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29th May 2024

Been Stellar ‘Scream From New York, NY’: An outstanding debut from Dirty Hit’s latest protégés

Dirty Hit’s newest prospect Been Stellar make their musical debut with the Dan Carey produced ‘Scream From New York, NY’
Been Stellar ‘Scream From New York, NY’: An outstanding debut from Dirty Hit’s latest protégés
Credit: Gabe Long

Been Stellar have been bubbling under for a while now. After finding an underground hit in the form of ‘Fear of Heights’ and releasing a critically acclaimed, self-titled EP, the band are ready to introduce themselves properly, and Scream from New York, NY is the perfect way to do so. Signing with Dirty Hit and joining forces with post-punk producer extraordinaire Dan Carey (known for his work with Squid and black midi, amongst others), they have crafted an extraordinary set of songs inspired by youth, yearning, and New York City.

‘Start Again’ is the album’s opening statement, introducing the band to listeners via vicious guitar riffs and drawling vocals. Early on, it seems that Been Stellar combine the best qualities of UK bands Wunderhorse and L’objectif, yet as the album progresses it becomes evident that they may well be the next Sonic Youth. Melding their New York predecessors’ unconventional, distorted guitar riffs with their own witty and conversational lyricism, vocalist Sam Slocum asks “How many punch drunk surly men does it take to screw a lightbulb in?” before leading into chants of “New York is wasted, start again.”

‘Passing Judgement’, the album’s first single, is sharp yet hypnotic, combining guitarists Skyler Knapp and Nando Dale’s dreamy riffs with Laila Wayans’ ferocious, pounding drum sequence. As the song reaches its climax, every component bursts into crescendo, creating a cacophony of driving percussion and explosive chordophone. Wayans’ unrelenting, driving percussion is the centrepiece of the song’s crescendo, adding to a rich sonic tapestry that is bound to leave listeners entranced.

Credit: Gabe Long

On ‘Pumpkin’, the ode of the album, Slocum declares “I like it when you look both ways to cross the street.” Simple on the surface, this lyric captures the essence of the song: love so pure, so simple yet so all-encompassing that it makes the little things seem so much more significant. The instrumentation here remains soft-toned, combining warm, honeyed guitar with a gentle drumbeat to form a perfect dream-pop cut. Throughout the title track ‘Scream from New York, NY’, it becomes evident that part of this band’s charm comes through Slocum’s unique vocal approach, mirroring the drawling of Thom Yorke on Radiohead’s heavier cuts. “It’s the end of the world, and I feel fine” Slocum pronounces, adding nihilistic, existential undertones that aptly encompass the album’s central themes.

At its core, ‘Sweet’ functions as a statement of longing, yearning, and love. As the song reaches its three-minute mark, Slocum’s vocals seem to be taken over by a sense of desperation, increasing in both pace and emotion. Here, it could be argued that the band step into dangerous territory: the track certainly wouldn’t sound out of place in a coming-of-age film, and it wouldn’t be a surprise if it were added to demeaning, auto-generated Spotify playlists such as ‘my life is a movie’, yet Been Stellar manage to entirely avoid cliché, infusing the over-cooked trope of youthful yearning with a fresh, euphoric energy that reinforces their brilliance. With its catchy hook and perfectly simple lyrics, ‘Sweet’ is nothing but an earworm, and certainly stands out as a true highlight of the album.

Credit: Gabe Long

‘Can’t Look Away’ and ‘Shimmer’ continue the album with the band’s signature gritty, piercing guitar, while the dream-pop-inspired ‘Takedown’ may come as one of the very few moments in which the album briefly slows down, though this does nothing to harm its quality. ‘All in One’, another single, is nothing short of masterful. It is undeniably a highlight of the album and is possibly one of the greatest, most refreshing songs of the decade, encompassing everything that Been Stellar are and will hopefully come to be. On ‘I Have the Answer’, Slocum begins by vocally mirroring Cigarettes After Sex’s Greg Gonzales, before being almost entirely drowned out by a swelling concoction of instrumentation in a moment of catharsis which aptly closes the album.

Throughout Scream from New York, NY, the production remains markedly polished but sustains the raw authenticity which characterises New York City. Slocum’s lyricism is exceptionally introspective and evocative, while the band’s instrumentation maintains its accessibility yet simultaneously innovates, stimulates, and exhilarates. Been Stellar have undoubtedly crafted the most cohesive debut album of the year so far, flawlessly showcasing their immense potential while constructing an atmospheric world of their own which lingers long after the music fades. This is the sound of a band who know what they’re doing, shaping infectious melodies tinged by nostalgia: it’s hard to believe that this is their debut.

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