At the heart of Minor Moon
’s open-ended and knotty country rock songs is an undeniably inviting lightness. While the Chicago-based songwriter and bandleader Sam Cantor
writes impressionistic songs about the end of the world, they’re wrapped in such a warm blanket of lush guitars and pastoral twang that they always leave a hopeful spark. On their latest LP, The Light Up Waltz
, Cantor sings of the fantastical in magical traveling bands, swaying bridges, and aquamarine metamorphoses. Still, he’s concerned with fundamentally human questions about who we are and how we reinvent ourselves when everything crumbles around us.
While the 2021 release of Minor Moon’s third LP Tethers
coincided with a transitional period in Cantor’s life, The Light Up Waltz
materialized during a time of unprecedented personal stability and creativity. He immersed himself in Chicago’s immensely collaborative music community performing live with V.V. Lightbody, Andrew Sa, Half Gringa,
and more. “I was finding a more vibrant way of being myself in the world and relating to other people,” he says. “I took my approach to guitar more seriously. I started playing with a lot more bands and playing a lot more of other people's music.”
The Light Up Waltz
juxtaposes this buoyant and communal musical approach with lyrics that often sound like a post-apocalyptic fever dream. The first side follows a narrator who flees a decaying world and ends up somewhere stranger, freer and more open-ended. Take the rollicking “I Could See It Coming,” where Cantor sings, "But before we crossed on / I buried our gods / in an empty old playground in the sandbox / Where I could see it coming.” He explains, “What was resonating to me while writing was this contradictory feeling of personal transformation in the midst of pretty intense societal disarray. I became very focused on how everything eventually collapses and the songs became kind of a collection of folktales about a world after collapse." It’s heady stuff on paper but allowing these 10 songs to unfold and unwind is an evocative experience.
Even with the post-dystopian narrative context, joy permeates throughout the album. Lead single “The Light Up Waltz” conjures the enduring warmth of an old memory over an intimate and ambling country arrangement: “And the last band played The Light Up Waltz / with all the glowing snow, The Light Up Waltz,” Elsewhere, “Miriam Underwater” tells a bittersweet but affirming love story of one partner’s irrevocable transformation. “I know you love me and you know I cannot follow / There’s something nothing but the water can give,” sings Cantor. The track simmers with interlocking guitar riffs and wah-tinged psychedelia. “I love the performance that we got out of it,” says Cantor. “It's a really good reflection of the band's energy and the production is very playful.”
Cantor produced The Light Up Waltz
, which was mixed with Dave Vettraino
, and he’s joined by a new backing band of bassist Jason Ashworth
, pedal steel player Max Subar
, drummer and percussionist Sam Subar
, and guitarist Chet Zenor
. Minor Moon has been consistently one of Chicago’s most thrilling live acts and here, the freewheeling immediacy of their stage show comes first. At its best, The Light Up Waltz
finds the band settling into a stargazing groove and never letting up.
It’s persistently disarming and danceable.
The band is joined by a rotating cast of Chicago collaborators including V.V. Lightbody, Sima Cunningham, Dustin Laurenzi, Elizabeth Moen, Macie Stewart, Hunter Diamond, Lia Kohl,
and Andrew Sa, creating an ornate and lively context for these songs to live and grow. “I was feeling really connected to a lot of musicians that I look up to after being here for seven years,” says Cantor. “I took building musical community and camaraderie by playing with people more seriously than ever for this album.”
There’s an enveloping sense of rejuvenation throughout The Light Up Waltz
. On “Under Beyond,” Cantor optimistically sings, “Look now we’re carvin’ it out / Pickin' through the ruins layering the underground.” It’s all you can do when things fall apart: slowly pick up the pieces and build them back for something better.
“This is the kind of record that I've been writing towards from a personal spiritual perspective as well as a musical perspective for a long time,” says Cantor. “This feels like a culmination for Minor Moon.”
Josh Terry October 3, 2023 Chicago, IL