by Allison Kridle
It’s not really customary to categorize albums in astrological signs based on when they were released, but I feel the opportunity is appropriate with Stef Chura’s latest and sophomore release, Midnight. The album was released in early June, so technically it is a gemini--the hypocrite. Each track is complex, layered and thoroughly mind boggling. It sends mixed signals with loads of instrumental variation at the most unexpected times. I play Midnight when I feel strong and cut open, happy or sad, searching for clarity versus wondering into thin air. Nevertheless, I get something in return from Midnight every go around.
Midnight follows Chura’s 2017 LP Messes, both released by Saddle Creek. In between then and now, Chura toured with Car Seat Headrest and hit it off with frontman Will Toledo. The duo’s musical connection and friendship led to Toledo producing Midnight. Toledo plays on every track and sings alongside Chura in the song “Sweet Sweet Midnight,” where they reflect on the passing of Chura’s friend. The partners play with shadows and darkness, light and midnight. Chura sings, “I saw you in a dream, Jordi/I think it must be a good thing/You were running with the shadows/But you came back to shine a light on me/Woke up in the morning/Heard my alarm clock ring/I saw a little bit of light shine through the ceiling.” Perhaps ruminating on the ups and downs of life or dealing with the unknown.
Like many of us, Chura may not agree with how she is seen or portrayed as a person or artist. She touches on how people are judged based on projections or preconceptions, while everyone is also guilty of practicing prejudgments. In the jarring and delightfully chaotic track “Scream,” Chura sings in her wobbly voice, “Dreaming of/Being nice/No one says a thing/Frozen in a/TV Screen/Oh no, you wanted to be everything/I’m selected/I’m selective/You can see it/It’s projected.” The punk ballad features scattered fuzzy riffs and a wailing guitar. “If only you could hear me scream,” Chura yelps throughout the song.
Tracks like “Method Man” and “Jumping Jack” fill the space with stimulating rhythms and screeching riffs. “Method Man” showcases Chura’s honeyed yells as she sings about an enigmatic man who rips up books “she’ll never understand.” In “Jumping Jack,” Chura vocalizes next to a tangy guitar about a wrung out relationship that is close to its natural end.
Compare Midnight to a gemini or not, this album will give you whiplash, and it wants to. Chura and Toledo were certainly conscious when they made two heavy and fast songs the bread, and making a slow or lighter song the meat. You see it with “Method Man” and “Jumping Jack” as they enclose the piano-centric ballad, “Trumbell.” The moody and epic track “Sincerely Yours” comes right after “Jumping Jack” and is followed by the spastic melody of “3D Girl.” This is generally the pattern of their sequence. You can never get too comfortable with one mood or sound, but you’ll appreciate all of them.
Chura closes the album with “Eyes Without a Face,” where she agonizes over a past love. She is almost incomprehensible through her slurred moans. In the song she is questioning someone’s intentions and identity, and her love and her truth. Searching for such answers seem to be a crucial part in Midnight, showing how some things are black or white, or both, or nothing at all.