Stef Chura

Midnight

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Detroit-based indie rocker Stef Chura debuted her distinctive punk twang on the stressed-out Messes in 2017. Recorded with Fred Thomas, it was culled from about a decade's worth of songs that had yet to make it past the demo stage. Two years later, the follow-up, Midnight, finds Chura working with another champion of intense guitar song, Car Seat Headrest's Will Toledo, who both produced and performs on the album. More assertive on average but stylistically similar enough to the debut to hearten fans (it returns drummer Ryan Clancy), Midnight offers a mix of fiery, hooky rock ditties and longer, sometimes episodic ruminative rants. First track "All I Do Is Lie" is an example of the latter, with the power trio underscoring murmured, spoken, sung, and yodeled lyrics that capture the spirit of five too many late-night drunken texts to a hook-up who's ignoring them ("I'll be waiting in your living room/Call me if it's too late/Call me if it's too soon"). The song appears to end before Chura returns, feedback and distortion in tow, repeating "If you do it to me, I don't care/I can do it to you" for two minutes straight. Idiosyncratic, engrossing, and catchy, the song turns out to be more a scene-setter than a centerpiece. Contenders for that title include the wailing "Sincerely Yours," which features more sustained guitar atmosphere, and the collaborative "Sweet Sweet Midnight," a duet with Toledo. Inspired by the death of a friend, it's relatively spacious and poppy, if somewhat fluid in form (including a "yelling section"). Among the shorter, punchier tracks are the infectious "Scream" and, by its arrival late in the track list, the refreshingly lo-fi "Love Song." Further change-ups include a piano song ("Trumbull") and heavier hard rock ("Method Man"), but most surprising of all is the closer, a cover of the first half of Billy Idol's "Eyes Without a Face." It seems one of the least likely choices from his catalog given Chura's impulsive, rhythmically punctuated vocal style. To her credit, it's an overhaul of the original that unquestionably makes it her own, but it still plays out like a bonus track rather than a curated finale in the context of the album. If that's the only blip on a 12-track set, Chura's in fine form again here -- it wouldn't be an overstatement to call it a doozy.

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