When you come into a debut album from an artist that is known for being “DIY” you might expect certain things; lo-fi recording, barely audible vocals and some kind of closed-in, bedroomy atmosphere. None of this is true of Stef Chura’s Messes; the opening guitar strums of ‘Slow Motion’ might not be the most crisply produced you’ll hear all year, but their ever-so-slight fuzz smacks of someone who has spent a lot of time toiling around with their sound and come to an understanding of where their music works best. Then comes Chura’s unique voice - a little Jessica Pratt, a little helium-filled Liz Phair – and the clarity and dexterity with which she uses this instrument blows away any thoughts that this might be a drab affair.
Messes is a straightforward pop rock record, with a slight punk/slacker outlook. The guitar melodies are strong and resonant throughout, and keep the record buzzing along nicely. But its Chura’s singing that is the main reason that you keep listening. She has found myriad ways to make the most of her rasping voice. Early highlight ‘You’ shows off her abilities well, as she uses a blustering guitar gait throughout, then in the chorus sends her vocal flying off a riff-made ramp into thin air, where she wordlessly does a vocal somersault and then catches herself with her guitar on the other side. She repeats the trick several times in the track and never once does it fail to impress. Then she immediately takes us to the other end of the spectrum with the mellow ‘Thin’, which twangs along with the sullenness of a downbeat Modest Mouse classic, and allows Chura to show off the smokier side of her voice. This is paired with the contemplative ‘Human Being’, where her lackadaisical, echoing guitar seems to be attached by wires to her floating voice, picking it up and dropping it with her mood.
Chura deals with the usual trials expressed in music; love, loss, jealousy, stress, etc. The style of her song can shift easily between gears. Her most natural is the rambunctious, grunge-light that she adopts often, as this suits her yowling voice and allows her to distort it to great effect. She can switch from the scathingly carefree breeziness of ‘Spotted Gold’ (“But if you wanted to walk away / you can do that”), to the undulating drama of ‘Time To Go’ (“ain’t it hard to break the ones you know / ain’t it hard to know when it’s time to go?”). Perhaps the highlight is the seething title track which just takes a few lines (“I know you got lost in your own mess / Wrong for all the right reasons / I didn’t mind”) and mashes them into a muscular, fiery guitar pulp.
Messes is an album that’s likely to fly under the radar, as it is being released into a field that’s already crowded. But, anyone that gives it a chance is likely to get Stef Chura’s idiosyncratic vocals hooked to their brain, and will be enticed to give it more time. It will only reward further listens, as the subtleties in this simplistic joy are many.