It hasn't been out long, but Midnight, the second album by Detroit rocker Stef Chura, is already counted by critics among the very best albums of the year. Chura’s sophomore project has delivered on the promise she showed on 2017’s energetic, imaginative Messes, and it announces the presence of an exciting new voice. Pitchfork praised Chura’s commanding presence and self-assurance, the FADER announced that she’d perfected her indie-rock howl, NPR lauded the clarity of the lyrics, the strength of the songwriting, and the fervor of her guitar playing. Rolling Stone, Stereogum, PopMatters, Paste: they’ve all weighed in, and the consensus is clear: Midnight is an album to remember.
She’s had some assistance from a like-minded artist. Will Toledo of the fearsome guitar-rock band Car Seat Headrest produced this record. If Midnight possesses more rawness and immediacy than Chura’s prior work does, Toledo deserves some of the credit for that. But this is Chura’s show – a true coming-out party, the arrival of a champ – and she charges through these twelve unforgettable songs with the confidence of a veteran. Like many of the best records of 2019, Midnight nods vigorously toward the rock revival of the 1990s. Then Chura stalks off in a direction that’s entirely her own.
Although it’s barely over two minutes long, “Scream” contains more musical ideas, attitude, and ferocity than most full albums do. Chura, as always, has plenty to say: about suppressed rage, the power of distraction, and the alienation engendered by social media, and she puts it all to a wonderfully abrasive guitar riff and sings it with just enough of a sneer to ensure that every syllable sticks. It’s bound to be a highlight of Chura’s upcoming national headlining tour. This summer, she’ll cover North America from coast to coast.
Ambar Navarro’s raw, clever video for “Scream” features plenty of performance footage of Stef Chura – but as always with Navarro, who also directed memorable clips for Soccer Mommy and Moaning, there’s an ironic twist. Chura dresses as a cheerleader and performs in a high school gymnasium (her trademark glasses, we’re happy to say, haven’t gone anywhere). The rest of the video is pure high school drama of the most kinetic kind: notebook scrawls and kissing in the halls, and questionable acts in bathroom stalls. The camera is restless, but Chura is anything but: she addresses the camera with the perfect composure of a budding star.