Album of the Day: Stef Chura, “Messes”

On first listen, the debut album from Michigan’s Stef Chura scans as a blown-out celebration of rock’s basic building blocks—guitar, drums, bass, vocals, and heart. The secret weapon, though, is Chura’s seen-it-all twang and her unpredictable song structures; they give her lyrics—which are often as brief as bathroom-wall aphorisms—a cutting edge.

The spare “Thin,” which pairs Chura’s voice with bare-bones guitar and percussion, consists of a single verse; its central metaphor: the scratch-off surface of a lottery ticket. The glum “You” chronicles the narrator’s longing, circular admiration for someone distant, with the chiming guitars becoming more intense as Chura’s vocal blossoms slowly from sulk into yawp. On the title track, sullen guitar melodies arise from Pigpen-cloud riffs, until a multitracked Chura swoops in with words of comfort, centering the chaos.

Chura’s brand of close-to-the-bone pop is intimate yet triumphant, bringing to mind the likes of Holly Golightly and Kristin Hersh. Her songs are ways out of emotional jams, with intricate guitar lines and unexpected left turns both tracing her feelings driving her poetry. It’s hardly bedroom lo-fi. Instead, the reverb on tracks like the wistful “Human Being” and the jittery “Spotted Gold” give the album the feeling of an frantic car ride, one where the destination isn’t a place, but a clearer, more assured sense of self.

Maura Johnston

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