Been Stellar Examine Frustration and Nostalgia on Scream From New York, NY

The five-piece’s debut album is a bridge between Sonic Youth despondency and the larger-than-life, folklorish expectations and history thrown at on-the-rise New York bands.

Music Reviews Been Stellar
Been Stellar Examine Frustration and Nostalgia on Scream From New York, NY

Being a band from New York is hard. You say the phrase “New York-based indie rock band” off-handedly and, suddenly, assumptions are made. (“Are they Meet Me in the Bathroom-core? Which one is a wannabe Julien Casablancas?”). It forces an artist to face a musical heritage that the hottest new act from, say, Omaha, Nebraska never needs to confront. With all that baggage, there’s pressure to be a New York band, instead of just being a good group that happens to reside in East Williamsburg. How will you relate, respond or even subvert the legacy of rock acts that inherited (or tried to inherit) the New York mantle—from the Velvet Underground to the Strokes to the Dare?

In 2023, various New York bands broke through with albums that ignored this dilemma altogether. Model/Actriz channeled the griminess of the city on their debut Dogsbody through its confrontational snarl, while Hotline TNT’s Cartwheel drew more from sketches of a DIY scene rather than anything particularly New York. The cowboy aesthetic and ‘70s prog of Geese’s 3D Country is too un-serious for the faux-coolness of the city. The latest to face the pressure of being A New York Thing is Been Stellar, though the five-piece act are transplants—vocalist Sam Slocum and guitarist Skyler Knapp met in high school in Michigan; the other three members (drummer Laila Wayans, guitarist Nando Dale and bassist Nico Brunstein) joined the group when they were all studying at New York University.

Been Stellar doesn’t just resign themselves to all those assumptions behind New York indie rock. They embrace them wholeheartedly, from their black-and-white on the street corner press shot to their scuzzy guitars and ‘90s sound. Their debut album is named Scream from New York, NY, and it constantly gestures towards their adopted city. “New York is wasted, you start again,” Slocum repeats in the outro to opener “Start Again.” The “pigeons in the park,” “Broadway” and what is most likely the Blue Whale in the Natural History Museum all get name-checked on the album.

On their debut record, Been Stellar set out to capture the “disconnection that haunts New York” in the 2020s. But instead of capturing the disheartening reality of New York’s present, Scream from New York, NY models itself off all the New York bands that have come before them: the gauzy guitars, the vignettes of urban melancholy, the indie band fighting against the expectations and realities of the city. It feels counterintuitive to capture the disconnection of New York’s present by relying on the pastiche of its past. Scream from New York, NY posits that, just maybe, the leather-jacket-wearing indie rock band is no longer the best mouthpiece for the city. Or, perhaps it is. I’m a transplant, too—so who’s to say?

Even if it comes across as pastiche, Scream from New York, NY is still the work of a band that’s spent time in the woodshed. The band’s layers of guitar are gnarly and chaotic, blowing up against Wayans’ thundering drums. Closer “I Have the Answer” stacks all the noise in the band’s arsenal, while Slocum crests the wave with uncertainty: “I have the answer / Just for a little while.” Produced by Dan Carey (Wet Leg, black midi, Squid), Scream from New York, NY is a love-letter to early Sonic Youth, ‘90s Radiohead and Interpol’s Turn On the Bright Lights—heavy, hard-hitting and invigorating. Been Stellar have already built up quite the resume as a live act, opening for shame, Fontaines D.C. and their labelmates, The 1975. You can hear all that time spent working the crowd here. “Sweet” is fiery and anthemic; “Can’t Look Away” rumbles with stage-shaking menace. “Takedown” is the softest moment here, but it still sways heavily, like a drunken train ride home.

The scream mentioned in the album title refers to both the constant noise in New York City and the frustration that arises when words no longer seem to work. It’s about the band’s constant sense of communication breakdown. It’s nostalgia—for a different, better New York, or a world where disillusion didn’t feel like such a substantial part of daily life. “They don’t make words for this,” Slocum recognizes on the title track. Those miscommunications return on “Sweet:” “Speaking when we don’t know what to say / It’s all the words I give and take from you each day.” Scream from New York, NY shines when it gets outside all that disillusion, when it isn’t so tied to New York or some larger State of Affairs. At its best, it showcases a band that’s studied up on its own indie lineage, played enough shows together and is eager to put all that work to tape.

Read our recent Best of What’s Next feature on Been Stellar here.

Andy Steiner is a writer and musician. When he’s not reviewing albums, you can find him collecting ‘80s Rush merchandise. Follow him on Instagram or Twitter.

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