Published Jun 05, 2019At the end of Midnight's opening track, "All I Do Is Lie," Stef Chura moans and shouts: "If you do it to me, I don't care / I can do it to you too." Fuzzed-out guitars mimic her wailing, and she repeats this declaration until she seemingly cannot anymore, collapsing into silence.
As this line showcases, Stef Chura's sophomore album does not commit to confrontation, nor does it commit to ambivalence; instead, it explodes in the uncomfortable space between the two.
This tension makes sense for the Detroit-based DIY indie rocker. Chura's acclaimed 2017 debut, Messes, was the product of a battle between creative insecurities and the perennial question: "If I were to die today, what was the thing I'd be sad that I never did?" The results were druggy, sludgy and raw. Now, with Midnight — produced by Will Toledo of Car Seat Headrest — Chura is still unafraid to make a mess, but these dense tracks feature more dynamic exploration.
"Degrees" features organ pads, confident guitars, and vulnerable vocal scribbles that occasionally build to paragraphs of noise. Chura channels early Liz Phair on her duet with Toledo, "Sweet Sweet Midnight," with minimal drums and guitars suddenly flaring up, as Chura laments her inability to move towards someone she desires. "3D Girl," the album's highlight, brings in glitched-out vocals, adventurous synths and sonic flourishesm as Chura sings, with Courtney Barnett playfulness, "So much pressure in every direction." This mess is deliberate, intense.
However, on tracks like "Jumpin' Jack" and "They'll Never," Chura reverts to a throwback grunge sound without the hooks to back it up. Midnight is best when Chura is simultaneously confrontational and nihilistic, like on "Method Man," when she grapples with her so-called "best friend" she's ever had is busy "rippin' up a box of books he says I'll never understand" — when that tension is gone, things feel lukewarm.
In spite of its occasional faults, Chura's distinct vocals are captivating throughout Midnight. Stef Chura lets her voice crack, crease, and crumble however it wants, pairing vocal fry with vulnerable vibrato. Her voice matches Midnight's offerings perfectly, walking the line between visceral passion and an exhausted shrug. (Saddle Creek)