Durham indie dance duo Stella By Starlight is songwriter/ producer Nathan Fowler and guitarist Sonny Byrd. Despite collecting an MTVu Woodie Award for Best Music on Campus last year, the duo's somehow managed to fly under the local radar for the past two years. But "Better Living Through Chemistry," the lead track on the band's third EP, is the sort of stuff that can change that: A masterful exercise in Fowler's production, the song opens with toy piano plinks before giving way to a massive, stuttering beat abetted by bubbly synth bass. Byrd's acoustic guitar solo seamlessly ushers in the return of toy piano in the latter third, offering an organic accent to heavy electronic proceedings. But where "Better Living" works by adding sonic flourishes to a base of Beck and Cake, closer "Can I Take U Home" is a haphazard electro-funk mess that cops guitar and synth tones from '90s teen sitcoms.
Between those bookends, Stella succeeds variably: Fowler tries his hand with a Def Jux flow on the title track, but his wordplay is a bit thin. "As Good as It Gets" is a spot-on Killers imitation sans the big hook, while simple synth progressions and sticky melodies make "Depth Perception" instantly worth a hum humming. The inconsistency, both in quality and style, means a release that's ultimately a passable pastiche with a few rather memorable moments.
Stella By Starlight plays Local 506 Friday, Nov. 21. Mike Posner & The Brain Trust and Juan Huevos kick off the $6 show at 10 p.m.