Let’s start with the basics. Stef Chura is the shit. A Detroit-based indie rocker, with loud guitars and a singular and familiar voice. I can hear everyone from Loretta Lynn to Joan Jett to Chrissie Hynde in her vocals. Midnight is her second album, and here, she is joined by Will Toledo, the frontman of indie rock darlings, Car Seat Headrest, who plays some instruments and produces. She has also commented on this album being more of a collaboration with Toledo, such as on the sweet track, ‘Sweet, Sweet Midnight.’ But, of course, because Toledo is a man and Chura is a woman, the conclusion some critics have reached is that Toledo has taken the sad, somewhat obscure and inaccessible Chura of her début, Messes. This is far too simple a conclusion. On Midnight, Chura is a force of nature. She is a dominating presence, she controls this album.
This is one of my favourite albums of 2019 so far. It’s on heavy rotation around here. Her lyrical content is centred on the quotidian to a large degree, finding things that annoy the shit out of her, and things that frustrate her. I read an interview with her in the Detroit Metro Times, the alt-weekly there. She reported that, ultimately, a lot of the songs here are a result of friendships and passive aggression, claiming that instead of the conversations she should be having with people, she wrote new songs.
‘Jumping Jack’ is a good old fashioned love song, where she asks her lover if she can just do a jumping jack over their heart over a driving, loud beat. ‘Method Man,’ is not, it turns out, a paean to the legendary Wu-Tang Clan member, but a grunged-out, guitar-dominant track where she is clearly letting out whatever pisses her off about a friend come to light.
In the video for ‘Scream,’ Chura both draws on her high school days of being both a cheerleader and a wrestler, and also recalls the genre-busting video for Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit.
The entire album is in this vein, some lyrics deeper than others, of course, but, really, this is not an album where the lyrics are the most important thing. Chura is a wicked and vicious guitarist, she shreds on most songs. But her voice is just as intriguing. In that interview with the Detroit Metro-Times, she talks about learning how to sing all over again, and instead of singing from her throat, singing from her belly. And the result is that her voice is as interesting an instrument as her guitar. And in duet with the guitar, it doesn’t cede control, it doesn’t back down. Her voice duels the guitar throughout Midnight. The results are glorious.