Review: Minor Moon Dances and Sways Back Into the Limelight With Album The Light Up Waltz

I don’t know how it happened, or if I even deserved such graciousness, but right around the time I moved to Chicago in 2021, Apple Music randomly put a Minor Moon song on my weekly discovery playlist. This would have been several months after the release of their third album Tethers and I think it was the song “Under an Ocean of Holes.” I was immediately transfixed. The only Chicago artists and bands I was listening to around that time were artists like The Smashing Pumpkins, Local H, Twin Peaks, and Andrew Bird, but Minor Moon was my first local discovery of my own and the first Chicago band I really fell in love with after moving.

It came as a massive surprise after listening to Tethers a million times that Minor Moon wasn’t a big band at all. When I first started listening to them they had around 400 monthly listeners on Spotify and simply knowing that fact awoke such an unbelievably weird feeling in me; the feeling of having all this greatness just tucked away in your pocket that no one’s even aware of is enough to send your emotions on the thrill-ride of a lifetime. It was utterly gobsmacking that the band who wrote “In the Long Year”, “No Lightning Fix”, “Under an Ocean of Holes”, and “Hey, Dark Ones” is not playing massive halls and auditoriums with millions of adoring fans around the world. I’ve since seen them more than a few times live and each time Sam Cantor and company lay the stage to waste. I think maybe the best drum solo I’ve ever seen live was at my first Minor Moon show at the Hideout in 2021 and I certainly wasn’t expecting such pure animalistic ferocity going into that concert but it just goes to show, you never know what you’re gonna get live.

Needless to say, I’ve been waiting for a successor to Tethers for quite some time and it goes without saying that The Light Up Waltz was one of my most anticipated releases of 2024. So… I guess the big question is, did it disappoint? Did it shit the bed? Did it commit unholy atrocities on the ears of its listeners? Is it just… okay? I am so thrilled to report that the answer to all those questions, and many more negative ones, is a resounding no! The Light Up Waltz, in many ways, is exactly what I needed but delivered in a way I didn't know I wanted. On the surface, it shares many similarities with its older sibling Tethers. It’s a ten-track album, a lean, mean machine under 40 minutes, and is still packed to the brim with all the country rock goodness you’d expect from a new Minor Moon album.

Where Tethers is someone partying their late twenties away, not quite lost but not quite found either, looking for any form of life preserver that could save them from the oncoming brooding storm that is official adulthood, The Light Up Waltz feels like someone in their mid-30s comfortably and confidently armed with a sizeable amount of experience, maturity, and thoughtfulness that you’d, of course, expect from someone at that age. However, they’re still searching, learning, and asking questions because they know there’s still so much left out there to know and experience. If that makes even the slightest bit of sense then I’m content. There are fewer bombastic moments of instrumentation and fewer moments of urgency than what you’ll find on Tethers, but that’s not to say this new album has anything less important to say or somehow makes less of a profound impact on the listener. The Light Up Waltz is an album that takes its time and revels in the soft and the quiet. Sure, it still has plenty of moments of foot-stompin’ twang-laden groove that is the bedrock of Minor Moon’s fanciful country rock sound but it no longer feels like they are trying to impress you or convince you to stay. This is an album made by a band that knows who they are and where they are in life and the results couldn’t be better.

Minor Moon - Photo by Hannah Sellers

The album opens with “Cracking Glass”, an incredibly beautiful, acoustic song with shimmering guitar work paired excellently with a flowing rhythmic backdrop of mellow percussive sounds and warming bass. On first listen, the song did feel a bit more like a transition song for “Blue Timing” given the fact that vocals don’t even come in until past the halfway mark of the track. I still do think of it as a transitional introductory piece to the whole musical pie that is The Light Up Waltz but I’m also at the point where I’m constantly hitting repeat on this song just for the guitarwork alone.

“Cracking Glass” makes way for “Blue Timing” which, to me, is classic Minor Moon. “Blue Timing” starts out like a blissful meditation, leaving me to feel like I’m slipping down some enchanted lazy river before slowly morphing into a chorus that you simply have to stand up for. One of my favorite moments on the entire album comes with the last minute or so of the song as it brilliantly transitions into “I Could See It Coming” by picking up the pace doubling up on the half-time feel the rest of the song simmers in. This is where we get our first undeniable glimpse of groove, one of the lead singles that fully embodies every sense of the word “single”. “I Could See It Coming” is among the most fun songs Sam Cantor and Minor Moon have ever written and is a mid-paced country rocker filled with attitude, style, personality, and most importantly fun. The drums alone on this song make it a worthwhile addition to any playlist. When I hear the drums fully kick in, my heart goes all pitter-patter with a feeling that is simply unmatched.

“Under Beyond”, another lead single for the album, takes a couple of steps back away from center stage with less pronounced energy but nevertheless has an undeniable sense of wonder, majesty, and charm. To me, tracks like “Under Beyond”, “Blue Timing”, and the last 2-3 songs on the record truly serve as icing on the cake of an already great album that benefits greatly by having these types of songs to contrast both the more explosive, grandiose bangers and the subtler, somber moments.

At the halfway point of this album sits my absolute favorite track on the record and maybe even Minor Moon’s discography at large and it’s none other than the title track, “The Light Up Waltz”. Similar in style to “In the Light Year”, the closing track off Tethers, “The Light Up Waltz” is a beautifully spun ballad of cosmic proportions that ebbs, flows, and sways throughout its four-minute runtime. A big change on this record is the introduction of a plethora of new instrumentation and effects to create more of a dreamy, psychedelic overall sound and I think it reaches its peak on this song. Lead singer Sam Cantor gives the vocal performance of a lifetime set to some of the most gorgeous instrumentation I’ve heard on a record in quite some time. There is no piece out of place and it all serves as a humble reminder that the best is always yet to come.

“Since the Water Rose” and “Miriam Underwater”, kick things up quite a few notches. Out of all the non-singles, “Since the Water Rose” is the most surprising hidden gem on the record. It bursts with insatiable grooves and hooks that stick with you long after the song is over. After my first listen to the album, it was an immediate favorite and has remained that way ever since. “Miriam Underwater”, along with “I Could See It Coming”, feels like two of the album’s boldest statements and stylish signatures. The way the guitars talk to you on some of these songs is so poetic that it feels downright anthropomorphic at points with how they follow the main vocal melodies.

“Spend Your Gift Well”, similar to “So Quiet” off the last record, may be the most unique offering on this new album. It starts with a mysterious, almost unsettling guitar melody that carries throughout the entirety of the song. Something about it seems dark, twisted, and fantastical and juxtaposes all other songs on the album incredibly well. What is even more surprising is that Sam and Co. are still able to find ways of inserting beautiful moments of grandeur even in the darkest of spots as there are multiple points within this one song that glisten and shine as well as any other song on this record. It may not be one I throw on every playlist but I’m always happy to hear it when listening through the whole album.

“Right In Your Eye” brings back the more classic Minor Moon sound and offers up one last frenzied hurrah as the album’s penultimate track before “Crumbling Star” fades us out on a more delicate note. I won’t lie, “Right In Your Eye” has been a grower for me but remains one of my least favorite tracks on The Light Up Waltz. That’s not to say it isn’t a worthwhile song. It features an undeniably catchy chorus with some flavorful repetition, fantastic lead guitar work throughout, and maybe the most superb bass lines across the whole album. However, something about it just doesn’t connect with me as greatly as the other songs and sometimes it’s just an unexplainable thing. I can totally see this song being a standout for many other listeners as it definitely has the right foundations for that honor but just doesn’t stick the landing for me.

Minor Moon's The Light Up Waltz cover

Closing out this gracious collection of soon-to-be alt-country classics we have “Crumbling Star”, a lovely three minutes of subtle beauty with melodies that sound straight out of a Toy Story film. Incidentally, the song feels like a spiritual sister to the album’s opener “Cracking Glass” in more ways than one. For starters, both songs feature gentle guitar work, spacious drums, and fluid vocal work but also the diction of both song titles pair so well together that it couldn’t have been a coincidence. However, even with all this praise, one song on the album always has to be your least favorite and for me, this song takes home that trophy. Similar to my thoughts on “Right In Your Eye”, I can’t really give a profound reason why this song doesn’t speak to me. Who knows, maybe in a month when I’ve had more time to digest this album the tide will change and this song could really start to speak to me but until then, I see “Crumbling Star” as a somewhat forgettable finale to The Light Up Waltz especially compared to Tether’s “In the Long Year”. If it’s any consolation to the “Crumbling Star” fans out there, I do think it’s better than my least favorite song from Tethers so the glass is still half full!

I know I’ve said quite a bit about this album but it’s only because this album has quite a bit to get off its chest and I want to do anything and everything I can to get this album in the hands of as many people as possible. The album release show for The Light Up Waltz is happening Friday, April, 19th at Lincoln Hall and it will be Minor Moon’s biggest headlining show to date so come one come all to the event of the season, one I can promise you won’t want to miss. As much as I love this band on record, they are a different beast live with their remarkable technicality, rich virtuosity, and overall untouchable prowess leaving most live bands in the dust as far as I’m concerned. If I had to give this album a score it would be somewhere in the area of 9/10 and I don’t say that lightly. Pick up a copy at your local Chicago record store, stream it on all the services, and listen to it wherever you go or else you’ll turn Minor Moon into Morose Moon and that is just objectively a far worse band name.

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Lorenzo Zenitsky

Lorenzo Zenitsky is a Chicago-based software engineer, amateur bedroom metal musician, and a semi-frequent drinker of coffee but only if it's iced. If he's not admiring his terrible Simpsons tattoos in a gently cracked mirror, he's usually at a local show vibing to great tunes and abhorrently priced beer. $15?! Get outta here...