Michigan’s Stef Chura is a formidable triple threat: intense singer, bracing guitarist, revelatory songwriter. You can hear Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs in her side-eyed snarl, Cat Power’s coiled intimacy in her quieter moments, Jack White and PJ Harvey in her modernist take on primitive instrumental violence and Nineties guitar-twisters like Silkworm, Pavement and Modest Mouse in the way her songs can often mutate and stretch beyond where you expect them to end up. But chalking up Chura to the sum of any sonic signposts doesn’t nearly do her second album justice. In every chirp, croak and holler, in every athletically mangled solo, she’s discovering her own voice, finding her own way to rewrite her world, and fool it too.
“You would like me if you never met me,” she sings on the album opening “All I Do Is Lie,” contorting contemporary indie-rock’s immediacy addiction into her own trickster declaration. Midnight pushes well past the hard-scrabble drive of her 2017 debut Messes, with a bigger, rangier sound. There’s steely, slow-burn guitar tumult on “Sincerely Yours” and “Degrees,” what-the-hell arthouse/barrelhouse piano on “Trumbull,” pummeling power pop on “Jumpin’ Jack” and “3D,” the latter of which repeats the phrase “my girl is three dimensional” with electric gusto. Producer Will Toledo of Car Seat Headrest does his Ric Ocasek thing, adding New Wave flourishes without getting in the way and trading vocals with Chura over taut guitars and hobbled keyboard blips during “Sweet Sweet Midnight.” Chura even closes out the album warbling her way through a spookily emulsified version of Billy Idol’s “Eyes Without A Face.”
There’s a Rust Belt defiance in Chura’s singing and writing. On “They’ll Never;” she creates an explosive roots-punk anthem out of her refusal to forget a place she loves that’s being torn down, turning shared loss into resilient hope. “The dawn is drawing near/I will see you in the sunrise.” The guitars take off like fighter planes and she delivers a clarion, country-steeped vocal, somewhere between Kitty Wells and Kurt Cobain. It’s moments like these where she would seem to trace a different garage-rock heritage than many of her Michigan peers, not south to the blues a la Jack White or Iggy Stooge, but through the working class diaspora that stretches from Detroit or Akron or Cleveland back to the hills of Appalachia. Even if she’s just singing about a house where she used to live with some friends, the power of the song gives the condemned structure a Springsteenian resonance, like she’s lamenting a whole lost way of life too, and also fighting for it. Chura never comes off like she’s trying to strive for that kind of grand, poetic gesture. Building big new things just comes natural to her.