Take a glance at any of the promotional material for Midnight, Michigan alt-rocker Stef Chura’s sophomore release, and you’ll see one dominant theme: the involvement of Will Toledo in production and mixing. The prolific songwriter and lead guitarist behind Car Seat Headrest, one of this decade’s most critically acclaimed indie rock bands, Toledo’s sound is certainly distinctive enough to warrant his own production and mixing credits. Yet, Midnight is billed as even more. A “testament to the collaborative process,” you can hear that collaboration in virtually every track. Everything from the way the production handles the guitar layering and instrumental depth to even Toledo’s own knacks for instrumental breakdown and taste for impulsive dramatic effect; Midnight feels distinctly different and more raucous than 2017’s Messes, but appears built on the same foundations of the likes of Teens of Denial and Twin Fantasy.

As a result, Midnight is a stronger record. When Chura’s songwriting is at its best, it’s made all the more propulsive by Toledo’s production. While Messes was often slightly timid, Chura’s vocals shrouded in a flatter mix, Midnight never fails to show off either her idiosyncratic vocal inflections or nonconformist songwriting. Chura’s best tracks have no set, predictable amassing of sound that gravitate towards conceited moments of intensity. Instead, they’re structured with multiple, musically inventive phases, demonstrated by the likes of commanding stadium alt-rock opener ‘All I Do Is Lie’, with its catchy choruses seamlessly transitioning into a captivating final couple of minutes of feedback-enshrined outro. Tracks like ‘Degrees’ and ‘Sincerely Yours’ similarly thrive, as Chura throws herself into a larger sound, using Toledo’s knack for intricately layering instrumentation to make her music more impactful.

Yet it’s also because of that new, more forthright loudness that many of the tracks on Midnight hinder the album as a whole. The album falters most when it seems filled out with a certain kind of track that’s energetic, punchy and fun, but also inanely repetitive. As much as the short, yelped ‘Scream’; louder and guitar-bursting ‘Method Man’ and surf-rock-tinged ‘Jumpin Jack’ find their draws in their catchy yellableness, they don’t have the same lasting appeal as the weightier, more extended and ambitious cuts. ‘3D Girl’ bridges the two track types a bit better, building technical guitar work into an otherwise shrouding mix; but, overall, these tracks amount to a decent proportion of the album as a whole that is more underwhelming.

While Midnight is, overall, a somewhat flawed record, it still shows impressive growth for Chura. Like Messes, it doesn’t settle into the oft-tread indie rock rut of bland, cliché emotionality, while the songwriting is clearly leagues ahead of her debut. Fiery tunes that jostle their way into the back of your head, this is playful, well-made and Chura continues to excite on every release.