Stef Chura Cleans Up Her Messes On ‘Midnight’
Stef Chura’s last album was titled Messes. Since then, she’s cleaned up a little. Whereas the Detroiter once treated her voice as a thick, bubbling soup to pour atop her instruments, you can understand (almost) everything she says on her new album Midnight. Her music doesn’t emerge from the slacker shambles of an unmade bedroom or from between popcorny couch cushions but from the gut: this is power-pop as punchy as anything you’ll find on the Dumb & Dumber soundtrack.
Is this the right approach? It’s hard to say. She’s still one of the most distinctive singers in indie rock, even if this time around you understand the words first and then follow her filigrees as she sings them (the way she sings the chorus of “Degrees,” just that one word, is fascinating). But there’s something about not being able to understand everything a singer says that rewards repeat listening. When you know any given thicket of gibberish could be a heartrending lyric, your curiosity takes over and you want to dig in, and you form a deeper bond with a record than with one that hits you immediately and repeats the same thrills with each listen.
One of the first lyrics on the record is “maybe you’d like me if you’d never met me,” which is the kind of lyric designed for Tinder bios and Twitter profiles—a quotable. What made her music such a relief in the past is how it departed from the hyper-specific trend that dominates millennial songwriting, where bluntly stated self-diagnoses rely on the Barnum effect to reach fans. Perhaps the influence of producer Will Toledo—who in Car Seat Headrest pens lines like "I did acid and mushrooms, I did not transcend, I just felt like a walking piece of shit in a stupid-looking jacket"—rubbed off a little.
This comparative clarity, though, belies how mischievous her approach to making music can be. No less than three songs here have false endings. The explosive grunge chorus of “All I Do Is Lie” comes in a bar and a half later than we expect it to. "Method Man" is one of the most interesting rock songs I've heard recently, starting almost as rap before speeding up and becoming a punk-rock shout-along. It's interesting that she'd choose Meth as her Wu-Tang ambassador. Chura’s a little more like Ghostface—or in his words, "like cake, or maybe $10,000 rabbits." What does that mean? If you took even a second to squint and suss it out, you might understand how I feel about Midnight.