge forward, it will be interesting to see how these five wunderkinds dig deep into the generational well of creativity they sparked with their move to the Empire City. The doors to the bathroom may have been long closed by now, but Been Stellar is ready to meet you under the glaring sun, in the middle of the streets, to begin another 21st century rock and roll journey.  There’s nothing to fear, because it can’t get any worse.  After all, ‘New York is wasted,‘ as the band emphatically insists. ‘Start again,‘ indeed.

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