Stella by Starlight, “Julie” (2011): One Track Mind

Share this:

South Carolina’s Stella by Starlight is an entertaining electropop amalgam of modern and distinctly old-school sounds, one part mixtape-from-your-dad’s-vinyl-collection and another part post-modern-hipster-songcraft.

“Julie,” available for free download by subscribing to the e-mail list on the Stella by Starlight Web site, starts like one of those glistening summer gloaming songs from the Beach Boys, then gears up into a flinty Bay City Rollers riff before MTV Woodie award-winning singer-songwriter Nathan Fowler — the keyboardist making all of these sounds — begins brilliantly stringing together phrases. Here’s where it gets interesting. They tumble out, definitively updating those shag-carpeted initial influences, like half-completed thoughts, then like answers back to his own questions, then like out-of-phase shouts. There are R&B breakdowns, smeared scronks, a beat-box beat and, above all of it, this painful, hollow yearning.

Fowler, a 2008 graduate of Duke University, formed Born Analouge five years ago, a group that eventually whittled down into the one-man band Stella by Starlight. Now based out of Charleston, S.C., Fowler has worked at times over the years with others, notably guitarist Sonny Byrd, but eventually came to handle most of the projects himself. That’s led him to some interesting places, beginning with the initial sun-drenched reverie of “Julie.” Once a popular campus cover band, Stella by Starlight (no surprise here) seems to have at its core the last decade’s name-check indie-rock sounds, from the Killers to Beck, from the Flaming Lips to Death Cab For Cutie. But Fowler goes deeper, exploring older pop nomenclature — even if it’s within a contemporary context.

Fowler collaborates now with patches of sound, chopping them up and copying them over and over, then skittering over the top with a limber, crackling vocal style. For all of the easy dot-connecting with bands from long ago, Fowler’s work retains a particularly next-gen feel — emotionally open, but not precious; psychedelic, without being boringly referential. As loud as it can no doubt be, this isn’t dance music, so much as a darkly intriguing confessional with a kick-ass rhythm.

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has written for USA Today, American Songwriter, All About Jazz, and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the U.S. by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso
Share this:
Close