Minor Moon
Photo: Ruination Record Co

Minor Moon Brings a Hopeful Twang to the Apocalypse

Minor Moon’s LP is deeply adventurous but has a sharp, reflective eye on the rearview mirror. It’s a warm fuzz of country rock amidst a world falling apart.

The Light Up Waltz
Minor Moon
Ruination Record Co.
12 April 2024

“There’s an opening we’re going,” Sam Cantor sings on “Cracking Glass”, the first song on The Light Up Waltz. “To the swaying bridge up high / An old way near forgotten / ‘Til we’re running for our lives.” If there’s a recurring theme on this new album, it’s that of a glimmer of hope and adventure amidst a world crumbling around us. The third Minor Moon album, following Tethers (2021) and An Opening (2019), The Light Up Waltz sees Cantor – who wrote and sang all the songs and played many of the instruments – continuing along the same path he’s traveled before, combining warm, country and folk-tinged arrangements alongside lyrics that can seem like vivid fever dreams.

There’s an old-school, organic quality to the music, with lots of guitars that are more steeped in warm effects and understated psychedelia than in-your-face distortion. The almost pastoral calm that washes over the album is matched by the personal stability that Cantor has enjoyed since the release of Tethers. Working with a number of different artists in the Chicago area – V.V. Lightbody, Andrew Sa, Half Gringa, among others – Cantor explains in the press notes that he was “finding a more vibrant way of being myself in the world and relating to other people. 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.”

Clearly, this has had a positive effect on Cantor’s music. There’s a relaxed ease to the sessions, whether it’s in the chugging rhythms of “I Could See it Coming”, which combines insular bedroom pop with elegant guitar leads, or the sparse power-pop of “Miriam Underwater”, full of memorable melodies wrapping around a mystical love story. “In your new form, we cannot speak, but I still know you,” Cantor sings, “I couldn’t tell you, but you’re breaking my heart.” The gentle, hushed approach and irresistible melodies of “Blue Timing” are right in Cantor’s wheelhouse, with muted drums and a relaxed country-rock vibe carrying the song along, with wonderful sonic surprises popping up here and there, from the aching, Jerry Garcia-inspired guitar leads to bits of Hunter Diamond’s clarinet running through a harmonizer (completely unexpected, but breathtakingly eloquent).

Elsewhere, there are bits of minor-key folk that recall intimate 1970s AM radio singles, as on “Spend Your Gift Well”, a reflective, waltz tempo track aided by simmering pedal steel before a noisy but still somewhat understated lead guitar wraps up the song as if Nels Cline ducked out of a Wilco session to help out Cantor and friends.

In this case, the Wilco reference is hard to ignore – fans of Jeff Tweedy‘s songwriting and the postmodern-yet-traditional approach to the songs can bring up inevitable comparisons. Indeed, Wilco fans will find much to admire here, especially those who have embraced Tweedy’s overt shifts into experimental moments. Whether intentional or not, Cantor seems to be following that template to a certain degree – songs like “Right in Your Eye” are deceptively warm and intimate, as the listener bops along to the easy midtempo rhythm while gorgeous strings, aching pedal steel, and ethereal backing vocals are added to the mix. At the song’s conclusion, in the last minute or so, it suddenly shifts to a dreamlike instrumental section with bells, synthesizers, and distortion acting like a wormhole into an unknown land.  

What Cantor and the sublime, highly skilled musicians backing him have done is create something unique and forward-thinking while still clearly basking in the rays of traditional rock, country, and folk. Minor Moon’s The Light Up Waltz is deeply adventurous but still has a sharp, reflective eye on the rearview mirror.

RATING 8 / 10