New York is a strange old place – before I visited for the first time, I was told that people either love it or hate it. I’ve been a few times and while my beloved loves the city, I’m rather more ambivalent. A rare 50/50 apparently. However, since we got into a little habit of staying so far north on Manhattan island its almost Canada, or perhaps even off Manhatten, I’ve liked the local grit, the sheer day to day activity and mechanics and architecture of the place so much much better. Yeah, I can dip into the trendy bits if I want, but I always prefer honest.
Although the five Been Stellar members were US outsiders and met in New York at university 5 years or so ago (Sam Slocum (vocals), Skyler St Marx (guitar). Nando Dale (guitar). Nico Brunstein (guitar) and Laila Wayans (drums)), they seem to have got the measure of New York well. With the way they present it within their music it’s a place I recognise. Not flashy, not endlessly fascinating, it’s kind of a city life that is both unique but also it could be almost anywhere.
Manhattan Youth is one of the tracks on the new Been Stellar 5 track EP, (handily called Been Stellar to avoid any confusion). The lyrics to my mind give off that vibe that the young of the city are very self aware, self possessed. and yet sadly unaware they are also trapped within their own local truth. The song itself has a delicious chugging progression with off piste vocal meanderings. Like much of Been Stellar’s material, it’s a deft mix between a toe tapping crowd pleasing sound and cerebral worm holes). Track My Honesty also explores that conflict between perhaps being real and true to yourself and what you think others might want you to be. In a world where we are bombarded by images, thoughts and preferences perhaps there is a bewildering burring between the worlds of honesty and being influenced by outside sources. Few are capable of original thought in a world of almost 8 billion (and another 109 billion having lived before us).
Been Stellar say it was difficult not to get sucked into that New York expectation bubble, and while the brand of indie they share is distinctly Strokes /Television /Interpol influenced, with some family resemblance in places to their Velvet Underground grand parents (there’s even a vital Nico), there’s also a lot of new and fresh things going on. Perhaps without these fore-mentioned bands, Been Stellar could not exist now, but this EP is a layering, a development of sound. Been Stellar are a musical geologist’s wet dream of layers to pick through.
Opening EP track Arthur has something of the dark and discomforting Velvet Underground about it; there’s a story tellers art in this song as it just builds and builds the muscular tension within. One of my favourite tracks from the live gig I saw Been Stellar at in Leeds, was the beautifully understated and yet euphoric Kids 1995. This is a deeply moving piece which has the film Kids (released in 1995) as its backdrop or inspiration. The film of course was a story of sad and pointless sex and anti social behaviour. Main character actor Justin Pierce committed suicide in the town of Paradise a few years on. This track kind of channels that conflicting feel for Been Stellar; fun/not fun, not serious/serious or lightweight/ heavyweight. An overused word perhaps but I’m going to say it; Kids 1995 is awesome.
To close the EP is a drawing, sprawling piece of inky blackness, Ohm. This shows just how deeply intense Been Stellar can get, and how magnificent their range and sphere is. It’s not the most immediate track on the EP, but actually it’s the one that draws me back.
I’ve managed to catch Been Stellar live once, missed an opportunity once, but I’m not going to miss out again. The EP is available on vinyl through So Young records – this is one you will be proud to own. Even though annoyingly I missed the limited edition lyric booklet which sold out same day. Get on it while you can.
* Images taken from the band’s social media with the exception of the live images which are the authors own.