You can’t help but get swept up in the romance of a place like New York City. Split between the bustle of the Lower East Side and the tranquility of Brooklyn, Been Stellar found this sentiment out fast when they descended on The Big Apple to study in 2017. It was inevitable that the budding creatives were also sucked in by the city’s illustrious heritage when they set out making music, a devotion that initially threatened to blunt any form of authentic edge.
Guitarist Skyler St. Marx laughed at those formative days when they caught up with NME last month, confessing they, “were masquerading and trying to do the New York sound, but it wasn’t coming from a genuine place.” After a brief stint emulating the giants of the city’s guitar scene (think The Strokes, Sonic Youth and Television), the pandemic allowed them space to purge those influences from the system and find their own authentic take on the great muse.
The band’s self-titled debut EP often feels an enchanting love letter to their adopted stomping ground, but on their own terms. Flickering brilliantly between shoegaze and dream-pop, its gripping closer ‘Ohm’ packs a skyscraping tonal quality as Sam Slocum’s piercing vocal arrives: “Floating through Avenues / Just a place to be, be a part of / Alone again with you.” Come the end of the five-minute anthem, you’re thrown into poetic snapshots of a post-lockdown city from the “line snaking around Katz’s Deli’‘ to “soda cans sweating in the August heat.”
Their nuanced portrait of the city doesn’t overlook its darker side. Opening with punchy riffs, ‘Manhattan Youth’ takes a swipe at rose-tinted views of their home, a place that can be as gruesome and heartbreaking as it is magical. Slocum shreds out his vocal about how the social system can easily distort its youth: “He takes his time / And holding out his hand waiting for a guide / His street is cold / His mothers old / Pace past the garbage and repeat.”
Their tonal palette is as thrilling as their lyrical takes. The EP ebbs and flows between spiky grunge and melody drenched guitars. The cinematic ‘Kids 1995’ is a standout moment that hits upon the kind of soul-striking perfection most bands could spend a lifetime chasing.
Though they’ve managed to carve their own angle, the mystique and raw sense of youth that has so often defined the greats of NYC’s guitar greats cuts through the surface at all times here. In capturing this, it’s a release that proclaims them as one of their city’s brightest new hopes.
- Release date: August 12
- Record label: So Young Records